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United defender Rio Ferdinand plunges into a tackle during last night’s hard-fought derby © Getty Images
Last night, in the floodlit glare of Manchester’s Etihad Stadium, the two best teams in the Premier League were locked in a grim struggle for mastery of English football. As many as 650 million people had tuned in worldwide to watch what some commentators are already calling the most important match of 2012.
Lining up on one side were the red-shirts of Manchester United, the club that has dominated top-flight football for nearly twenty years, driven by the iron will of manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
On the other side, in sky blue, were arch rivals Manchester City. After years spent at the lower ends of the league tables, City’s fortunes were transformed in 2008 by the arrival of billionaire new owners from the Middle East, who helped the club assemble the most expensive squad of players in the Premier League.
The match was a contest of nerves as well as skill. Again and again, the City front three launched probing runs towards the United goal, but each time they hit an unbreakable line of red shirts, marshalled by England centre-back Rio Ferdinand.
United were holding out, and at the other end, lone striker Wayne Rooney showed flashes of brilliance that threatened to ruin City’s night – but, just before the stroke of half-time, the sky-blues struck what was to be the decisive blow. Winger David Silva stroked an elegant corner kick into the penalty area – where club captain Vincent Kompany was waiting to smash the ball into the gaping United net.
As the referee blew to signal the goal, a groan of disbelief went up from the fans at the United end. By the end of the second half, disbelief had turned to despair. The score remained – one-nil.
Leading on goal difference, with only two games left to play before the end of the season, Manchester City are now strong favourites to become this year’s Premier League champions.
End of an era
The Manchester derby was a clash of footballing philosophies. City assembled a team of extraordinary talents – men like Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero or Yaya Toure. Two of City’s stars, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, are famous for bad behaviour and temper tantrums. But team manager Roberto Mancini has managed to coax his squad of millionaires into giving him results.
United, on the other hand, are all about iron discipline. Sir Alex Ferguson has filled his side with veterans, men like Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes, who have been playing for the team for half their lives. When cocky stars misbehave, or challenge Ferguson’s authority, he throws them out. The individual is nothing. The collective is supreme. This team spirit has kept United on top for two decades, but that age of dominance may now be at an end.
1. Are you pleased Manchester City won?
2. Why does sport matter so much to people?
1. Who would win a match between a middle-ranking but well-trained football team and a team of world-class players who had never played together before in their lives? Write a match report analysing the imaginary game.
2. Divide the class into two. One group should act out the scene in the United dressing room at half-time. The other group should act out the City dressing room. How do you think the players and managers would behave?
Radio presenter Terry Christian looks back at Manchester derbies of the past, and asks whether today’s contests can compare. Scroll down for video highlights of a famous derby from 1975.
How the Premier League table looks after last night’s clash.
An excellent report on last night’s match from the Telegraph’s Henry Winter.
What does football have in common with socialism? An interesting piece from the time of the 2010 World Cup.
Q: I’m not sure I care about club football.
A: You may be in the minority there. As well as the hundreds of millions of people who watched the game, an extraordinary number put money on it. Bookies estimate that more cash was won or lost on the game last night than you would get if you won the National Lottery fifty times over.
Q: But aren’t international matches more important?
A: Not necessarily. Anyway, the underlying issues at stake last night also apply in the international game. Just yesterday afternoon, the Football Association was meeting its favoured candidate for the job of England team manager.
A: The favourite is former Fulham and Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, known as a strict disciplinarian. The FA chose not to approach Harry Redknapp, a manager with an eye for players who have flair.
Premier League – The Premier League is England’s top football competition, and is the most watched club football league in the world. All twenty teams in the league play each other twice, with three points for a win, one point for a draw and nothing for a loss.
Billionaire new owners – Despite the fact that most football clubs operate at huge losses, they remain popular purchases for the super rich, who sometimes spend fortunes pushing their club to the top. Proposed ‘financial fair play rules’ may soon forbid clubs from spending much more than they earn in revenue. That could put a severe dent in Manchester City’s budgets.
Penalty area – The penalty area in football is the large rectangular area around each goal-mouth. If an attacking player is tackled illegally within this area, he or she is awarded a penalty kick – a free shot on goal.
Goal difference – If, at the end of a Premier League season, the top two teams are level on points, the winning team is the team with the higher goal difference. Goal difference is equal to the total number of goals scored by the team that season minus the total number of goals conceded by the team that season. By this measure, Manchester United score 53, but Manchester City score an impressive 61.
‘Manchester City’s spending is a form of cheating.’
What do you think?
Physical Education, PSHE