City Watford.

I suppose this was historic – let the stattos go on about that. I suppose we need to talk about how this happened – meaning how City engineered this (excuse the pun) gulf. And perhaps too, we will need to recalibrate the meaning of this massacre after the financial inquiries are complete. But whilst we are of course entitled to question both the status of City as a club and the legitimacy and honesty of their processes, it feels churlish to mither away at anything happening on the pitch.

Some are saying there is a blandness about City: maybe the Overwhelming Foreign Wedge implies that? As does the sometime listlessness around their home fixtures? Maybe the Catalonian sub-state that is the Management Team will always feel adrift from the original, the real City of the Moss-side alleyways? That might figure.

But Guardiola – from an admittedly high base – has built a wonderful and generally wonderfully fluent football team. A team waaaay too good for all but one other side in this allegedly abundant, allegedly competitive Premier League. Crucially, for me, a team that has had the poet and craftsman David Silva at its beating heart: a team for the skilled and the bright and the creative. A team – with all due respect – at an utterly different level to their opponents yesterday.

In short I’m with Guardiola in the sense that I can separate the ‘issues’ away. He is special. He is a great coach despite those embarrassing riches. His team is magnificent and his legacy in terms of how the game is played is a rich, progressive and beautifully true one. Financial cheating will of course compromise that appreciation – but not deny it.

Here’s how the game was, live…

 

“Abide With Me”. And Tony Book. Sentimental, both, for me but the one kindof glossed-up and the other even more silver-topped than myself, now. Because times do change.

Wemberley has changed, too, of course, since my old man wrote to Tony Book (by then City’s manager) a lifetime ago. The Old Lady of Norf Landun got glossed-up too – and by the sound of things, got fitted up with oversize speakers, to accommodate the ludicrously deafening ‘Announcements’.

But enough of the humbuggery. In sunshine, as so often, this All-New-Again FA Cup Final offers much – or we begin (again) with that feeling around: hope.

City though, are a force that may smash that weirdly-engineered optimism: they are patently in a different league from the waspish underdogs and maybe the butterflies I’m feeling are more to do with that?

First five minutes and Watford *actually do have* the ball. They are somewhere between medium-wasteful and okay with it however – which is good enough, in terms of maintaining the contest.

Ten minutes and rather fascinatingly, nobody on either side has done enough to suggest they’ve settled. Interestingly too, and probably worryingly, the blokes in yellow are setting out two Deep Blocks and challenging their illustrious opponents to thread something through them.

But hold on, in the eleventh minute, with City’s central defence alarmingly absent, Watford should score. Zinchenko is careless, Pereyra is IN… but fails to convert. City respond time and again, through Mahrez. He looks ready… until he passes lamely into touch.

Mercifully, it’s not one-way traffic and we do have a game.

Guardiola will not be satisfied with City’s opening; possession, yes but little in the way of fluency or sustained retention. More than that, Watford have looked as threatening as the typically irresistible sky-blues.

Again Watford threaten. They are maybe unfortunate not to get a pen as the ball strikes Kompany’s arm. But the City skipper is doing pretty much everything to keep offending limbs out of the way – so I’m with the ref. And, rightly, Kevin Friend books Doucoure for an appallingly passionate appeal.

Then City score. It’s a Sunday Leaguer – almost entirely out of character. The perennially gorgeous David Silva scuff-driving in a shot after some crappy head-tennis and the odd air-shot. They don’t deserve it; they don’t have anywhere near their usual level of control… and they don’t care. 1-0.

Wide left is looking like it might be City’s ace – or wide right! But whilst we know Mahrez will beat people and therefore always remain a ‘factor’, Zinchenko is still offering strangely mixed contributions, surging then underachieving.

It may not matter. The domination that all neutrals and all Hornets feared is settling over the game. And it’s 2-0. Bernado curls a beauty round and through and Jesus studs it in… via Sterling’s triumphant hoof. (One for the dispassionate – i.e. in the videozone – to decide upon, that).

In truth the keeper, Gomes, may have done better but the pass was a one of a limited number of clear signals, early doors, that the Champions of Everything might outclass Watford here. Not sure Watford *generally* major in Classy Footie (without being critical) but they have to make something happen now – anyhow, anyway. Deulofeu has shown well enough, but Deeney and Pereyra have lacked presence and maybe the confidence to take responsibility, should it arise.

