Manchester City Edge Rivals Manchester United 1-0, Reclaim Top Spot
Man United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, admitted Roberto Mancini’s men are now in the league's "driving seat," despite the two teams being tied with 83 points at the top of the table. City, however, hold a crucial eight-goal advantage in the first tiebreaker – goal differential.
Man City dominated possession for much of the game, and pressured Man United for much of the first half. A very active Samir Nasri supplied numerous crosses into the box, with Argentine starlets Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez also looking threatening. Even fullback Pablo Zabaleta was in attack mode and found himself in United's box on several occasions.
The Blues, though, weren't quite able to penetrate United's back line of Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling with a quality final ball, so when Vincent Kompany headed home a David Silva corner kick moments before halftime, the simplicity of the goal was a bit surprising. The big Belgian defender found himself with a few feet of space in front of David De Gea’s goal and made Smalling pay for missing the clearance. The crowd and players erupted in jubilation, sensing a turning of the tide.
United started the match with a very defensive lineup that saw star winger Antonio Valencia on the bench. Sir Alex Ferguson's men seemed happy to soak up the City pressure and take their chances on the counter-attack. Those chances never materialized, however, with United tallying zero shots on target the entire game and only five shots total. City took 13 shots with five winding up on goal. City finished the match with a 53-percent-to-47-percent advantage in the time of possession.
The Red Devils looked more threatening later on after the addition of Danny Welbeck in the 58th minute, who replaced the ineffective Park Ji-Sung. Valencia finally made an appearance in the 78th minute, subbing for defensive midfielder Paul Scholes. Ferguson's final roll of the dice came in the 83rd when he sent Ashley Young into the game for Nani. Despite the changes, Ferguson's team never really found a creative spark and put in a disappointing overall performance.
United's manager didn't take the result sitting down though, and got into a war of words on the touchline with City manager Roberto Mancini, who looked bemused by the whole encounter, making a chirping hand gesture in response to Ferguson's rant.
Ferguson criticized his counterpart to Sky Sports after the match.
"He was badgering the official the whole game -- the fourth official and the linesman. As soon as I go out there, he's up again," Ferguson said. "He was complaining about referees the other week... he can't be complaining tonight, that's for sure."
Mancini tried to downplay the encounter, saying, “I don't remember. I told the fourth official it was a foul for us, not for them."
The result represents a massive turnaround for Manchester City who seemed dead and buried in the title race less than four weeks ago when they crashed to a 1-0 loss away to Arsenal. But Manchester United's so called "noisy neighbors" clawed their way back into the mix with wins against West Brom, Norwich City and Wolverhampton, and capitalized on a couple of shocking United results – a 1-0 loss at Wigan and a demoralizing 4-4 home draw with Everton in which the Red Devils twice relinquished a two-goal advantage.
City faces a tough test away to Newcastle next week as the Magpies continue to battle for fourth place with Tottenham and Chelsea in the hope of securing Champions League football next year. City finish the season at home to QPR, while United will play upstart Swansea City at home and then close the season at mid-table Sunderland.
Two games is an eternity in the Premier League, and City cannot be crowned champions until the final whistle of the season blows. But the importance of this result cannot be ignored. It appears the club may have finally overcome a decades long inferiority complex and found some glory of their own.
We'll know in two weeks.