Manchester City may have taken the spoils with a 2-1 win against their local rivals on Monday night, but this season has been one of bitter disappointment for Roberto Mancini’s men.
The bragging rights from beating Manchester United in their own backyard will provide scant consolation as City enter the final weeks of the season 12 points behind the Red Devils.
The Citizens have been uninspiring this season as Alex Ferguson's men have steamrolled towards the league title.
City also finished bottom of their Champion’s League group, failing to win a single game.
But Mancini insists it would be a different story had he been able to sign his top targets in the summer, going as far as saying they would be top of the Premier League and in the Champion’s League semis had he succeeded.
This seems a lazy excuse for a man who has spent multitudes of cash over the past few seasons.
Even the most fervent City fan will admit that this season’s signings have been underwhelming for the most part. Mancini spent £12m on England midfielder Jack Rodwell whose only memorable contribution to this season was the errant back pass that set up Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus to score in the 1-1 Champions League draw at the Etihad.
Their most expensive signing was Spanish defensive midfielder Javi Garcia, who has had a steady but unspectacular campaign, while Brazilian Maicon seems to have only been bought to keep the physios occupied. Winger Scott Sinclair, however, has only proved successful as a replacement for the ‘benchwarmer role’ recently vacated by Adam Johnson.
The only bright spark has been young Serbian Matija Nastasic, who was signed from Fiorentina. Despite being relatively unknown on our shores before this year, he has slotted in nicely to City’s back-line, turning in some solid performances in his 19 appearances this season.
Manchester United’s signings on the other hand have sparked the side into life. Fergie’s chief signing of Dutch hit-man Robin van Persie seems a snip at £24m. The ex-Arsenal striker has scored 19 Premier League goals, including the decisive goal when the Manchester sides met at the Etihad in December.
While Mancini will cite missing out on RVP (who was one of his ‘top’ summer targets), it would be wrong to claim he is the sole reason for United’s success.
It is true that at the start of the season the Dutchman was the driving force behind his side, scoring goals and earning them points even when their form was patchy. He more or less won the game at Southampton single-handedly with a stunning hat-trick, while also scoring the winners against Liverpool, Reading, West Ham and City along with a host of other goals.
Recently though, RVP’s goals have dried up, with just one in his last eight games. Yet before Monday’s game against City, United had won seven games in a row.
Therein lies the difference between City and United – City signed a bunch of squad players to mostly fill the bench, whereas United have an entire squad that can come in and contribute effectively.
Take Rooney for example. Much has been made of the Englishman’s lack of form this season, with rumours at one time point towards an exit. Yet in the eight games RVP has struggled in, Rooney has stepped up with five goals. Kagawa has contributed three, Giggs two and Rafael even weighed in with a rocket of a goal.
It’s not just the attack that has won games for United though. Quite the opposite in fact – it is United’s defence who has been vital. In their last eight games, United have conceded just two goals. The returning Nemanja Vidic has been a key factor in this respect, keeping five consecutive clean sheets.
This is again an example of some of the squad stepping up to pick up the slack of others. United’s defence seemed incredibly shaky towards the start of the season and it was mostly down to RVP’s goals that they led the way. But since the attack has faltered, the defence has stepped up, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans turning in some superb performances alongside Vidic.
This superb mentality is down to the manager. Unlike Mancini, who has bought a number of big names to supplement a squad chock-full of stars, Fergie has identified the key areas that needed improving.
For example, most people will laugh when I say that another Dutch signing has arguably been as important to United as RVP; Alexander Buttner.
This is not due to the young left-back’s performances on the pitch however (having only made three appearances). But since his fantastic, goalscoring debut against Wigan back in September, you may have noticed a marked improvement in another defender’s form.
Frenchman Patrice Evra came in for criticism last season, but has been wonderful in this campaign with four goals and five assists in 28 games. Arguably, the signing of Buttner is the catalyst to have sparked such strong form, spurring him to cement his place.
This is another example of Fergie identifying a weak area of his side, and signing a player to remedy the problem.
And in a few years, Buttner will probably be in the first team himself, alongside fellow summer signings Nick Powell and Chilean Angelo Henriquez.
This is Fergie’s strength – signing young players and, over the years developing them into good players who all play in the United way.
There’s an old saying that ‘you’ll never be as good as when you were playing under Fergie’, and though there are a few notable exceptions (Forlan, Pique, Ronaldo), you need only look at players like Wes Brown and John O’Shea to see there is some truth in that statement. And do you really think Cristiano Ronaldo would be the player he is today without his time under Sir Alex?
Fergie’s sides are built on a core of loyal, strong-minded players who will win him games even on their worst days.
And that’s the difference between United and City at the moment. A few big names signings coming in will never be as successful as a solid foundation.
Maybe someone should tell Mancini that.
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