I was, I admit, absolutely stunned by City's team selection and formation. Mancini got his formation, tactics and player selection wrong, again, coming out in a 4-2-3-1 and giving the initiative to United.
Now I know why Mancini did that. United also played a 4-2-3-1 with Nani and Valencia on the wings (Park in the AMC role, Scholes and Carrick as the "2") and the City 4-2-3-1 was designed to counter the play of Nani and Valencia on the wings. The problem was that Scholes, in particular, and also Carrick were running the game from their deep position (they are passers whilst de Jong and Barry are stoppers in such a formation).
Crucially about 30 minutes into the game, Mancini changed the formation into essentially a 4-1-5 with no central striker. Instead the five pressed high up the field where Scholes and Carrick were playing and started to take over the play. There were few open play opportunities because City didn't have any attackers at that point. But it turned the tide into City's favor and then they built on that. City have lost all of their recent games against United because they didn't win the midfield battle. They did today, but certainly in unconventional style.
Now regarding Scholes, let's get one thing straight. From the letter of the law he can have no complaints. He's gone in studs up and over the ball against Zabaleta and caught the Argentinian with a nasty shot on his thigh. Where I empathize a little with Scholes is the situation. It was as clear a 50/50 that you will ever see and a bouncing ball at that. Both Zabaleta and Scholes have gone for it with gusto and honestly you would expect nothing less from either of them.
If I can digress for a moment, when you drive there's a moment when you approach a traffic light at speed where, if in that split second, the light changes then you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. Either brake harder than you would like or run through the end of a yellow light.
To me that's the situation that Scholes and Zabaleta found themselves in. The City defender went in studs up and under the ball and Scholes studs up and over the top. It was a nasty challenge and Scholes reputation for late tackles I'm sure also weighed on the referee's decision. I can't say that I wouldn't have made the exact same decision if I was the referee. As I said, you can't argue in terms of the letter of the law. The correct decision, but a little harsh is my feeling.
While City celebrate it would be nice to get an explanation from the FA regarding the five added minutes. That seemed excessive to the point of concern.
All in all a fascinating game. I was surprised by the team selections of both managers. United, as noted, have beaten City by controlling the midfield, but Park as an AMC doesn't seem conducive to that. I thought Ferguson would send out a 4-4-2 with Hernandez partnering Berbatov up front with Park on the wing and Valencia on the bench. In fact the formation that United played after Hernandez came on for Valencia in the second half.
I also wonder if Ferguson didn't take a calculated gamble. If Hernandez had started, then I think Berbatov would have left this summer because he would have fallen to third in the striker pecking order. Hernandez is clearly the player in form and the one United player I feared above all. I was delighted to see him start on the bench. Not only did Berbatov start, but when it seemed "obvious" that Hernandez should replace the Bulgarian, Valencia was pulled off instead. Ten minutes later, and after the sending off, Anderson comes on for Berbatov amd the removal seems more palatable. It is quite possible, likely even, that I'm reading too much into this, but it just strikes me that way.
Similarly did Mancini do the same? When Patrick Vieira came on the obvious candidate to be removed was Balotelli. Silva had, Toure's goal notwithstanding, been the man of the match, but it was the Spaniard that made way. Balotelli did, to his credit, do much more chasing in this game. There were times when Mancini and the bench were screaming at him for more, but chase he did. Having put in more effort than usual I suspect Balotelli would have been less then pleased to be removed. Again possible that I'm reading too much into this, but getting Balotelli into the team spirit and celebrating with his teammates at the end of the game is a way to get him out of his perceived moodiness.
City will play either Bolton or Stoke in the final. Given a choice, I'd take the trophy over Champions League qualification. Hopefully we'll get both.
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