As half-time approaches, it seems more likely that the gathering Gundogan\Silva/Bernado axis will unpick Watford centrally and possibly embarrass the challengers in the way they’ve embarrassed most, this year. As the whistle breaks, a very big team-talk for Javi Garcia begins. This may be done already.

Lively start for the second period. Deulofeu might score, Jesus might score/does score (disallowed) and the energy in the occasion is lifted. Strangely, Mahrez is withdrawn for de Bruyne. Has he said something to displease the gaffer? Is this just a result of Guardiola’s dissatisfaction with what feels like a seven-out-of-ten performance? (Mahrez has been good-ish).

On the hour de Bruyne is in… and exorcises his customary, obscenely-worldie levels of composure, ten yards out, where most capitulate to hurrying, scurrying and sheer nose-bleeding panic, before finding the corner. Eek. This could be humiliating.

Watford needed a hero – or 12. Whilst nobody seems to be utterly frozen, or utterly lost in Maresville, they can’t find what they need.

Jesus can. He makes it four, in the 67th. A truly great side, without yet playing to their max, are now running away with it. De Bruyne should curl another one in with his left foot in the 69th. Somewhere, Elton John is distractedly tinkling out another melancholy riff.

That the introduction (with all due respect) of Cleverley for Hughes – and Sane for Gundogan – comprises the 70-minute changing-of-the-guard, says most of what needs to be said. Different strata.

No disgrace here, for Watford – though they have been a clear disappointment – but note they have not faced Aguero and actually Sterling has barely had a kick (until he gets that weekly far-post tap-in; 5-0) … and so they cannot realistically compete… and they don’t. 80-odd minutes and I’m still not sure this is much more than a 7/10 performance from City; they’re that good.

From nowhere an arguably ungenerous observation. At the semi-final stage, I really wanted Wolves to come through, in part because I was sure they would test City more than Watford would, or could. We’ll never know but my hunch is that they have more quality and more tactical nous than their mid-table compadres.

I may be indulging here because there really is now a void where the contest should be. Sterling has grabbed a sixth. Yes. It’s 6-0. Guardiola looks mildly embarrassed. Or somehow melancholy. Or awed, perhaps?

Stones – yes, Stones! – should score from yet another break instigated by de Bruyne, who has changed the game, despite looking less than fully mobile, I would say. But you see, de Bruyne is that good.

Manchester City 6 Watford 0.

Advertisements

A loaded gun won’t set you free.

There’s something about the moment that brings Joy Division to mind. It might be autumn; or the desperate cynicism around politics and society; the suspicion that something’s falling away – something profound, like goodness, maybe?

Lots of things feel hollowed-out or skein-like or like some web you want to wipe away… and the things that often mitigate against all that – arty stuff? Sporty stuff? – are kinda being psychologically outgunned, or disproportionately swallowed under by the Looming Dark.

Blimey. It’s come to something when a wee something on Utd City starts out like that. But, laughably or not, it does feel like legitimate context, because Mourinho, because Crass World Pressure, because Rooney, because there are stats all over indicting Guardiola(!), because The Death of Caring is upon us.

We don’t care about big things like human decency so why would we care about footie? Football doesn’t care about us, so why we would we bother back? What further proof could we need that the world is bollocksed when it *does appear credible* that Wayne from Toxteth, the last of the street footballers, might be off to China to rot in his armed apartment? How much  more can our idealism be snuffed out, when it’s so dead?

Something about Manchester United used to speak against this. Something in their redness, their pace, their invincible energy.

We all know half the world needs to hate them but even some of those guys felt the surge when a bloke name of Best ran with it. Then Bryan Robson and Cantona and Kanchelskis and Giggs. Charging. More out of instinct than instruction, more in joy than in calculation. This went right past tribalism: it was received as brilliance – something to be aspired to – okaay, maybe as well as hated.

Now, amongst other things, we have a manager who lives joylessly – ‘disastrously’ he calls it – in a posh hotel. And he daren’t go out. Throughout the Premier League we have poisonous rather than inspirational expectation and a kind of moronic appeasement to yet dumber, broadly ever more unaware players and agents. (Of course there are honourable exceptions but players generally must take a lump of blame for the utter separation between themselves and the fans).

Players seem greedy, lazy, arrogant and more-or-less dishonest. More interested in getting their opposite number red-carded than scoring. More interested in drawing a pen than scoring. Staggeringly unaware of how ordinary they actually are. Staggeringly not bothered.

