Analysis and Observations: Smalling rises to the occasion
Manchester Utd 2-1 Manchester City: Observations and Analysis
“I think it’s the best goal I’ve ever scored, I saw it coming over and I thought, why not? I was just delighted to see it go in the net and get the three points. Nine times out of 10 they go into the stand… it’s the first overhead kick I’ve scored since turning professional.” Wayne Rooney
In an interview in Friday’s edition of Sport magazine, Ryan Giggs spoke of how a moment of “individual brilliance” would probably decide the outcome of the Manchester Derby. You could only imagine that Giggs had with him that day a crystal ball. Wayne Rooney, sensing the occasion, the importance of such a fixture, had sent the Old Trafford faithful into delirium with an astonishing acrobatic finish. Words don’t quite do it justice, though.
Incredible more so because Rooney, a player in something of a confidence crisis, had endured much hard luck at the hands of City’s defenders. Up front alone, he was as isolated as an American in the Twenties. Still, there is no surprise that ten of his last eleven goals for the club have been scored at Old Trafford.
Smalling takes centre stage. On a day, when rightly so, Wayne Rooney would grab all the headlines for his one moment of brilliance, it was Chris Smalling who played, perhaps, his best game in a United shirt. In the absence of Rio Ferdinand, Smalling seized his opportunity and looked relatively unfazed with the prospect of playing in a Derby. Smalling has exceeded expectations in his first season; the reason for that is he found some luck at others expense. Ferdinand has missed games to injuries and Evans has seen a decline in form. But he’s made much use of his team mates misfortunes and thrived in such an occasion.
His parter, Nemanja Vidic, had somewhat of a mixed-game – at times, the Serb was sloppy; his distribution from the back was not at all spectacular but overall he was solid. Both were helpless to City’s equaliser - a lucky deflection off Silva’s back threatened to take away from Smalling’s performance.
Nani shows no mercy to Zabaleta. Pablo Zabaleta, out of position, could have hardly envisaged this. Nani showed little mercy, if any, for the Argentine and prospered down the right flank without any trouble. A goal, and an assist; just another day at the office. His goal was the result of a rapid one-touch move that ended with a lovely finish by the winger – accompanied by an expert first touch. Nani has now scored or assisted 20 goals for Manchester United in his last 20 Premier League appearances – such impact he’s had in a season where United fans witness some sort of consistency that they’d never quite have believed a year ago.
United had Kompany (pardon the awful pun). While City’s title hopes look all but over, they could at least take something out a game where they didn’t play all that bad from Vincent Kompany’s performance at the back. He, and Micah Richards, were excellent. United’s midfield, bar Nani, had struggled for large parts and so Rooney, was isolated and left frustrated at the lack of service. Kompany, emerging an outside candidate for best defender of the season, was consistently good and like Smalling, didn’t put a foot wrong.
The report card. Playing the role of the teacher, I’ll attempt to grade United’s players on their performance. Obviously some of the ‘grades’ will be argued against – but it would be appreciated if you gave feedback on the not-so-tried-and-tested system:
van der Sar C, Evra C, Chris Smalling A, Nemanja Vidic C, John O’Shea C, Anderson D, Ryan Giggs B-, Nani A, Paul Scholes B+, Darren Fletcher C, Wayne Rooney D.