[Premier League] Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United
ManCity : Vincent Kompany (45)
United spurned the chance to all but seal a 20th league title with victory against neighbours Manchester City on Monday night.
Instead, a goal on the stroke of half-time by Vincent Kompany handed the Blues three points and the advantage in this thrilling title race.
Now, with just two games to play, both sides are level on 83 points. But City boast a vastly superior goal difference and are hot favourites to collect a first league title since 1968.
Nothing's decided yet, mind you. Roberto Mancini's men still face a tricky trip to Newcastle next weekend before welcoming relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers to the Etihad on the final day of the season.
Judging by the scenes at the final whistle on Monday night, though, City fans are convinced their long wait for domestic supremacy is over. They certainly won this battle at the Etihad, as United struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
Of course, played under the spectre of “the biggest Manchester derby ever”, the match was always in danger of drowning in its own hype. In fairness, though, while there have been many more entertaining meetings between the sides in recent years – the 4-3 at Old Trafford, anyone? - this contest served up its fair share of drama, including a tense final 10 minutes and a touchline spat between the two managers.
Sir Alex's team selection was the first big surprise of the night. His decision to make four changes to the side that drew 4-4 against Everton eight days earlier certainly raised plenty of eyebrows.
In came Chris Smalling and Phil Jones (for the injured Jonny Evans and Rafael), while Ji-sung Park was handed his first league start since January and deployed in the centre of midfield alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes. Ryan Giggs started on the left flank, while Nani was given the nod ahead of Antonio Valencia on the right .
The Reds' 4-5-1 formation – with Wayne Rooney as a lone striker – hinted at a cautious, containing approach from the visitors and yet it was United who asked the first questions as Patrice Evra won a corner within a minute and Michael Carrick's hooked effort was blocked on the way to goal.
United continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession in the opening exchanges but the attacking limitations of the Reds' formation became obvious when Rooney, released by a lovely through-ball from Michael Carrick, was forced to hold the ball up instead of delivering a cross into a penalty area devoid of red shirts.
City soon gained a foothold in the game, although it took until the 16th minute for the Blues to work their way in behind United's defence. And when Samir Nasri did thread a pass through to Carlos Tevez, the Argentine's low cross was well cut out by Jones.
Sergio Aguero then volleyed over on 25 minutes at what proved to be the beginning of a spell in which the Blues appeared almost to set up camp in the final third. Only dogged United defending – epitomised by Rio Ferdinand's body-on-the-line block to deny Aguero 10 minutes before the interval – prevented the home side from taking the lead.
Certainly, United's firecracker start had been reduced to a flickering ember by the time fourth offical Mike Jones raised his board to indicate two minutes' added time at the end of the first half. And it was extinguished entirely just seconds later when Vincent Kompany rose to head home David Silva's right-wing corner-kick – City's sixth corner of the game – to give the Blues the lead.
It had been coming, sure. But to concede with so little time remaining in the first half seemed to compound the blow. Still, there were no panic substitutions at the break and United began the second period in positive fashion.
A succession of corners failed to yield a clear-cut chance, though, and Sir Alex switched to 4-4-2 just before the hour mark. Park was sacrificed for Danny Welbeck to provide United with more attacking impetus, but it was City who almost scored a second when Yaya Toure drilled a ball across the six-yard box and De Gea was forced to clear with his feet.
Welbeck's introduction succeeded in penning City back and, sure enough, Mancini even withdrew one of his strikers (Tevez) and sent on a defensive midfielder (Nigel De Jong) in response. After gaining the upper hand, the Blues weren't going to relinquish it without a fight.
A loose pass by Rio Ferdinand on the halfway line allowed Yaya Toure to advance and shoot, but the Ivory Coast midfielder's effort flew past the post. Chris Smalling then produced a brave block to deny Carlos Tevez before a clumsy De Jong tackle prompted ugly scenes on the touchline where Mancini and Ferguson had to be separated.
The incident proved just how high emotions run in this fixture and served as a reminder of exactly what's at stake. A championship, that's what. And unless City now slip up in either of their next two fixtures, the Reds will surely be left to rue recent results and what might have been. If there's one thing Manchester United have taught us down the years, though, it's never to give up.
David De Gea
Could do nothing about the close-range winner from Vincent Kompany and was a virtual spectator otherwise. Made one safe catch from a Gael Clichy cross and made a late diving save to thwart the same player.
Given a severe examination at right-back and was muscled off the ball by Yaya Toure on a couple of occasions but he also made fine interceptions at times. Overhit one cross when afforded a rare amount of space and was booked for a lunge on Gareth Barry but made a goal-saving tackle to deny Samir Nasri late on.
Lost Kompany for the vital goal from a corner which was a shame considering his all-round performance. Blocked a David Silva shot and made fearsome tackles on Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta. Skinned by Toure in the closing stages but deputised for Jonny Evans with a lot of heart.
Headed balls away all night and nodded the first corner out with determination. Showed composure to control and fire one pass wide to Nani but was caught a couple of times in the frantic finale, with one error letting in the powerhouse Toure for a chance. Handled Sergio Aguero well.
Forced a corner in the first minute and another seven minutes later and played with fire. Unable to repeat those forward forays until the closing stages but displayed courage to fly into a couple of aerial duels. Beaten by the slippery Nasri on a couple of occasions but wasn't often caught out defensively.
A surprise choice in midfield after so long on the sidelines and he inevitably had to work hard to keep up with the pace of the game. Nonetheless, he tried to shut Toure down in midfield and made his fair share of tackles. Had a rare sight of goal for United when blazing over a Nani corner in the first half.
Probably United's best perfomer on the night. Had an early shout for a penalty when Kompany appeared to block his effort with a hand and made some smart passes forward to Wayne Rooney. Hustled the Blues impressively and made a number of top-quality challenges. A foul on Barry was less well timed and he was booked.
Classy and crafty as ever in midfield, playing short passes around as though it comes naturally when everyone is moving at 100 miles per hour around him. When he came off, the Reds lost a creative spark but he understandably tired when having to deal with City's energetic midfielders. Showed his fire by squaring up to Toure at one point, even though the Ivorian is virtually twice his size.
Stuck his foot in early on to try and set the tone and made a series of incisive tackles. There was one moment when time appeared to stand still when he allowed the ball to drop onto his foot and then played it forward nonchalantly with everybody expecting a backpass. A corner was touched behind by Joe Hart in one of the City keeper's few interventions and he played a fine ball down the line to Evra.
A couple of heavy touches early on betrayed some nerves and he was unable to get at Clichy as he has done in the past. A shot was high and wide and he conceded a few free-kicks due to frustration. Switched wings but got little joy out of Zabaleta either and he was replaced. Always asked to conjure up some magic but it was a tough ask on this occasion.
Came in for some rough treatment from the centre-backs, with Kompany booked for one foul, but held the ball up well with little support. Always looking to spin and move forward, he did his job effectively but, surprisingly, was unable to profit from the additional space when Danny Welbeck came on.
Danny Welbeck (for Park, 58)
Energetic and looked a man on a mission until a crude foul by Nigel De Jong lessened his impact.
Antonio Valencia (for Scholes, 78)
Another who was unlucky to lose his place in the starting line-up, he spent much of his time on the pitch in his own half, helping to defend and trying to get the ball back off City when they were keeping it in the corner.
Ashley Young (for Nani, 83)
Looked as likely as anybody to work an opening even though he was only on for a short space of time. Immediately fouled to bring jeers from the home fans but he'll be as disappointed as anybody that his injury-time corner failed to reach the danger zone.