As the Premier League fixtures came to a little halt in the first week of January. Things resumed as they had left off in the Carabao cup. Two major semi-finals were to be played to decide who would be competing in the Carabo cup finals. The tournament itself had been pretty one-sided so far. City had won the cup the last three times which makes them hot favorites to win. So it went without saying that they were clear favorites here. But for their Semi-final fixture, the Noisy neighbors had an in-form Manchester United team ready to challenge their honor.
Manchester Derbies have traditionally been volatile action-packed games. These meetings between the two sides of Manchester more often than not sparked up feuds, fouls, and whatnot. However, off late, they seem to have lost their edge. This had been showcased very well not so long ago when the two sides met and fought out a simple 0-0 draw with almost no action at all. Thankfully, this game was far from that.
Defense: Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko
Midfield: Fernandinho, Gundogan, Phil Foden, De Bruyne, Mahrez
Defense: Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw
Midfield: Pogba, Fred, McTominay, Fernandes
Attack: Martial, Rashford
In the opening few minutes, United started pressing well high up the pitch. Which resulted in a close one v one situation. Wherein Rashford failed to sneak the ball past Steffen but minutes later, Stones managed to slot it into his own net. This goal would soon be called offside but what an attacking gusto it brought to the game. While the fans tried to catch their breath, minutes later the ball found itself into the other side of the net. Due to a well-placed finish by Gundogan but this goal would soon be deemed offside as well.
Certainly, that should have been the quota for anti-climaxes on the night. But there were more a few minutes later Phil Foden leaped onto the ball, ran it across the final third, and snuck it past Henderson’s leg only to have another (magnificent) goal be deemed offside. While this led to some very frustrated faces on both ends of the pitch. There was no doubting that a true Manchester Derby spark had been ignited. Almost as if to pay homage to the theme of the night which was what could have been, De Bruyne struck a wonder strike later in the first half which rung against the pole only to see it get deflected wide.
Kudos to Henderson on that instance who’s prayers were answered as Kevin’s shot was sadly and ever so slightly off target. There was no reaction that wasn’t covered on the sidelines as both managers and players could barely believe what was going on. Regardless, by some miracle, the first half ended 0-0. Even the commentators agreed that this game did not deserve to be nil-all at any instance from thereon.
After the many acrobatics and the near misses of the first half. One would have expected a real predator to get behind the ball and come up with something fine and sublime to give his side the lead in the second half. A predator came, however timid and three years in the waiting as John Stones. He guided a simple curled set-piece free-kick into the net to give his side a much-needed lead just five minutes into the second half. United now knew that they had to come up with something. Thus with Fred, Pogba, and Fernandes, they kept attacking straight and slightly wide to find an opening in Manchester City’s defense. However, an improvement in recent times, City’s defense with Stones and Ruben looked as solid as a wall.
On occasion, there were a couple of dry spaces created around the box. But City Zack Steffen rose to the occasion and made sure that United would not get as much as a whiff of a goal. As frustrations built, Henderson was tested a couple of times more where he did exceptionally. As his team kept searching for a goal, there was bound to be a little fumble there sooner or later. A little after the 80th-minute mark, Wan Bissaka found himself in an awkward position to clear off the ball and while he did decently, Fernandinho and his first touch Volley had other plans from afar. A shot so purely struck, Henderson who had been a cat the whole evening, didn’t even try to stop it.
As the 2-0 scoreline set in, United almost entirely switched off. During the last five minutes with a few mediocre runs and running into a lot of City interceptions. As the match came to an end. The noisy neighbors claimed the top spot in a competition that they thrive on and basked in their glory in none other than United’s backyard.
After City’s Chelsea game, we all expected City to be dominant throughout. United on the other hand had been very good in recent weeks at earring results through grit and vigor. While their vigor was still very much in place, the same can’t be said for their creativity going into the third. Yes, the City defense did very well. It felt like after a point, they were just re-working the same three defensive drills that kept working and United kept trying the hope of a fumble.
Manchester City did deserve to win the game. Even on all the goals scored offside, City was beating United. Which tells you how dynamic their play had been throughout the game. While United did concede two goals. Both of them came from rather unavoidable situations and for the most part, they stifled City very well. One could argue that the Greenwood impact was needed much much sooner but now that they are out, it’s time to let the bygones be bygones.
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