Kompany’s crew down dismal United
MAY 1 — How appropriate; how very right.
After a season dominated by hyperbolic headlines about the latest exploits of mercurial badboys Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, it was pleasantly fitting that Manchester City's biggest game in more than four decades should not be settled by one of the renegades, but by one of the good guys: Vincent Kompany,
Kompany doesn't generally attract many headlines. He doesn't set off fireworks in his own house (Balotelli) or have a massive huff and go on strike (Tevez). He just trains, plays, and goes home: solid, reliable, committed and determined.
But last night, of all nights, Vinny Kompany was more than City's Mr Dependable – the quiet man at the back who tackles people and organises his team. He was – and always will be, if the rest of City's season goes to plan – the matchwinning hero: the man who downed Manchester United.
Ah. Now I mention Manchester United. Yes, there was another team in this game – but only just. What a really, really poor display it was from Sir Alex Ferguson's side. Rooney, Nani, Giggs, Welbeck, Young, Valencia… did they play? Were they even on the pitch?
And Scholes? Paul Scholes, supposedly the best English midfielder of his generation? His performance last night only gave the impression that his decision to retire at the end of last season should never have been reversed.
I know that I’m in a small minority here (is it only me? Please somebody agree with me!), but I’ve always regarded Scholes as a flat-track bully – a player who dominates against weaker opposition but fails to exert an influence in the really tough games. Last night suggested I might be right, after all: the outstanding Yaya Toure completely overwhelmed him.
This defeat was, by no means, just down to Paul Scholes, though. Unbelievably, United didn't manage a single shot on target during the entire 90 minutes. Joe Hart – the Manchester City goalkeeper whose presence on the field went almost entirely unnoticed last night – has rarely enjoyed a more comfortable evening.
It didn’t always look so straightforward. City appeared understandably nervous in the opening stages, defending a corner without any conviction in the very first minute and narrowly escaping a hectic goalmouth scramble before the ball was eventually cleared.
United had settled quickly, perhaps an indicator of their greater experience in this kind of game, and City struggled to find any early rhythm. Any possession they did enjoy was fractured, lacking flow or any genuine conviction that it would lead to a chance.
But as the half went on, the home team’s composure grew. They hadn't conceded early – surely one of their key aims – and they weren't being unduly troubled. Slowly, City imposed themselves physically on their opponents, visibly growing in confidence as Toure began to boss the midfield and half-chances started falling their way.
Midway through the half, a bouncing ball dropped to Sergio Aguero but he snatched at the opportunity and it flew too high – probably as a consequence of his lack of involvement in the early action. Then another chance came for Aguero, this time flashed just wide, before Pablo Zabaleta took the ball off Samir Nasri's foot as the Frenchman prepared to pull the trigger.
Just as United thought they were going to reach the break with the stalemate intact, up stepped City's very own Captain Fantastic. Inside first half injury time, Kompany easily escaped the attentions of Chris Smalling to meet David Silva’s flighted right wing corner, and David De Gea was entirely helpless to keep out the defender's towering header.
What a time to score a goal, on the stroke of half time. And not just any goal: this was a goal to potentially decide a title. Sir Alex Ferguson's teamtalk had suddenly changed. How would the wily old fox respond? For sure, there would be some kind of reaction: this was Manchester United, after all.
But no. If anything, United were even meeker in the second half than they had been in the opening 45 minutes. They continued to offer no threat coming forward – partly due to City’s excellent defending, partly due to their own lack of creativity or power.
The most animated scenes produced by United all night came when Ferguson, perhaps in irritation at his team's impotence, perhaps attempting to sting his players into a reaction, got himself worked up when Nigel De Jong went in hard, but not maliciously, on Danny Welbeck. Fergie is a true giant of the game, one of the greatest managers to have ever lived, but on this particular occasion he just looked like a silly old man.
And the outburst made no difference to his team, who continued to labour their way through the remainder of the game while City presented a far greater goal threat in the dying stages.
We were all expecting a glorious final stand from Ferguson’s Trojans. It’s what they always do, isn’t it? Not this time. This time they didn’t even go out with a whimper. City were winners, deservedly so, and Vincent Kompany proved that sometimes – just occasionally – good guys can come first.
* The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.