This is somewhere between a cruel view and an average view of football’s things, I think. Maybe I should add that I grew up in a football family and that my grandfather was an MU player before injury cut short his career. So I’m not entirely an outsider, railing with neither authority nor understanding. I get football: I do not enjoy drifting from it.

On Mourinho I’m more dispassionate than most, being clear that he has been a great of the modern era but not hugely enamoured of his playing style. I think the possibility he may have wanted to be at United ‘all along’ is mildly fascinating and that *whatever happens* he must get three years, if he wishes it that way. However, whilst accepting that despite the obscene transfer spending before he arrived, there were faaar too many players at the club simply unworthy of the shirt, I am shall we say concerned(?) that he has not yet addressed that fundamental imbalance: more – that he may not have improved it.

The very crudest view would suggest that if you have a practically unlimited budget you should be able to straighten things out. Crude but trueish. And Mourinho may. He may, though, need more time than many of the proponents of that view might imagine, or allow.

It’s absolutely right that we plebs holler for some accountability or value – Pogba cost how much?!? – we’re entitled. We aren’t responsible for the monstrous salaries so we feel we have moral superiority over and above the usual shareholder/propper-upper stuff. This judgemental fervour is surely both contagious and dangerous – hiking up passions from the reasonable to the wild.

In this context it’s asking a bundle but us fans might still need to consider our contributions – vocal or otherwise. We need to think about how essential it is that players feel good, in a role, in an environment.

Bringing us back – in the United case – to Mourinho. The manager is the environment. His job is to select, after providing some tactical input and (mainly) creating an understanding; a zone of comfort in which players (sorry but this is still the best phrase) express themselves.

Mourinho has traditionally found a way – often magnificently, through sheer force of personality and brilliant proactivity – to win through, here. Sometimes via adversarial routes, sometimes by getting players (and fans) to love him. Intriguingly, right now, the universe is for the first time doubting his virility. It’s threatening to de-Specialise him. Tonight, against City, becomes a meaningful test.

Or it would if (sor-ree sponsors!) this cup meant anything. We saw from Liverpool Tottenham that it’s become a reserve team fixture. Plus, in this case, a bit of family malice. They’re’ll be a lot of hot air but this result does not matter: performances will.

Haven’t seen the line-ups yet (6.20pm) but hoping on the one hand for Mourinho to think more Fenerbache than Liverpool and unleash – or at least offer the possibility for – some Manchester United football. For me this means no Fellaini. (Fellaini goes, from Old Trafford, along with Memphis and Rojo and the others on your list, right?)

Longer term, there’s a slate to wipe clean. Ibra was always a short-term fix, the Rooney Question needs to be addressed and half the defence needs shipping out again. I think Shaw – if he can ever stay fit – is a player and Bailly was looking good but I am not convinced Smalling, however much this goes against the grain of contemporary thinking, is good enough for a proper, elite-level MU. Sorry but I’m just not.

Whilst we’re into the radical sweeps I’d like Mata and Herrera to get a generous run together. If this squeezes out Lingard for now, fair enough. Pogba stays in there. Rashford plays often – rotating with Martial and Ibrahimovic. Crucially, they are freed up, to dash, to charge, to play without fear – because they are Manchester United.

And now, as we fizz or freeze… kick-off.

Triumph and tears.

Liverpool City. Had everything. Goals, sunshine, vitriol, clangers, minimal Yaya. Premier-quality cheating. It was splattered with incidents and raw with that uncomfortable mix of poignancy and venom. My response is loaded and maybe lumpen in the way of the match. It’s bullet-pointed again – immediate.

