The knives that had been duly sharpened throughout the summer finally began to come out after Sunday’s derby collapse. Having stepped into the most difficult job in English football, David Moyes’ first Manchester derby was the stuff of nightmares for United fans who watched on as their team was torn apart with mercurial precision by Manchester City.
The aftermath, inevitably, focused on Moyes. United have picked up seven points from their opening five games and while they went on to win the league six times when boasting a similar unimpressive record after the first five weeks of the campaign, it was the manner in which United surrendered to City that casted doubts over their manager and their future.
Wayne Rooney has criticised United’s performance – or rather, lack of – against Manchester City on Sunday, as the Reds suffered one of the most embarrassing derby defeats in recent years.
United ensured David Moyes’ first Manchester derby was one to forget as they surrendered four goals in the first 50 minutes, with City punching holes through United’s midfield at will, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand buckling under pressure against Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo and Danny Welbeck never involved in the game.
When it rains, the saying goes, it pours. United didn’t so much have to negotiate some heavy rain, rather they endured a torrential downpour as they produced one of the most abject derby performances in recent years.
A day that had started badly with the news of Robin Van Persie missing out because of a thigh strain became progressively worse as United’s limits were laid bare and repeatedly exposed by an impressive City side which, painful as it is to admit, thoroughly deserved the win and could have even scored a couple of more goals.
Four games in, and United and City are level at 7 points. Predictions for City this season are sky high with conventional wisdom that Pellegrini will be able to steady the club, and increased spending expected to turn into points.
This is a team many expect to win the title or come very close. City have had a fairly soft start when compared to United, and have looked unconvincing without Kompany. An embarrassing loss to Cardiff and a nervy draw against Stoke show a City side with serious flaws.
Despite fear of a disastrous start of Moyes’ United tenure with such a difficult schedule to begin, United are only 3 points back of the top spot and level with City. Despite a disappointing loss to Liverpool, and a cagey draw against Chelsea, a big win over Swansea, and a very comfortable win over Chrystal Palace have United looking solid if not spectacular.
Wayne Rooney has added to the fire ahead of Sunday’s derby by claiming it is not the biggest game of the season for Manchester United.
Rooney, who’s enjoyed a timely return to form, with three goals in his last two appearances, has told the Mirror that, while City’s emergence as title contenders in recent years has added further interest to an already important fixture for both sets of fans, City aren’t United biggest rivals.
It’s that time of the year again. Sunday sees this season’s first installment of one of the two fixtures that I’d happily scrap from the calendar – Liverpool away being the other – as it gets him stupidly excited on the Friday, utterly pessimistic on the Saturday and terribly nervous on the Sunday – feel free to arrange the feelings and the days accordingly in the case of a Monday or Saturday kick-off.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of turning over City and Liverpool on their own turf as much as anybody else, but the build-up testes my nerves to the limit every single year and it did so even before City became Sheikh Mansour’s latest toy, pardon, project.
Ahead of Sunday’s first derby of the season at the Etihad, Michael Carrick and David De Gea have expressed their belief that Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie are on course to develop into a fearsome partnership.
Van Persie and Rooney were both on target against Crystal Palace on Saturday and they delivered again on Tuesday, as United put four past Bayer Leverkusen in their opening Champions League match of the season.
Wayne Rooney has found a surprise ally in quest to win back even the most stubborn among the United supporters, as Sir Alex Ferguson has offered an unexpected olive branch to the striker who spent the summer trying to engineer a move away from the club.
After his final game at Old Trafford last season, the former United manager claimed that Rooney had asked to leave the club, unhappy at the treatment he had received by Ferguson and at being played out of position. United refused to sell Rooney to Chelsea and subsequently denied the 27-year-old had submitted a transfer request at all.
As news broke out yesterday that United are planning to trial a singing section during the Champions League against Real Sociedad next month, my phone and Twitter feed were bombarded by non-Reds friends expressing their rather predictable opinions about the club’s latest attempt to generate some atmosphere at Old Trafford.
The plan is nothing new, as an attempt to relocate away fans to Tier 3 of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand was considered last season before being scrapped after the intervention of the GMP who deemed moving away fans to the top tier of the ground to0 dangerous – presumably for the poor sods sitting below them.
After a turbulent summer during which he was denied a move to Chelsea, Wayne Rooney has admitted he must now knuckle down and work hard to regain the fans’ faith – nor that he needs to, judging by the scenes that unfolded on Tuesday night – and, for the first time in a long time, has hinted his future might lie at Old Trafford.
When questioned on his future by ITV’s Gabriel Clarke on Tuesday night, Rooney declined to publicly commit his future to the club.
“Listen, I’ve just told you. I am concentrating on my football which I’ve been doing all summer,” snapped the man with the headband.
It would have been the perfect opportunity to clear the air once and for all.
Nobody expected an apology, nor demanded one, for Rooney’s character is as proud as it is complex and the 27-year-old was never going to crawl back towards the Stretford End waving a white flag and begging us to take him back.
Rooney, however, palmed the questions away like a batsman digging in to defend the last two balls of the over, determined not to give himself out before the close of play.
In football, it’s not unheard of fans writing to their club. Whether to request a ticket, to have their name flashed across the big screen on their birthday or simply to vent their anger and frustration, in the past many fans have wrote letters and sent emails addressed to the club they support.
Obviously clubs do their fair bit of correspondence too, but their letters and emails are normally aimed at advertising the latest merchandise product or to inform fans about ticket availability. United, however, have taken the rather pioneering step of writing to the fans to defend their business in the transfer window.
“He was afraid,” said Roy Keane of one his teammates prior to the second leg of the semifinal in the 2001-02 season when United were knocked out on away by Leverkusen. “Played for his country, won championships, big star, fucking afraid of taking the big step up.”
There was no place for fear ahead of David Moyes’ first Champions League game in charge of Manchester United, certainly not in the man who, after signing for the club, stated his desire to emulate the belligerent Irishman’s achievements in a red shirt.
Manchester United open their Champions League campaign at home against Bayer Leverkusen tonight, as David Moyes’ men look to take the first step on the road to Lisbon, after two disappointing seasons in Europe.
David Moyes will be in charge of Manchester United in a European game for the first time in his career, as the Scotsman makes his managerial debut in the competition proper, having previously managed Everton in their third qualifying round defeat against Villareal in the 2005-06 season.