The biggest silver lining of all, according to the general consensus, was that a City win would complicate Liverpool’s title bid. But, went the counter argument, surely United will finally turn up for a game where, as far as they were concerned,only pride was at stake?
Well, as it turns out, pride has been stripped from this side a long time ago, torn apart together with the soul of this club. Where once stood attacking ethos now there is defeatism, where once there was defiance now there’s nothing but resignation.
If ever there was a moment to gauge just how far behind City United have fallen, the moment arrived within 46 seconds of the 167th instalment of the Manchester derby.
Having been denied an almost certain goal by a superb Rafael tackle, City didn’t break stride, as the ball traveled from Fernandinho to Samir Nasri and, after the Frenchman’s shot hit the post, Edin Dzeko tapped home the reboundbefore than the majority of United fans had had time to register that Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini had beendeployed on the pitch at the same time.
United, of course, had conceded early goals before, but it was the manner in which City nonchalantly put their foot to the floor on our turf that was disconcerting.
Despite playing in a derby away from home, they attacked at will from the start, not fazed in the slightest by the sight of a mid-table team in front of them, and could have had other two within the first 15 minutes.
The words “mid-table team” are not chosen casually either, for that’s exactly what United have become under David Moyes, a manager who’s tied his colours to the mast of mediocrity a long time ago.
In a season of false dawns, back-to-back wins against Olympiakos and West Ham turned out to be the dawn that shone the brightest but the one which also happened to be the falsest of them all.
Moyes and his team didn’t save their season last week, they simply ensured their manager will be spared his job until the end of the season, for after that, surely, he must be relieved of his duties.
Having weathered the initial storm like an opening batsman facing a barrage of bouncers in the first day of a Test match, United gradually grew into the game, only to have their attacking instincts stifled by the usual, distinct, lack of quality in the final third, where Juan Mata failed to deliver an end product worth its name and Danny Welbeck was too casual in possession.
The chinks in City’s defensive armour weren’t exposed, as Mata saw his shot fly over the bar, only minutes after Fellaini had seen his shot comfortably saved by Joe Hart.
The Belgian, in many ways, exemplifies everything that’s gone wrong with United this season, starting with a dreadful summer, through the false sense of hope we’ve been lured in after a couple of mildly promising performances.
The man who looks like a human bog brush was utterly abysmal in the middle of the park and should have been sent off for a petulant and vicious high elbow on Pablo Zabaleta, the sort of thuggery that would have been met with disapproval by the real hard men who have graced the Old Trafford turf in decades gone by.
To compound the sense of false dawn,Shinji Kagawa replaced Cleverley at half time, only to let the game pass him by completely.
City, meanwhile, did what all the great teams do when they smell blood: they go for the jugular.
It was no surprise to see Dzeko turning a corner in to claim his second, nor was it surprising to see Yaya Toure stroll his way through United’s defensive ruins to add a third late on.
And United? Nothing apart from an audacious Danny Welbeck’s flick and there was no comfort to be found in the numbers either.
United have now lost 10 league games for the first time in Premier League history and have scored just twice – once at home – in eight games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Moyes keeps breaking records and the worst thing of all is that it is no longer surprising. The punches that hurt at the start of the season, are now barely registered after the body has been numbed down by eight months of relentless battering and things are only going to get worse if Moyes is allowed more time in charge.
This truly must be what it felt to be City.