• I’m fascinated and appalled by Suarez to the point where I don’t really want to go there… and yet must. But not first. But been thinking about the man a fair bit. He’s plainly dysfunctional – yeh, I think that’s the word. Dysfunctional.
• Happier thoughts… Sterling’s opening goal. Was this so brilliant that it confirmed him as an England World Cup starter? Was that composure evidence of such fabulous growth in his game that he must leap to the front of the wide player’s queue? Many would think so. I’ve been and remain just a tad concerned that he may in that real moment – the bona fide competitive international game – shrink back into Walcott/Lennon(?)/Ox(?) mode. He has something of the junior flyer about him that concerns me but he was certainly influential in this the biggest game of the Premiership season so far. We know he would run at people in the World Cup but would he do it with real belief or would he be as inconsistent and ultimately wasteful as the eight zillion other Boy Wonders who have disappointed in recent times?
• Whatever, Sterling will go to Brazil (now) and he will probably (now) be ahead of the fella who’s got closest in the last season or two to delivering – Townsend. Once there I hope Sterling/Townsend will be encouraged to both hug the touchlines and dart central. In other words get involved/get plenty of precious touches/be influential.
• Sturridge will of course also travel. But which Sturridge? The sullen, frankly greedy geezer who makes too many bad football choices (because he’s greedy) or the unplayably good finisher who finishes so devastatingly often because… he’s greedy (for it?) Today he was ordinary – as he has been for the last month. Saving it up for Italy, hopefully.
• Incidentally I squirmed a little when I saw that bloke Clattenberg centre-stage today. He’s a little greedy for it too, is he not?
• Inevitably, there were ‘decisions.’ Clattenberg appeared to be avoiding making positive calls until the relative safety of the final few minutes, where he felt able to dismiss Henderson for his tired (o je-sus I can’t get… there) lunge. Marginal in the sense that there was no spite in the challenge but Henderson did jump in there with studs high. So red.
• Prior to this – count ‘em? – there were any number of appeals for pens, all turned away. Suarez, Silva and Zabaleta all ‘made the most’ of things. Suarez fell most obviously into the Shameful Outrage category and therefore he gets no sympathy from me for later incidents that may in isolation have been judged in his favour. I know that ain’t logical but a) that’s how us humans work –Clattenburg too? And b) the Uruguayan should have been red-carded for his most nauseatingly OTT effort.
• I do wonder if Suarez – who presumably believes himself innocent(?) – might think ‘bugger this feragameasoldiers lichke’ and actually go to Real, where he may think there is less outrage to contend with. (Plusses/minuses; La Liga refs and defences are even worse but things feel less judgemental.)
• I would miss ar Luis – about as much as Sturridge would, I reckon – though less than Liverpool FC. The number 7 is one of the best forwards in world footie… but one of the worst humans. He made the game ungovernable.
• Okay. I exaggerate.
• Final word. He’s magic but his ‘antics’ are a total, total disgrace. I think there is again a case for retrospective punishment or would be if the machinery was in place. (See ‘The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct’ vols 1-265).
• The game though; Liverpool were magnificent and irresistible again for most of the first half, playing both with authority and composure and also swiftly counterattacking. They mix it up; chase and run as well as pass all around. Generally though, they play with pace… and this feels threatening, especially with that crowd on board.
• That crowd by the way bore and bears them on, towards what Stevie G will no doubt privately be calling the title they deserve – they being the players, the club and supporters live and sadly departed. The skipper rightly gathered his men to collectivise spirits for the final push. They were told in no uncertain terms that there must be no ‘fucking slips’. The implications – powerful and maybe contradictory ones – being that the title belongs to them but they must battle invincibly to the fateful end.
• How wonderful that sport can be so huge.
• There are almost unbearably rich and tender emotions around the Hillsborough thing. The tragedy itself, the awful nature of events, plus the additional, cruel travesties which may yet transform how the majority of the (tabloid-reading?) public view our allegedly world-class police. There is much bitterness in this beautiful charge towards destiny.
• City came back. Silva suddenly flowered as Liverpool sat off. I lost a few friends on twitter by suggesting that the Reds wilted under the first meaningful pressure for 20 years – somewhat uncalled for perhaps but the point remains. The bitter enemy Manchester United have had to carry the burden of being title favourites and the team everyone wants to beat for an age. Liverpool dealt rather poorly with the rising threat to their first Premier League crown. City deserved to draw level and looked more likely to win it.
• Then, 80-odd minutes in, just about the finest defender in the league – Kompany – ballsed things up completely and Coutinho scored against the run of play.
• The rest was run-of-the-mill agony. For everyone.
• The roar at the final peep from Mr Clattenburg carried with it both triumph… and tears.

A kind of ugliness?

