As January begins and the Premier League festive fixture pile up has been successfully negotiated for another year, thoughts turn to the most prestigious domestic cup competition in Europe. That’s right, last weekend saw the FA Cup well and truly get going as the big boys joined the party on third round Saturday. The competition, which has gone through a difficult patch in recent years, suffering in popularity, still captures the imagination of football fans in Britain and across the world, and is on the rise again, with this year’s third round attendances set to be the largest for thirty years. The pick of the third round ties was undoubtedly Manchester United’s trip across town to face bitter rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
United entered this game desperate to exact some kind of revenge for the 1-6 drubbing handed down to them by City when the two sides met earlier in the season at Old Trafford. City, for their part, were looking to continue their excellent home form, unbeaten in all competitions so far this season. It was the Citizens who started better, showing confidence and knocking the ball around smartly in the first ten minutes, content to let United work hard and chase the ball. Suddenly, on 11 minutes, with their first real attack and totally against the run of play, Valencia crossed for Rooney who met the ball flush on the forehead and thumped a header past Pantilimon, in goal for city, in off the underside of the bar. The game then swung massively in United’s favour, Chris Foy, the referee, gave City centre-back Vincent Kompany a straight red card. A contentious decision which illustrated the lack of understanding all round as to what is permissible on the football pitch, and what isn’t. Kompany won the ball cleanly from Nani, making no contact with the United player whatsoever, however he was deemed to have used two feet to make the tackle, Rooney took it upon himself to make that clear to Chris Foy, who duly produced the red card. Opinions were polarised about the decision, and Mancini was confident that the ruling would be overturned, however an appeal against the card has been rejected by the FA this week, further highlighting the lack of clarity amongst the FA, referees, managers and players as regards the rules of the game, and how they’re enforced.
Manchester United were thrust very much into the ascendency, and all credit to them, they capitalised on the situation greatly. Right on the half hour mark, Danny Welbeck smashed a beautifully executed volley into Pantilimon’s left corner, following a little pinball in the City area, again demonstrating what an exciting young talent he is. City were shell-shocked and found themselves in more trouble ten minutes later when Kolarov up-ended, the excellent, Welbeck inside the area. Wayne Rooney stepped up to the spot, Pantilimon saved his, less than convincing penalty, however Rooney was quickest to the rebound and nodded it back across the City keeper to make it 0-3. The slowness with which the City players reacted to the penalty rebound was remarkable, encapsulating the stunned atmosphere around the Etihad stadium at half-time.
Desperately needing to firm things up and get a foothold in the game, Roberto Mancini made two changes at half-time, bringing on Savic and Zabaleta for Silva and Johnson. Within three minutes, the Sky Blues had a goal back, Kolarov bending a sublime, 22yd, free-kick over the wall, and into Lindegaard’s bottom left hand corner. Ferguson’s reaction was to replace Nani with Paul Scholes, the veteran midfielder having announced his decision to come out of retirement only hours before kick-off. If Scholes’ introduction was an attempt from Ferguson to help the United midfield keep the ball and regain control in the middle of the pitch, it backfired spectacularly. Within less than a quarter of an hour, the 37 year old, played a terribly misplaced ball across his own back four, Sergio Aguero capitalised on the error, and was there to put in the rebound after Lindegaard had failed to hold his initial effort. 2-3, and a barnstorming final 25 was on the cards. City thought they should have had a penalty on 80 minutes as Phil Jones seemed to dive and block Zabaleta’s cross with his arm, City players were adamant, and the replay seemed to back their case up, but referee Foy was unmoved. Then in the final moments, Kolarov had the chance to repeat his earlier heroics with a free-kick in an almost identical spot, the Serbian got hold of it well enough, but this time it was just too close to Lindegaard, and the United keeper beat it away.
A fantastic match, pulsating, and even a little frantic at times, a wonderful example of cup football at its finest. Manchester City looked dead and buried at half-time, many of their fans must have been worried that United were going to reverse the Old Trafford score-line and hand out a trouncing, however Mancini rallied and organised his troops brilliantly for the second-half, they will take a lot of comfort from the way they came back into the game. Manchester United emerge happy, a measure of respect regained for Ferguson’s men, although their second half performance will cause the Scot more than a moment or two of concern, especially since they face a trip to Anfield in the next round, where the atmosphere is likely to be explosive!
This article was commissioned by and published on http://www.euro-2012-blog.com/ . First published on 12/01/12.