12 days from now, Vincent Kompany may well be holding the Premier League trophy aloft at the Etihad stadium and looking back on the day he won the coveted crown for Manchester City, the day the would be champions turned around an eight point deficit to go top of the table. ‘The Temple of Doom’, as the Etihad stadium has been described by Sir Alex Ferguson, turned out to be exactly that for Manchester United whose defence of the title crumbled in the face of the Blue Moon, a display so impotent they failed to register a single shot on goal.
A case of bad team selection, the absence of Jonny Evans and an ageing squad came to haunt Ferguson who lost his nerve after a shocking tackle by De Jong and had a right go at Roberto Mancini on the touchline. The City manager refused to cower, however, symbolising City’s answer to United this season. They have risen to the occasion in the league derbies, amassing an aggregate score of 7-1 in both fixtures. Only Arsenal and Southampton have put seven past Manchester United in two games in the Premier League era.
Ferguson went with five across midfield, hoping to stifle the threat of Yaya Toure and David Silva. Park Ji-Sung was recalled – his third start of 2012 – to shadow Toure and restrict his movement. ‘Three Lung Park’ looked like a heavy chain smoker by the end of his shift, struggling to come to terms with the towering Ivorian who enjoyed leaving Park on his flat on his back for the best part of the game.
This game surely spells the end of the road for Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Ageing veterans, both have contributed to the United cause this season, but yesterday was a telling blow to Ferguson that the time for change has come. He can no longer rely on those old heads to bail him out of situations such as these, the legs have gone and so has their grasp on the title.
United were set up for a draw, Ferguson attempting to do a ‘Di Matteo’, hoping to snuff out the attacking threat posed by Mancini’s men. But while Chelsea produced one of the most defiant performances of recent times, United’s was timid and tame. There have been calls for a defensive midfield since Owen Hargreaves got injured, and the need for one was no more apparent at the Etihad (if not at Wembley last May). The system was suited to someone who could stop the City onslaught and get United going, a role Park Ji-Sung was handed and failed miserably.
It all comes down to the last two games now. City travel to Newcastle and host QPR, the former the last obstacle left on their path to glory. They will be crowned champions for the first time since 1968, a victory of money over a long lasting legacy.
United will look back on games against Blackburn and Everton, games that had three points written all over them until a defensive capitulation resulted in dropped points. Gary Neville described losing the league title on goal difference as Ferguson’s “worst nightmare” and he may well be right. Those three goals shipped in injury time at Old Trafford against City have come back to haunt the Red Devils.
Has the power changed hands in Manchester? It is difficult to tell yet but one thing is for certain, money talks and the noisy neighbours have just gotten louder.