Before…

Chelsea – or as we in either our pomp or our provincial density call them ‘Chelski’ – have long been a symbol of metropolitan arrogance; we’ve hated them for that for yonks.  Way before the Putinesque assassin with silencered WOMP secreted about his black leather jacket wafted poisonously in.  We hated Chopper Harris – with some moral justification.  We hated Peter Osgood for his flashy bird-pulling brilliance and whiff of Kings Road boutiques.  Less obviously, we even hated David Webb for his (surely fake?) stolid yeomanhood, believing that to be the sole preserve of Northerners like er… Nemanja Vidic.  Chelsea were and are, easy to hate.

Man City are more recent arrivals at this general bile-fest.  Traditionally they had been pretty close to admirable, what with their perennial hopelessness just very rarely – like Once in a Blue Moonish, actually – spoiled by the classy shimmies and undeniable running of a Colin Bell or somebody.  (Rodney Marsh did complicate this other half of Mancunian experience by coming over all gaudy Landun The-attah on us at one stage – but this is simply a historical aberration; clearly he should have moved across to The Bridge, not Up North.)  No, City are a 21st century horror; one created entirely out of The Prem’s seduction by ‘Arab (or somebody Other’s) Money’.  Suddenly, we’re all lost in a sandstorm where the barchans are made of banknotes; where the origins of everything are unknowable; where there really is no foundation.

Chelsea got there first – before City, anyway – with the money thing.  Abramovic bought success and stuck around, presiding in a fashion we can only speculate about, his degree of control/interference/dictation being (again) unknowable.  The club has been his though.  Championships and even a turgid but triumphant Champions League campaign have followed, with (in my view) shockingly little dissent from the fans over his utterly amoral metier.  Managers have been brutally hoofed in a way that suggests Abramovic is indeed both a brute and a geezer ‘oo don’t knar ‘is fackin’ futtee.  Eventually and quite possibly ironically he has a frazzled, destabilised Benitez somewhere near the helm.  The club has gone from flash to kindof sordid, has it not?  You could only be proud of Chelsea, as a fan, in an aggressive/defensive kindofaway; not proud of how the club is.

In this respect City have come towards Chelsea.  The cheap blitz of wealth and acquisition now having passed through that anschluss/honeymoon phase into something truly hollow but still competitive.  Players who clearly owe negligible allegiance to the City Cause – but Big Name players.  Factions.  Noises off.  A kind of ugliness, symbolised (and I attempt to reflect the cruelty and bad taste of the average opposition fan here, perhaps foolishly) by the unattractive fizzog, as well as the unattractive activity of the boy Tevez.  City as some brash new ego-maniac brand; sometimes sparkling, sometimes depressingly disappointing; a metaphor for the new age in and out of the game.  For all these reasons, today’s cup semi is no popularity contest.

After…

The game was nearly fabulous.  Certainly exciting, with a coronary-inducing openness and that familiar stamp of a footie match where defenders often looked like they simply could not be arsed to defend.  (Surely this is weirdly and maybe disturbingly characteristic of the current Premiership?)  Unfortunately this was not the only stamp of note – Aguero two-footedly clumping Luiz in a fashion that should have seen him dismissed – he wasn’t.

It would, however,  be churlish to overstate that moment of callousness in a game that had much to recommend.  From the opening, City were bright and penetrative, bristling with ideas and running power; Chelsea were simply overrun.  Out wide and central, where Mikel was displaying either the nerves or the qualities of a rather ordinary player (you delete…) the disciplinarian structuralist Rafa’s posse were ragged, whilst the faux-bully classicist-fascist male-model Mancini’s unruly horde were impressively ON IT.  So no surprise – indeed predictably – that symbol of thin undeservinghood Nasri (see earlier gripes/continue at will) bundled through with some good fortune to notch a goal; for himself mainly… but also his estranged team… and yeh, the supporters.  I didn’t see Mancini’s reaction; I suspect a shrug and a turn away.

It took Chelsea a good half-hour to turn up.  By then we had seen frailties all round the park, including the obvious thing around there being too many diminutive ball-players in midfield – an alarmingly counter-Rafa state of affairs that continues, rather charmingly.  Notable I thought was Azpilcueta’s discomfort; with like everything.  The Blues (in black) did need Ramires and Mikel to enter meaningful contact with the game.  They continued to refuse all offers, though they did come, for City – with Milner again in infuriatingly one-paced and wasteful mode – were far from perfect.  ‘Twas one nil at the break and this seemed about right.

