Roberto Mancini enjoys a Blue Moon-lit night: The Italian outfoxes Fergie in Manchester derby
If City are United’s noisy neighbours, it’s because the builders at the Etihad are busy constructing a side good enough to provoke nightmares for frequent visitors to the Theatre of Dreams.
The noise pollution must be life threatening.
Once brushed off as the punch-line of many red-shirted Mancunian jokes, Manchester City may just enjoy the last laugh, lifting the Premier League trophy in the process.
Last night’s tie, billed by the subtle, understated mumblers of Sky as the Premier League’s Biggest Game Ever, might just be viewed as the fixture that handed the initiative to City by the end of the season, perhaps signalling a seismic shift of power.
Should City earn three points against Newcastle, a difficult task made more challenging by the glowing appeal of the Champions League alluring all on Tyneside, then Mancini’s men will be firm favourites for the title.
Of all of the Italian’s players, Toure, Aguero, or Hart, Vincent Kompany has been the most crucial.
But, of all of City’s men, Mancini has been most influential.
The former Sampdoria forward has led from the touchline. The ex-Internazionale coach has put City in the driving seat by being tactically astute in the Etihad hot-seat.
For years, journalists and pundits have been quick to pay lip service to Sir Alex’s preternaturally superior propensity for mind games.
Put on a pedestal as a footballing Professor Xavier, Ferguson is portrayed to think opposing managers into despair telepathically, and, sometimes telekinetically, defeating them in metaphorical chess games, symbolic of his tactical and managerial prowess.
Ferguson doesn’t just make minced meat of his foes with his jedi mind-tricks, he literally bends spoons, alters climates and commands inanimate objects.
He also wins football matches, via his Yoda-ness. He out-Yodas. So the press say.
A knack for exaggeration and hyperbole can’t be laid at Ferguson’s feet. It isn’t his ink that’s being wasted.
The legend of Ferguson’s mind games reflect the wily genius’ abilities as a great thinker and coach, but the platitudes shoved down our throats and dripped in our veins lionising Sir Alex’s intellect and mischievous intelligence probably tell us more about the media than it does tell us about Ferguson.
Of course, the United’s boss has won titles using his press conferences and interviews, but other managers have also put the Scot to the test – a French philosopher and a Portuguese mastermind.
Nevertheless, just a few weeks ago, Patrick Vieira’s comments re Paul Scholes, coupled with City’s bad form, caused many to rehash the same old sayings about Fergie’s famous mind games.
Mancini, it was said, had no answer for the old coach. Sir Alex was again praised as the victor of that cerebral bout.
Fast forward a few games and an intriguing derby night: City beat United and Mancini outwits Fergie. Not least with his mind games.
As Manchester City picked up form and United stumbled, the Italian manager, utilising all the chicanery of Cavour and the playful rhetoric of Shakespeare’s Antony, downplayed the Sky Blue’s prospects, soberly, glibly, and quite humorously claiming the Reds had already won the title.
Though many found this disingenuous, it worked, diverting all the pressure and hullabaloo to the red half of Manchester.
In other words, Mancini combated the dangers of excitement and arousal in his team with the cold showers of his surrenders.
Last night, as Ferdinand, Evra and co entered the fray behind enemy lines, the weight of expectation must have felt heavier on their shoulders.
As far as Manchester derbies go, this, to be fair to Sky, was the biggest the Premierships has ever seen. Funnily enough, the on-field clashes between opposing players played second fiddle to the bust-up between Ferguson the Braveheart and Mancini the Don.
The two managers squared up and exchanged expletives, leaving judges divided as to who delivered the decisive, knock-out insult.
The action on the pitch, however, produced a clear winner. Yes, City’s made them victors, but as a footballing championship fight, the home-side was far ahead on points before taking the lead.
Mancini’s selection was very much responsible for that. He was their Angelo Dundee.
Selecting a muscular, direct, speedy and technically superior side, Mancini’s tactics set City on the path to victory.
The match was won in midfield. Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Samir Nasri, stifled, choked, surrounded and hounded United’s key men in Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes. Ryan Giggs simply wasn’t afforded the time to operate and cause damage, while Park Ji Sung and Nani were marked out of the game and deprived of the ball, thus isolating Wayne Rooney.
Gareth Barry marshalled his defence brilliantly, Yaya Toure employed his hulk-like strength to dominate the game and Samir Nasri dropped back to press and cover.
Seeing his team drop in intensity and United gain more possession, Mancini was intelligent enough to replace Tevez with Nigel De Jong, allowing Yaya Toure to push forward behind the striker, while gaining more defensive insurance with the anchoring Dutchman.
This was a master stroke, De Jong dovetailed wonderfully with Barry to form a blockade and keep the ball moving among City feet.
Yaya, on the other hand, was unleashed, given permission to attack in the Manchester United half, forcing United to drop deeper in the hope of nullifying Toure. To City’s delight, this meant United were even less successful in front of the goal.
By the end of the game, City had the points, the momentum and the initiative.
They found a new love in Diego Maradona – another Argentine to sing about. They also found a new Press Officer in Liam Gallagher, who, in his best CJ Cregg impression, accused Sir Alex of being “on the whisky”.
True or not, it is City who are suddenly intoxicated by the taste of the title. It isn’t over yet, but let’s indulge in a derby-win toast to Roberto Mancini.