United continued their busy week with the visit of local rivals, and potential title challengers Manchester City for one of the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derbies in many years. With the victor claiming top spot, much more than local pride was at stake as two unbeaten records were on the line, and a chance to send out a message to the chasing pack was one both sides were desperate to take. Having rested many players for last weeks trip to Anfield, United returned to more or less full strength, with only the absence of Tom Cleverley and Nemanja Vidic hindering the reds.
United began the game very brightly, with Ashley Young in particular isolating Micah Richards well down the left hand side, winning a few early free kicks and corners applying some early pressure. Whilst Fletcher and Anderson were able to enjoy large spells of possession, they ultimately failed to deliver any telling quality against a rugged and well organised City defence, who were competently absorbing what United had to offer. At the other end, David Silva was enjoying yet another brilliant afternoon, weaving in between a frightened United defence, who appeared to have no answer to the young Spaniard. Inevitably, it was a moment of individual brilliance from the much maligned Mario Balotelli which broke the deadlock on 21 minutes, as the Italian striker’s curling shot found its way into the bottom corner past the helpless De Gea. On the balance of play, it was harsh on United to go into the break a goal down, but Joe Hart had yet to be tested despite the reds enjoying large spells of the ball.
At 1-0 United were still in with a shout of turning the game around in the second half, however, disaster struck just a minute in as Jonny Evans was sent off for clearly fouling Balotelli as last man, leaving the ref no choice but to show Evans the red card, and all but end United’s realistic prospects of a result. What followed was a lesson in how to play against ten men, as a Silva inspired City inflicted United’s worst home defeat in over 50 years with a mixture of fluid football, and shambolic defending. City doubled their lead on the hour mark, with Balotelli tapping in at the far post, and soon made it three through Aguero who tapped home Richards’ cross.
United were seemingly on the end of a hiding, but were given a lifeline through Fletcher on 81 minutes, whose superb curling shot found the top corner, and gave the reds a glimmer of hope in recovering what seemed an impossible situation. It wasn’t to be for United though, and a chaotic final 4 minutes saw a kamikaze attempt to try and retrieve the game end in disaster, as City added a further three goals on the break, firstly through substitute Dzeko, then Silva, and the rout was completed by Dzeko, ending a thoroughly miserable afternoon for the red half of Manchester. Next for United, a trip to Aldershot in the carling cup.
De Gea – 5 Helpless against the onslaught.
Smalling – 6 Attacked well when United had 11 men.
Ferdinand – 4 Outpaced with alarming ease, failed to marshal the defence when needed most.
Evans – 4 Suicidal red card.
Evra – 4 Constantly caught out in the final minutes of the game.
Nani – 4 Frustrating afternoon, careless in possession.
Fletcher – 6 Battled hard and scored wonderful goal.
Anderson – 4 Gulf in class between him and Silva/Toure alarming.
Young – 6 United’s only real attacking threat all game.
Rooney – 6 Fought till the end despite being out of position 2nd half.
Welbeck – 6 Tireless worker and tidy on the ball, badly lacked support.
Hernandez – 5 Barely got a touch in the final minutes.
Jones – 4 Should have shut up shop in embarrassing finale.