Yesterday’s FA Cup tie between the big Manchester clubs was a classic, the type of game that reminds you why football can be such a compelling sport, with echoes of that great encounter between Manchester United and Barcelona some thirteen years ago, something not lost on two of the players who played during that great Champions League semi and who were amazingly still present as players at the Etihad stadium – Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
This was not Brazil v Italy 1982, but it was stil very very good.
Seemingly finished by three goals by their bitter rivals, the last two after the referee had sent off Vincent Kompay in controversial circumstances, City retreated to the dressing room where manager Roberto Mancini showed why this team is currently sitting on the top of the Premier League.
A shift in tactics to make up for the missing player quickly saw results with a stunning free kick from Aleksander Kolarov – from now on the pressure came from City as they attempted to claw back another two goals.
That they failed to do so had more to do with bad luck than the superiority of a United side who despite this victory still looked a pale shadow of its former great self.
With more players committed to the back, the onus was on Sergio Auegro. After missing one clear chance, he did not disappoint again.
With the second in the bag, City kept on trying.
Another Kolarov freekick was struck at the goalkeeper, although United’s Anders Lindegaard did not know much about it.
In the dying seconds, even City’s keeper Costel Pantilimon who had virtually nothing to do in the second half, was attacking in one last desperate attempt to get that goal that would do for the FA Cup holders.
Had City shown the same passion in the first half – perhaps they would not have lost, but there again we would not have seen one of the great counter attacks in recent times.
United won – perhaps avenging the 6-1 League drubbing at Old Trafford – but Alex Ferguson now knows that City have gelled into a team that can no longer be regarded as a poor rival.
Some people are saying that the games between these two big Manchester Clubs are beginning the el classico encounters between Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
If that is the case, then the emergence of Mancini’s City may yet be the biggest challenge facing the United boss.