Ian Herbert: De Jong bares teeth to win his battle with Scholes
Thursday 11 November 2010
One of the most absorbing scenes in the wonderful Blue Moon Rising film which chronicles Manchester City's journey to the brink of last season's top four captures the dressing room scenes seconds before the players ran out for that vital and decisive spring encounter with Tottenham. "This is the only game they'll remember," Craig Bellamy bellows at the players. "No one cares about the rest. It's all for nothing if we lose this."
Bellamy, whose enforced departure from City remains a mystery to many, would have been mighty valuable on a night like this and that scene made you wonder who the new screamers have turned out to be. Not captain Carlos, for sure. He's not one to do much talking. That film scene and Joe Hart's interview earlier this week, told us that much.
The answer is Nigel de Jong, a player whose season and game was plunged into torment and turmoil two months ago with the tackle which broke Hatem Ben Arfa's leg here against Newcastle and saw him removed from the Dutch national side. You wondered whether the whole imbroglio would emasculate those aspects of his game which are quality, especially when Charlie Adam of Blackpool waltzed past him at Bloomfield Road a week later you and De Jong hardly seemed to blink.
Manchester has actually been deeply divided on the De Jong issue and some of the most ardent supporters of his game have been from the Old Trafford camp. Lou Macari was infuriated by Bert van Marwijk's axing of de Jong, remembering just the same kind of challenges coming in from Jimmy Case and Arthur Albiston in the days when men were men. The most absorbing battle of last night pitched De Jong against Paul Scholes, another with a habit of placing tackles where more angelic midfielders fear to tread. De Jong won that battle. He was one of the few players to have walked away off a derby pitch last night and claimed that he had had the better of one of this fixture's greatest campaigners.
Only three United players have scored more goals against City than the seven Scholes has managed in 21 derbies but this was an occasion when he was needed to command the central territory. It took Scholes precisely one minute and 50 seconds to signal his presence there. Bang: James Milner was upended and Scholes was walking away; the first of three such challenges which saw him booked.
But the 35-year-old's chances even to venture out of his own half and exploit space which can make him United's most wonderfully creative player, were deprived him by the advancing presence of De Jong. The sight of De Jong easing the ball away from Nani and skipping down the right touchline before he was felled by Berbatov in that period, provided some of the sense of perspective which is badly needed about the 25-year-old's qualities.
The margins for error were desperately narrow at times as the game wore on. De Jong allowed Nani about one yard of turf in front of the City box early in the second half, as City briefly seemed to tire. In the blink of an eye he had spotted Wes Brown, whose cross was met by Berbatov's scissor kick.
For an equally fleeting moment, it seemed that De Jong had returned the trouble with interest, when he dispossessed Nani with masterful timing and spotted Adam Johnson lurking down the left. But this, too, came to nothing. In the end this match mattered too much for either side to take hold of it and win. But De Jong made the right noises.
Latest in Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo: Unhappy forward is ready to quit Real Madrid, according to Angel Di Maria
Commonwealth Games 2014: Australia launch Glasgow swimwear - but are criticised for drawing attention to the 'crotch' area
Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal: Jurgen Klopp concerned with Dortmund injuries and praises signings of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez
Hull City vs West Ham match report: Enner Valencia stars as honours shared at the KC Stadium
Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United: Ramon Calderon claims Real Madrid star is 'fed up'
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke