By the end of the Demolition Derby, Manchester City fans were convulsed with joy, revelling in the sight of the majestic David Silva putting the champions to the rapier sword, serenading Sir Alex Ferguson with “getting sacked in the morning” and designing their “Six and the City” T-shirts. Incredible.
The noisy neighbours just marched into Manchester United’s backyard and staged their own party. Roberto Mancini brought a bottle of wine.
Mario Balotelli brought the fireworks, lighting the blue touch-paper with the opening two goals, while Silva was the Spanish sparkler who never stopped sparkling for 90 minutes. That banner reading “MUFC – Not Arrogant, Just Better’’ hung limply by the final whistle.
The painful reality for United fans was that City were superior in all departments. Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were as good as Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were poor. Ferdinand was so chastened that he wisely declined the Glazers’ offer of a helicopter ride to the NFL road-game at Wembley; the Bucs stopped with Ferdinand. And others. Ferguson’s hairdryer must have been set at super-cremate afterwards.
The hosts were outclassed by the visitors. Down the right, Micah Richards and James Milner responded to Ashley Young’s early threat with immense displays. Richards was named man of the match but it could easily have been Milner, a force defensively and creatively, or Silva, who delivered one pass that echoed the great Diego Maradona’s eye-of-the-needle ball through Brazil’s defence to Claudio Caniggia at Italia 90.
It was a day for those sort of lofty comparisons. Silva and City were that good. A penny for Carlos Tevez’s thoughts. A penny also for the thoughts of Mark Hughes whose pre-match “J’Accuse” of Roberto Mancini was spectacularly ill-timed.
Under Mancini’s adept management, a Blue Moon is rising over the Premier League. Fuelled by petro-dollars, City’s resources are phenomenal, their depth of quality highlighted when Balotelli was replaced by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero by Samir Nasri. Class for class. The headlines will scream of shifts of power but Mancini knows that this will take time, that this was merely a staging post on City’s journey towards dominance. He knows that United will respond to adversity. Ferguson’s men always do but this was a deeply embarrassing afternoon.
The brutal truth for Ferguson is that he was outwitted by Mancini, who celebrated his 100th game in charge of City in style. Ferguson’s decision to start only two in the central killing fields, Darren Fletcher and the anonymous Anderson, was a risk swiftly exposed by Silva, Yaya Toure, and Gareth Barry.
Mancini deployed his two most attacking full-backs, Richards and Gael Clichy, who pushed up high, allowing City’s wide players like Silva to move inside and cause chaos. Fletcher, eventually Wayne Rooney, ran about trying to extinguish fires in midfield but the blaze was too extensive and their hose-reels too short.
A quick scroll through the history books revealed the scale of this loss: it was United’s worst home defeat to City since Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as PM, Clement Atlee resigned as Labour leader and Hammer Film Productions released ‘the Quatermass Xperiment”.
Fifty-six years on, United produced their own horror show. Little indication of the incipient nightmare for the hosts could be detected in the opening stages. Young troubled Richards and Milner. Rooney swept a magnificent cross-field pass to Young.
But there was a defiance in the air over the away enclosure, the City fans giving relentless support to Mancini and his players. Mancini was constantly in his technical area, having a word with Balotelli after 20 minutes. Whatever advice Mancini imparted to the moody Blue, it worked.
Even Jose Mourinho admitted that he could not coax the best from Balotelli but Mancini has always believed in the temperamental striker, who rewarded his manager’s faith within a minute of the pep-talk. It was a good goal, City moving the ball as confidently as United responded sluggishly. From Milner’s throw-in, Yaya Toure and Silva combined to release Milner, whose cutback was aimed perfectly for Balotelli. As Evans slipped, Balotelli placed his shot expertly past David de Gea.
Balotelli, having almost burned his house down on Friday, was clearly fed up with being in the news for the wrong reasons and lifted his top to reveal a T-shirt that asked: “Why Always Me?” Well, probably because you do daft things like staging Bonfire Night in your bathroom. Yet there was still total idiocy in that rule that demands a booking for showing an amusing T-shirt.
The lead seized, City were emboldened. Lescott dribbled around Rooney. Silva, all shimmying threat, was caught nastily by Anderson. As Nemanja Vidic watched from the stands, Evans was dismissed within a minute of the second half for pulling back Balotelli as he strode through on goal. City failed to capitalise then but Balotelli’s second arrived on the hour. Milner and Silva played a 1-2, Young failed to track back, and there was Milner crossing for Balotelli.
United fans sought to lift their 10 men, chanting “stand up for the champions”, but the game’s song remained the same and Mancini was the composer. He had set up City so well tactically that they simply swept United apart. Their third was a gem, the ball flowing from Silva to Yaya Toure to Balotelli to Milner and then Richards, whose cross was turned in by Sergio Aguero. It was a goal that Barcelona would have been proud of.
The kings of the comeback, United attempted to respond. Phil Jones drove upfield, suffering an ugly challenge from Dzeko. Still United probed, conjuring up some unlikely hope when Danny Welbeck did well on the left before Javier Hernandez and Fletcher traded passes on the edge of the box. Fletcher elegantly scored from range.
City simply went through the gears, scoring three breakaway goals in four minutes to stun United fans into silence. When Barry flicked a corner on and Lescott turned the ball back, Dzeko pounced to make it 1-4. Then Dzeko sent Silva down the inside-right channel and this masterful little Spaniard slipped the ball under his compatriot De Gea.
City fans were partying like it was 1989, the year of a famous 5-1 thrashing of United at Maine Road. They drove further down what they hope is coronation street when Silva flicked the ball up and then guided it through to Dzeko, who completed the humbling of the champions. Incredible.