Premier League review and team of the week, 15
04:37, 11 Dec 2012
To begin, it’s probably best to start at the finish. Or, rather, a very specific type of finish.
Sunday ensured that there have now been six stoppage-time goals in the last seven Manchester derbies in the league, a pretty remarkable stat for such games.
While that illustrates the closeness of the two teams in terms of quality, this one also saw United reclaim a certain authority in a manner that might end up proving even more important than the three points.
Because, after the two defeats last season as well as the incredible way in which City won the league, it appeared as if Roberto Mancini’s side had appropriated a lot of what made United, well, United. What’s more, that very title win also inferred that they were simply a better team.
Indeed, as the second half of Sunday’s derby built to a crescendo, it seemed as if that was all to be borne out again - with City returning to the top of the table for even better measure. Who, after all, would have bet against the champions getting the eventual winner following Pablo Zabaleta’s winner, particularly given how the most recent big games had gone. City, after all, had developed a very Ferguson knack for scoring late goals.
What’s more, while a fascinating but still flawed United had seemed to use up all the energy derived from a desire for vengeance in the first half, City had roused themselves in the second to the point a breakthrough seemed inevitable.
Much like in the most recent history of the fixture, and the league itself, momentum seemed to be with them.
As such, the manner in which United stole the game may be momentous even beyond all the usual drama surrounding last-minute winners.
Not only did they fend City off and ultimately defeat them to make the gap an impressive six points, they’ve reclaimed the derby as well as the most definitive way of deciding it.
There was also, of course, another layer even to that. Because, throughout last season’s troubles at Old Trafford, it seemed utterly obvious that Ferguson needed to bolster the defensive part of his game. Instead, he surprisingly enhanced his already prolific attack.
Robin Van Persie was seen as a somewhat unnecessary luxury.
That view, however, has been badly mistaken.
The Dutch striker has proven essential. Sunday marked his seventh outright match-winner this season, meaning he has been directly responsible for 14 of United’s points. Once again, Ferguson’s apparent counter-intuition has been proven correct.
Then again, that in itself is in-keeping with this title race.
It certainly isn’t standard, after all, for leaders and eventual champions to squander two separate two-goal leads away to their biggest rivals. The most important stat, though, is that United still won those games and, as such, have claimed victory in their three toughest/biggest away games this season.
Of course, the character and quality City illustrated in the second half will mean another comeback from them should not be discounted. The complication now, though, is that United possess a momentum, belief, initiative and lead that weren’t there before.
As goes without saying, things have got pretty bad for Arsenal. One thing that should be said, though, is that Arsene Wenger never seems to let them get terminal. We’ve been in this situation before, after all. Had West Brom managed to win, or even claim a draw, at the Emirates on Saturday, then a crisis would have started to become a calamity. The pressure would have really built. Once again, though, just when things seemed to reach a nadir, Wenger pulled the right result out. That, of course, is probably down to one of the genuine positives of his long career at the club: the very experience necessary to keep composed in such situations and not exacerbate the anxiety. For the moment, it keeps Arsenal buoyant and the Champions League places in sight. It doesn’t, however, solve their many problems. This team still looks unlikely to go on any kind of run, and arguably sum up the unpredictability of this Premier League season beyond the top two better than anyone.
Liverpool may have had two former West Ham players as well as one current one to thank for all of their goals on Sunday, but it was probably another Upton Park player who didn't score but the Anfield club have also been interested in that had the biggest influence on the game. It was telling that, just four minutes after Mohamed Diame went off, Joe Cole scored the equaliser and Liverpool’s decent possession finally had discernible end product. Of course, despite the helping hand they got there without Luis Suarez, credit should still be given to Brendan Rodgers and his team for taking advantage of the swing. For West Ham, the one positive to Diame’s injury is that it may mean the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal won’t be able to give him a medical in January.
Team of the week
1. David De Gea (Manchester United)
2. Sascha Riether (Fulham)
3. Luke Shaw (Southampton)
4. Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
5. Jose Fonte (Southampton)
6. James McCarthy (Wigan)
7. Jason Puncheon (Southampton)
8. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
9. Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
10. Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
11. Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City)