Manchester City are no laughing matter – 5 reasons to cheers!
Nice experience, shame about the legs. By selecting Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes as his midfield trio, Sir Alex Ferguson engine room had a combined age of 105 years.
The deployment of Park Ji-sung further forward to shadow Manchester City’s Yaya Toure added another 31 years to United’s ageing midfield and while the first-half tactic of pressing the ball and suffocating the centre of the pitch worked well, it left Wayne Rooney isolated up-front.
Long-term injuries to Tom Cleverley and Anderson have denied United an attacking midfielder this season, but Giggs and Scholes no longer have the energy to burst forward, while Carrick naturally sits deep.
And when United had to chase the game after the break, they had three midfielders unable to burst forward.
2. A good night for the man in black
Few would have expected Andre Marriner to get the nod ahead of the likes of Howard Webb or Phil Dowd to referee this game due to the high stakes involved, but the West Midlands official excelled.
Just imagine the pressure that comes with refereeing a fixture between two local rivals that can as good as decide the title?
Marriner was calm thoughout, however, and he let the game flow, ignoring two ambitious United penalty appeals and only issuing the yellow card when tempers threatened to boil over. A first-half chat with Wayne Rooney and
Patrice Evra certainly helped keep Rooney in check. A Fifa official, Marriner is no celebrity referee, but he showed at the Etihad that he is a good one.
3. Samir Nasri finally beginning to deliver
Samir Nasri had his pick of City or United after deciding to leave Arsenal last summer, but for much of this season, the French midfielder appeared to have made the wrong choice.
In and out of the City team and urged by Roberto Mancini to work harder defensively, Nasri also had to overcome the early season form of David Silva.
But against United, the 24-year-old was a constant threat, pushing United back on both flanks and making himself time and again.
Had he played this well from the start of the season, Nasri could have made himself the central figure in City’s title bid, but having shown his true worth, the challenge now is to maintain it.
4. Mancini is under Ferguson’s skin and is winning the mind games
With 76 minutes on the clock, Roberto Mancini went toe-to-toe with Sir Alex Ferguson in the technical area in a moment that summed up the Italian’s success in getting to the United manager.
Ferguson, angered by Nigel de Jong’s challenge on Danny Welbeck, complained bitterly to fourth official Mike Jones and Mancini instantly joined in, prompting an angry response from his opposite number.
Mancini has played the mind games well in recent weeks, insisting the title is over and that United can only lose it.
Few have rattled Ferguson as Mancini has done and not since Jose Mourinho in his Porto days has a manager dared challenge the Scot. Mancini has taken him on and might end the season as top dog.
5. Manchester City are no laughing matter
For years, City have been the butt of jokes in Manchester, with even Sir Alex Ferguson joining in by labelling the Etihad Stadium as the Temple of Doom.
It was United’s Temple of Doom on Monday night, though, and the City supporters, so often ridiculed for being pessimistic nervous wrecks, played their part in getting their team over the line. There were few jitters, just noisy support of their team.
For four years, the question has been all about when the balance of power will shift in Manchester, but the pendulum swung heavily towards the blue half with this result.
Two more victories and the title is City’s and, once and for all, the comedy club tag will be banished forever.