Goals: Tevez 41 (pen), 65 mins for City. Giggs 16 mins for United.
Carlos Tevez stole the headlines with two goals as City came from behind to beat a full-strength United in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. Nothing can be taken for granted in the second leg as United showed their danger with a late onslaught, but at least City fans could go home happy with a win on the night.
The result was particularly vital for Mancini after the defeat at Everton. Questions over his ability would have been asked if this game had been lost, and the players may have started to have doubts. Instead he can take the plaudits for a tactical acumen that saw us close the game out in a way we weren’t able to at Old Trafford.
It was the improvement in defending, particularly at set pieces, that was the big difference in this game, along with a fully fit Carlos Tevez.
Mancini sprung a couple of surprises in his starting line-up with Boyata coming in to the centre of defence and Zabaleta starting on the left side of midfield. It was a remarkable show of faith in 19-year-old Boyata, especially as Onuoha was available.
The Belgian youngster may have looked nervous, but defended solidly enough and Mancini was vindicated. Jim Cassell spoke recently of his delight at Boyata being selected for the first team and everyone involved with the Academy will have been further encouraged by Mancini picking him for this fixture. It shows the Italian is willing to back our young players.
With Boyata partnering Kompany in the middle, Richards returned to right-back. Concerns about Micah’s ability to get tight on wingers were once again in evidence, though he did improve as the match wore on. Unfortunately for him Rooney played the final part of the match trying to cut in from the left flank and the Under-21 international was being seriously overworked.
The return of Wright-Phillips kept Evra occupied, even if Shaun lacked match sharpness following his lay off. One of many tactical adjustments saw Shaun moved in-field for part of the second-half and he had some joy attacking through the middle.
During the first period he once got get away from Evra to send over a cross which Tevez should have buried. The Argentine’s attempted header was comically bad, but fortunately things were to get better for him.
Over on the left flank, Mancini surprised everyone with the downright whacky idea of Zabaleta on the wing. Presumably the idea was to give support to Garrido in keeping Valencia and Rafael quiet. It didn’t work as Pablo seemed as confused as the rest of us and kept drifting infield – giving the United players a free run at Garrido.
With Mancini speaking beforehand about keeping a clean sheet, City started cautiously, seemingly unconcerned by United knocking the ball about in front of our defence. To non-Italian eyes this looked a dangerous tactic and the crowd seemed a little underwhelmed. Then United scored.
To no-one’s great surprise it came from a long diagonal ball to Valencia in acres of space. He bundled past Bellamy and whipped over a low cross with Garrido in no-mans land. Rooney got to the ball ahead of Kompany, forcing a save from Given which deflected for Giggs to tap home.
Having started alongside Tevez, Bellamy was restored to the left flank and Rafael’s easy night was over. City continued to play patiently and gradually got themselves into the game. It’s becoming clear that Mancini wants his side to play disciplined football, rather than the hell for leather high tempo often found in England.
When the pace of the game has been slower, we’ve done well under Mancini, absorbing pressure and hitting teams on the break. When United and Everton played at a high tempo, we’ve looked in danger of being overwhelmed.
With City starting to knock the ball around, Tevez released Bellamy and Rafael panicked, grabbing the Welshman’s shirt. Whether the offence continued into the area is debatable, but Tevez’s moment had arrived. It was good to see Van der Sar booked for taking his several minutes to get in place for the penalty. He performs this act of gamesmanship every time.
I confess a certain apprehension in Tevez as penalty taker. He’s not always the most clinical and there was a certain nostalgia for Elano in this situation. Not to worry, Tevez hammered it, and was off to celebrate with Gary Neville.
We started the second half as we ended the first, playing a more controlled game, and forced a succession of corners. Some of these were looking dangerous, and finally we got a second goal. From a half-clearance, Zabaleta nodded the ball back in for Kompany to hook over a cross. Tevez and Boyata were there to score and guess who got the goal.
This time it was the cupped ear celebration that we last saw when he scored against us at Old Trafford. Happier days now.
“I’m tired but I’m OK, two goals that are very special for me. United are my old team but I’m City now.”
Another break down the left from Bellamy resulted in a cross for Wright-Phillips to fire a shot in, and this was as good as it got for City. United upped the tempo thanks to Rooney, who now seemed on a mission to score. He had chances but Given proved equal to them.
Boyata appeared to have a strain, while Tevez and Wright-Phillips tired. Mancini threw on defensive substitions in the shape of Onuoha and Sylvinho to close the game out. Benjani came on to hold the ball up and run the United defenders but did neither. Ferguson brought on Owen who managed one shot that Onuoha cleared off the line.
It was good to Nedum on for the closing stages as things were getting desperate. It may be useful to have his greater experience over the promise of Boyata for the game at Old Trafford.
“It is not a big advantage, but it is an advantage.
“I am happy with the result because we were behind after 20 minutes and I felt it could be difficult.
“But we recovered, scored two goals and played well They had three or four chances but, in Shay Given, we have one of the best goalkeepers.
“Now I would say we have a 51% chance.”
Mancini can rightly feel his tactics were vindicated by the result, but few people would back us to survive a full match at Old Trafford by simply playing a form of catenaccio. If Ireland can prove his fitness against Scunthorpe, then he should be brought in as the third central midfielder in place of Zabaleta. As well as the Argentine played, we need someone to spray passes out to Bellamy and Wright-Phillips, and who can get forward to support Tevez.
Next Wednesday at Old Trafford promises to be a long night. We may be half way to Wembley, the hard half is still to come.
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