Before we get into the match actions, it is worth noting that the minute’s silence was observed impeccably - sense and sensibility prevailed despite no love lost between both clubs. It was a touching moment that led United fans to applaud the 3,000 visiting City supporters.
Unfortunately, while Manchester City paid tribute to the tragedy of Busby Babes, they did not spare the same consideration for their arch rival’s Premier League title ambitions. Not surprising since City are battling to secure a Champions League spot by finishing fourth.
The Red Devils are now two points adrift of Arsenal who should widen the gap after meeting Blackburn Rovers at home on Monday. City are in seventh place, on the same points as fifth-placed Liverpool who drew 0-0 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
United started off with all guns blazing and nearly scored the opener in the seventh minute when a left volley by captain Ryan Giggs forced a tremendous save from City goalkeeper Joe Hart. City responded through Martin Petrov who fired a 20-yard strike narrowly over the crossbar.
The match then see-sawed between both teams without any breakthrough. In the 25th minute, City made a successful foray, with a combination of swift counter-attack and element of luck.
Petrov, in the thick of action, crossed to Stephen Ireland whose shot was blocked by Edwin van der Sar. Darius Vassell picked up the first rebound which was again blocked but he made no mistake with his second effort by tapping in from close range into an empty net.
Tevez who was the savior in last week’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur nearly equalized three minutes later. His stinging volley from the edge of the box will have bulged the net normally but it was not meant to be, with Hart in inspirational form.
Manchester United were subdued while the stars shone brightly for City who proceeded to double their lead on the stroke of half-time. Once again, Petrov was a key factor in unlocking the defenses. Having failed to clear his corner, United gifted the ball to the winger and his cross was glanced into the far corner by Benjani. The Zimbabwean was making his debut after a transfer-window signing from Portsmouth and looks likely to get an extended run.
The second half was a frenzied push by United but City withstood the constant (and non-threatening) pressure. Chances went begging as Tevez, Giggs and Ronaldo left their their scoring boots at home. As the minutes ticked away, it became increasingly clear that a draw was not possible and Manchester City may have let their guard down in this respect.
Deep into storage time, a lapse in concentration finally allowed United to score a consolation goal through Michael Carrick. It was too late for United to rescue any points and it only serves to make the score-line more respectable.
Was Manchester United so overwhelmed by the occasion that they allowed City to create history at their expenses? Not since Dennis Law backheeled United to relegation in 1974, has Manchester City claimed United’s scalp of United at Old Trafford. This victory also gave City their first league double over United since 1969.
Although United pushed forward bravely and had an abundance of chances, their passing was in disarray, they committed elementary mistakes in the final third, and the absence of the effervescent Wayne Rooney was felt sorely. Another culprit for the downfall was Ronaldo who was so brilliant in recent matches but exceptionally poor in this derby. His second-half display was marked by wayward shooting and inept crossing, just when his team needed him to step up a gear.
Without Rooney acting as a focal point to supply the final killer pass, the midfielders who are used to making deep runs or lurking just outside the box became clueless. The result is United were bereft of any penetration to seriously trouble City’s defenses.
City, with skipper Richard Dunne and Micah Richards outstanding in defense, Dietmar Hamann anchoring the midfield and Martin Petrov a constant thorn upfront, fully deserved this victory and United’s hopes of retaining their title were seriously dented.
The Red Devils are typically strong in the second half and they will bounce back for sure. However, Arsenal have the upper hand now and the title is theirs to lose. If ever they dethrone Manchester United, they have to thank Manchester City for doing them a favor.