I have been known to air my displeasure at City’s striker’s greed around the box, as though this was in some way emblematic of yaknow, their selfishness and the shameless humbug that is free-market egonomics.  This persisted today, for me.  Tevez and Aguero seemed as likely to square one to each other for a tap-in as Arthur Scargill is to read the eulogy at the #Thatcher funeral.  Whether this single-mindedness (stroke greed) is coached at City I can’t say.  It suits my purposes, I guess, to continue to use it against them, in an unlicensed moral fury, until they grow up and jolly-well pass to each other. The point is this game could have been over had they showed any public-spiritedness of the sort that tends to form an essential part of a sports team; not at City, apparently.

Aguero, as if shut up folks like me who maybe under-appreciate his brilliance, scored with a header.  Then Ba, on the half-turn, following poor defending, got Chelsea back in it.  There followed a period where City, in their turn, drifted and sat, giving Oscar and co the chance to create and me the time to indulge reservations about the clunkiness of Barry as Oscar and co breezed past him.  (Couple of years ago both Barry and Milner looked proper England players; now they could barely be more limited, more uninspiring; what happened?  Oh – they’re England players!!)  On the plus side this meant the match was pretty close to exhilarating at times, as Chelsea poured forward for the inevitable equaliser.  It never came.  City won.

Many of us have mixed feelings about football being in the hands of people who don’t know the game, or worse still could never convince us they want to listen to our understandings of its daft joys.  In that way there are parallels with capitalist politics, yes?  (He asked, absurdly.)  Maybe I’m a pompous arse but I am not entirely able to untangle my feelings about these clubs/this match from the crassness and delusion and cynicism at the heart of the contemporary game.  Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC, as well as having some of the world’s significant footballing talents to call upon, represent now a lot of stuff that ain’t good.  I don’t say them alone… but they are the apex of a crappy Premiership triangle; or maybe polygon; or maybe something bit more insidiously amorphous.

Things aren’t simple anymore; the exposure is so massive, the intensity so SO unreally high definition that we are being invited to pay homage rather than view.  This troubles me.  Odd to be so dissenting of a really pretty captivating match?  Perhaps.  Perhaps.

Manc.

A relatively commercial break –

Back in April, I tried to write about the Manchester derby but got caught in a web of sentiment; something to do with family connections to United and regrets over footie’s slippage into capitalistic mania. I tripped up, maybe, on a foot dangled out for contact, meaning I barely spoke, in my distracted fury, about the game. Having said all that, I did feel there was something true there, so I bunged it – I mean carefully selected it – for inclusion in my ebook.

(If you’re reading on twitter try this link – amzn.to/SSc9To – otherwise, the book’s called Unweighted – the bowlingatvincent compendium. On Amazon ebooks.)

Today’s ‘Title Decider’ – volume 2 or 3? – came around pretty quick, and gives me the opportunity to talk about action on the pitch. Something I will get round to eventually – I promise. After my anthropological warm-up.

So what is it to be Manc, then? A handful of years ago a monsoon of helpful, though not necessarily definitive labels might have bucketed down, under a sky full of thunderous Stone Roses riffs. The bow-legged swagger; the distracting Northern Wit thing – distracting whilst a mate robs your car; the Authentic Footie Obsession. Whilst the Guardian-reading amongst us might pause to reflect on the unacceptable lack of sensitivity mooning out from these caricatures, the rest of us can slurp beer, belch… and carry on with the blog(ging.) Because the truth drinks Stella, right?

Everywhere and everything changes. The city of Manchester has changed… somewhat unremarkably perhaps. Structurally and architecturally. However things are SO-O massively different in the urban psyche here that it may be new species of Manc are emerging, to reflect the maddest and genuinely most transformative ‘development’ in the region – that City football-thing , that Sky Blue usurpation.

Nought to everywhere; nought to somewhere mightier than Manfookin United, canya believe? City – a New City FC suddenly transplanted in. Now suspiciously performance-enhanced as viewed from the Red Side. Absurdly mighty, its largesse looming irresistibly over Fergie’s previously unchallenged dominion. Suddenly, something credible with which to counter-bulldoze, something with greater mass, critically, than Sir Alex’s attacking principles; something bigger, fuller, more extravagant even, than the Scot dictator’s red wine cellar.

Welcome in that zillion quid’s worth of psycho-plaything, melted down into the bustling warrior that is… Yaya Fookin Touré. (Take that ya Red Bass-ted!) Now just the one amongst a platoon of parachuted-in Manc galacticos patrolling the Etihad.

