The FA cup semi final’s witnessed a Mancunian invasion upon Wembley, as United faced local rivals City in the biggest derby match for many years with a place in the final on the line. Having had the upper hand on City in recent years, United were confident that again they could see off their local rivals and continue their push for the treble. For City however, the incentive to win their first major trophy for 35 years was great, and with either Bolton or Stoke in the final, victory would leave either side massive favourites to lift the trophy. With Wayne Rooney absent, United turned to Dimitar Berbatov to lead the line, with Javier Hernandez left on the bench with the prospect of Newcastle away in the week obviously on Ferguson’s mind. City, also without their talisman Carlos Tevez opted for controversial character Mario Balotelli as a replacement, as both sides lined up in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation.
The early exchanges saw United settle down quickly, using their experience of playing at Wembley to keep City pegged back, with Carrick and Scholes running the show from midfield. United should have taken a deserved lead on 15 minutes, as some superb interchange on the edge of the city box allowed Berbatov through on goal, only for the usually reliable Bulgarian to hit his shot straight at the onrushing Hart. Merely seconds later, Nani’s superb cross across the City 6 yard area found its way to Berbatov, who with the goal gaping could only steer his shot over the cross bar. Fear’s that this wasn’t United’s day were to become a reality. City responded well from the early dominance, and began to get to grips with the Wembley pitch as firstly Balotelli tested Van Der Sar with a long range strike, and from the subsequent corner, Joleon Lescott perhaps should have scored volleying high and wide.
United went in at half time ruing the missed opportunities, and cautious that City had resurged back into the game in the later stages of the half. With both sides looking very strong defensively, it was likely that 1 goal was going to decide the match. Unfortunately for the reds, it was City who struck first just after half time, after a comedy of errors from Rio Ferdinand for failing to clear, Van Der Sar for his sliced clearance, and then significantly Micahel Carrick for presenting the ball to Toure, which allowed the Ivorian midfielder to burst through and slot City into the lead. United were shell shocked by the goal, and City were in the ascendancy as David Silva and Yaya Toure dominated a jaded and broken United midfield. The difficult task facing United was made significantly harder on 71 minutes, as Paul Scholes was dismissed for a recklessly high challenge, leaving referee Mike Dean no choice other than to show red.
With 20 minutes left to stay in the cup, United threw on Hernandez and Anderson for some much needed energy to combat City’s dominance. Ironically, the reds enjoyed their best spell of the game whilst down to 10 men, as City who smelt victory began to sit deeper and deeper allowing United to attack at will. However, despite much toil, United were physically gone, and with 10 men could not muster enough to seriously test Joe Hart, bar a Nani free kick which the England keeper did well to tip onto the bar. 5 minutes of injury time came and went, as United suffered only their 5th defeat of the season, but perhaps their most painful one yet. Although we ultimately have bigger fish to fry in both Europe and the League, the manner of our performance in such a big game is a source of great disappointment to the fans and probably all involved with the club. United must now respond as we travel to Newcastle for a must win league game on Tuesday night.