Premiership Matchday 6: Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

In perhaps the most anticipated Manchester derby in recent years, the two teams failed to disappoint. The match was marked by quick pace and possession; there was nary a negative play in sight, even in the last 5 minutes when prudence dictated that United turn to defensive tactics. But more on that in a second. I feel like I have to address the extra time issue first. Mark “Sparky” Hughes is certain to be angry, since 4 minutes were indicated and nearly 6 were actually played. But midway through the third minute, he was stalking the sideline and by the time the clock turned to 4 minutes, he was nearly as red in the face as Sir Alex. To be fair, Sparky may have a point, though 30 seconds were added for the substitute (Carrick for Anderson) and at least 30 second for Bellamy’s fantastic goal in the 90th minute. In short, the referee probably has a defensible position.

But the match. Oh, what a match! I thoroughly enjoyed it in its entirety. Hands up everyone who saw Darren Fletcher ever scoring two goals in one game, let alone two headers in one game. Put your hand down, you liar! And Craig Bellamy who, in one commentator’s words, plays best when he’s angry. And boy was he angry. He looked like he felt slighted for the entire game and put that to good use, embarrassing England’s best defender, Rio Ferdinand, in the 90th minute to tie the match at 3. My heart sank when that happened (while Ferdinand was beaten like a rented mule, Ben Foster should have made a better play for the ball, but I digress). And then little Mickey Owen came to the rescue.

I’ve been on board with the Owen signing from the beginning. I think he can do exactly what he did tonight: come on and bring a fresh burst of energy in the second half (that’s not to say he can’t start the odd game, I’m thinking mainly domestic cup matches and some Premiership matches). In today’s case, he burst down the left side and received a brilliant cross from the peerless Ryan Giggs and slotted home the winner 5 minutes into extra time. It was breathtakingly quick and ruthlessly efficient.

My fascination with Manchester City remains. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there, though I do know that they missed Emmanuel Adebayor today. I also know that Craig Bellamy is remorselessly effective yet he’ll be stapled to the bench once Adebayor and Robinho return. Their mids – esp. Nigel de Jong – are impressive at all times and appeared to have the run of the place until Sparky changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. It is their backline which causes the problems. Micah Richards is a hothead and is frequently caught out of position (kind of like how Patrice Evra used to be). Square-headed Joleon Lescott was less than effective today and doesn’t seem to be worth the money City spent on him. Wayne Bridge was overmatched. Only Kolo TourĂ©, who was basically a holding mid all match, looked like he belonged.

Nevertheless, this was a match for the ages. It was impressive all around and should whet everyone’s appetite for the return leg in a few weeks. This was a classic match with everything you want from soccer – speed, tackling, offensive play, and brilliant goals. I’m not sure what it means in the larger sense yet but I’ll figure that out. For now, I’m going to enjoy the victory.

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