So… pinch yourself and you tell me – how could this all be possible? When we thought the existing scale of the rivalry was about right? When the world had kindof settled for the MCFC Perennial Overshadowment project? Is it just me that finds it head-hurtingly beyond surreal, this latest edit – Madderthaneverchester? Replete as I hope and trust it is with scarred Argie Judas and gorgeously Italian dugout dreamboat puppet. Sky Blues, of course think the current scenario more of a Revengeoftheproperfanschester.

Whichever way we look at it, money – as though blasted at us through an early machine gun – has pinned all of us footiefolks down whilst City swarm relentlessly over. It’s just the Reds are taking the onslaught most front-on. And those faceless überMancs feeding the weapon from er… somewhere well out of Lancashire, actually, really have changed everything. Maybe in an evolutionary way (because we knew that the next instalment of Depressingly Unjust Transformation was coming, right, after Blackburn, after Chelsea?) There has been no surprise, as suchjust a series of game-changing purchases.

Now, another Derby.

United – the away team – pick Young, Rooney, Valencia, Van Persie. No doubt believing that City, featuring a strangely out-of-sorts Kompany, can be got at. City – unbeaten at home for the proverbial and now proudly restored Blue Moons – feature Balotelli from the outset, believing (arguably naively) that the Mohicanned One will probably be prepared to stir for the cameras, if not for his manager, in this one.

Fortunately (I think), lack of competent defending – Ferdinand possibly being the honourable exception here – made for a compelling and ultimately nerve-jangling game. Whilst some distance short of a quality spectacle, this was full-blooded and eventful in the full-on derby mode. Alan Hansen – if he dare to take on United’s defensive work – might find plenty to playfully dissect. City’s back four, perhaps with Hansen’s difficulties in mind? – were equally as culpable, however.

A general point or two: whilst it may be true that Evra and Rafael remain United’s first choice fullbacks, they defend poorly – if at all. Rafael charges in impetuously far too often for a top level player and Evra simply doesn’t bother; or that’s how it seems, such is his inability to focus on even the fundamentals of the game once the ball enters the left back zone. Personally, if I was Fergie, I’d look to spend big on three defenders fit for a Champions League challenge in the January window; two fullbacks and a centre-half. Evra and Rafael and possibly the injury-prone Evans are not worthy. But back to the game.

City bossed the opening spell without dazzling; United threw the ball carelessly back at them. Then out of nothing they countered. Rooney – who had been largely absent – scored two breakaway goals, one of them featuring a sublime chest-pass from Van Persie to Young which released the winger down the left. In both cases defending from City was poor. They were accomplices, in fact, to the robbery.

Without gaining any measure of control, United had what should have been an unassailable lead. In both cases Rooney had unthreatened space in which to operate… and in he cashed, with a slightly scuffed shot and an easy side-footer. Mancini fumed.

Late in the first half, the body-language of Silva and Touré did not augur well, and Balotelli still jogged around the periphery. Yet with Aguero looking up for it and the game alarmingly open already, this had the look of a goal-fest. Fifty further minutes without goals seemed unlikely.

Immediately after the break, Evans retired hurt and was replaced by Smalling. Tempting to suggest that this unsettled the United back four but all season long that mob have jostled and harried unconvincingly and critically they have failed to mark; City came back. Tevez came on, to generally inflame things and Zabaleta, very much to his credit, having taken the armband from the retiring Kompany, seemed intent on hauling his club back into contention. (Would that most of his team-mates – half of whom seem to lack any urgent understanding of what communal effort is all about – might follow.)

The Argentine deservedly scored an equaliser when exploiting acres of space on the edge of the penalty box following a corner but again the goal was noteworthy more for amateurish defending rather than some glorious strike. Not that he cared. As the contest went into overtime an unnecessarily sloppy challenge from Tevez gave Van Persie the chance to have the final say. Via a slight deflection, he did.

Sadly the match – which had neither been brutal nor sporting and which was refereed rather leniently by Mr Atkinson – finished amongst controversy. Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown by irate City fans whilst he celebrated. Tevez should have been red-carded for a crass kick out by the touchline. It was a great win for United, celebrated ingloriously. We, the watching world, left amongst bitterness.

In work, in the city tomorrow, Reds will be smiling smugly. Mancini still lacks a team, Fergie a defence.