Strong leadership wins titles and on Monday night, Manchester City captain, Vincent Kompany, led by example. In the dying embers of a tense first half, the Belgian centre-back found himself unmarked in the Manchester United penalty area and duly delivered what would prove to be a crushing blow to his cross-city rivals.
In a match viewed by many as a potential Premier League decider, one goal was enough to see City return to the summit on goal difference with two games remaining.
…unprepared to relinquish the kitchen sink.
In truth, the ninety minutes were cagey: United sat back to defend, but City were unprepared to relinquish the kitchen sink. The first half belonged to the sky blues as City controlled possession and demonstrated the intricate build-up play that defined their early season successes. However, the second saw United open up more, yet still at no point were they resolute enough to match their opponent’s intensive and determined display.
For the first time in living memory, a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson played with fear. The likes of Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes looked forlorn as every 50-50 tackle, every loose ball and every aerial duel seemed to go in City’s favour. And what’s more, it was one of those rare occasions when Fergie seemed to get his tactics wrong. The omissions of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck from the starting line-up proved major talking points as those that filled their boots failed to provide United with any real cutting edge. Not a single shot on target was registered as Nani, Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs struggled to make an impact. Wayne Rooney was isolated throughout.
…team performance brimming with confidence.
But as for City, the league title that looked so certainly out of their grasp is suddenly within reach again thanks to a team performance brimming with confidence. Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero linked up extravagantly, Samir Nasri showed an abundance of creative flair, Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry bossed the midfield and Kompany, vitally, rose fearlessly when it mattered most.
The pressure was telling as Ferguson engaged in a touchline spat with opposite number, Roberto Mancini, late on. But regardless of their agitation, in the end, Fergie and his army were powerless. After so many years in United’s shadow, City possessed the aura of a dominant force in the face of their greatest rivals.
…two wins away…
Mid-way through the second half, the Sky Sports cameras caught glimpse of a banner from the City fans, and it was rather telling. “Those noisy neighbours are getting louder”, it read. And so they are; two wins away from their first league title in 34 years, so they are.