Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Monday Morning Keeper: EPL Week 36

Courtesy of The Daily Mail
So maybe I'm a day late, but it was the one day that mattered the most so far this season. Monday was the much anticipated Manchester Derby between United and City for what could decide the title if all else holds.

An estimated 650 million people tuned in across the globe to watch the match which fell during prime time viewing hours in Europe and late afternoon here in the states. To put that in comparison, the Superbowl this year drew an estimated 167 million viewers. Strangely enough, this Derby was the first EPL match to be shown on ESPN in lieu of the traditional ESPN2 in the states, an attempt by the network to pull in additional fringe sports fans.

The Etihad stadium was packed to capacity and then some. Even the luxury suites with the likes of Liam Gallagher, Diego Maradona, and more appeared to be over-flowing on to the seats below them. Tens of thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium to watch the match on a big screen and even more gathered at City Centre a short distance away to watch the live feed.

The line-up for both teams were as expected, though slightly more of a surprise on the United side of the pitch. City went with the same offensively minded line-up from a week ago against Wolverhampton, with Tevez and Aguero up top. United went with a more defensive group of players, just Rooney leading the attack and no Chicharito, Young, or Welbeck offering additional attacking options. Clearly United knew they were looking for a draw, and perhaps that mindset forced them to play a style of game they weren't use to.

The first half had only a handful of chances, mainly at the City end of the pitch. In typical City fashion, the center of the field was over crowded with midfielders and attackers almost getting in the way of one another, with each trying to find a place to pull the trigger. On the counter attacks, United was spread wide, moving the ball fluidly from left to right and offering great crosses into the box.

As the first half moved into stoppage time, that is when the magic happened. A block by the United keeper forced a late corner kick which David Silva delivered high and hard to 6 yard box. City lacks height for headers on corners, but it was the team captain Vincent Kompany who out jumped the defense and drilled a header straight into the net. To say he out jumped might be an understatement, as you can see from the picture below, his head was over the top of the cross bar.

Vincent Kompany goes high for the header (Courtesy of The Daily Mail)

That shot of energy and an unusual early lead for City helped the team as they came out for the second half. United continued to attack and when they didn't see more looks Ferguson put on Welbeck, and then Valencia, and then Young. Three substitutes, three attacking upgrades. To counter Mancini went with De Jong only 15 minutes into the second half, now it was time to bunker down.

Perhaps the highlight of the second half wasn't on the pitch, but rather on the sidelines between the two managers. United's players, as is typical, had been whining about calls and cards the entire match. After a tackle by United that earned the player a (soft) yellow, Alex Ferguson was in the ear of the forth official complaining about the call. Having seen enough Roberto Mancini goes over and starts telling Fergie to shut up and stop running his mouth. With only the official between them the two managers get in each others faces as the assistance coaches had to pull them apart. Perhaps it was necessary, perhaps it was another head game by Mancini, the bottom line is that it added some drama to a match that already had plenty.

For the final 20 minutes of the match both teams had chances to score, perhaps the closest was Nasri who was open inside the 18 yard box and could not get a shot off. Rooney continued to lead the counter attacks for United, but it honestly looked like the flame had gone out on the front line. After four minutes of stoppage time and a Joe Hart acting job to kill the clock, it was over, City had completed the double and moved into first place.

Just 3 weeks ago City sat on death's doorstep, 8 points out of first and with all hope lost. Following a L-D-L streak for United, the lead has been erased and City are in first on goal differential. However, the season is not over yet for either time as both have their challenges in the final two matches. City travel to Newcastle this weekend and host QPR for their final home match in two weeks. United host Swansea next and then travel to Sunderland to end the season. Any slip up by one team will open the door for the other to claim the title.

The race for fourth place in the table and the Champions League birth is getting very tight as Newcastle have faltered and allowed Tottenham back into the discussion. Meanwhile, Wigan are playing their best soccer all season and aren't letting other teams decide their relegation fate.

With a few make-up matches mid-week, most teams sit with just two games remaining; here are the standings.

1. Man City - 83 pts, +61 GD (26-5-5)
2. Man United - 83 pts, +53 GD (26-5-5)
3. Arsenal- 66 pts, +24 GD (20-6-10)
4. Tottenham - 62 pts, +20 GD (18-8-9)
5. Newcastle - 62 pts, +7 GD (18-8-9)
6. Chelsea - 61 pts, +23 GD (17-10-8)
15. Aston Villa - 37 pts, -14 GD (7-16-13)
16. Wigan - 37 pts, -22 GD (9-10-17)
17. QPR - 34 pts, -23 GD (9-7-20)
18. Bolton - 34 pts, -28 GD (10-4-21)
19. Blackburn - 31 pts, -28 GD (8-7-21)
20. Wolverhampton - 24 pts, -41 GD (5-9-22)


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