Losing 6-1 at home to your biggest rivals is bound to hurt. But Sunday’s derby defeat shouldn’t trigger knee-jerk reactions.
At full-time, the gap between the teams was five goals. But did the game, United’s heaviest home defeat since 1955, expose a gulf in class? Did it prove beyond all doubt that the balance of power in Manchester has shifted from red to blue? It did not.
With two minutes to play, City, who had enjoyed a numerical advantage for almost the entire second half, were 3-1 up and nervous. Joe Hart took an age over his goal-kicks, his team-mates slowed down every award of a United free-kick. Sir Alex’s men had battled bravely until then but, a man down and up against the league’s leaders and form side, the task had proved too tough.
Then came a crazy final few minutes, in which the Reds’ defence disintegrated and City waltzed through to add a further three goals and become the first side to notch six in a league game at Old Trafford since 1930. The final scoreline didn’t reflect the preceding 90 minutes, although United can have few arguments. After all, switch off like that and good teams will punish you. And City are a good side.
Fans are right to condemn the late lapse in concentration, but when it was 11 v 11 in the first half – and for long periods in the second when United were down to 10 men – Sir Alex’s side gave as good as they got. Even at full-time the statistics showed City only edged possession 51% to 49% and territory 52% to 48%. Those numbers aren’t what ultimately counts, of course, but they’re hardly indicative of a 6-1 scoreline.
Roberto Mancini’s men deserved the three points and David Silva was, admittedly, brilliant. But claims City’s midfield completely over-ran United are wide of the mark. Gareth Barry, James Milner and Yaya Toure were not exceptional and few Reds supporters would welcome any member of that trio to Old Trafford on a permanent basis.
Creativity may have been lacking in the Reds’ ranks on Sunday, but to keep the Blues within arm’s length for so long in such trying circumstances showed the character the players must now call on to bounce back. There were positives in defeat, too. Danny Welbeck’s stock, already high enough to edge out Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov for a spot in Sir Alex’s starting XI, rose further with a tireless performance full of running, skill and link-up play, particularly in the second half. Wayne Rooney was also a driving force, especially when he dropped deeper to pull the strings in midfield.
Afterwards, Sir Alex revealed he was “shattered” by the result. “I’ve never lost a game 6-1 in my life,” he said. His challenge now is to ensure the damage inflicted is restricted to just three points and does not have farther-reaching and longer-lasting consequences. He’ll ensure his team learns lessons but he’ll also urge his players to swiftly move on, to make amends in the forthcoming fixtures.
And those games are winnable. A quick look ahead reveals United’s sternest tests – on paper, at least – to be games at Everton (away) and Aston Villa (away). City, meanwhile, must travel to Liverpool and Chelsea and host Arsenal and Stoke before any Christmas crackers are pulled. By the time 25 December rolls around there’s every reason to believe United fans will be smiling again. There must be a reason Santa wears red, after all.
Of course, we shouldn’t deal in conjecture and supposition. Facts are important right now. On Sunday, City beat United 6-1. That’s a fact. The win sent City five points clear at the top of the table. Also a fact. But before the disappointment of derby day, United had recently enjoyed the best start to a league campaign since Sir Alex took the reins 25 years ago, achieved a new record for consecutive league victories at Old Trafford and set the pulses racing with breathtaking displays of attacking football.
So let’s not get too carried away by a bad result in October, eh? It hurts, sure, but it’s hardly symptomatic of a crumbling empire. United will go on.
Glory Glory ManUnited!
Reds will go marching on on on!