James Lawton: United's expectation of victory exposes gifted City's shortage of belief
United, whatever their resources on any given day, have certain expectations, and the most basic of them is that they win
Monday 14 February 2011
We knew – unless we were on a different planet – that even in the depths he has occupied this season Wayne Rooney was still capable of doing something beyond the range, even the dreams, of any other English player.
What we were not so sure about was Manchester City's ability to grasp that time waits for no-one, not even the most extravagantly funded team in the history of English football.
We know now that they still don't have it – not nearly enough of it, anyway, to justify one of Malcolm Allison's best Havanas any time before the end of this season.
This, ultimately, was the inescapable conclusion from a match in which City performed roughly 300 per cent better than they did at home to United last November.
Unfortunately, they were still critically short of the belief, and the set-up, to gain a reward that at two points in the game seemed entirely feasible.
City substantially outplayed United in an opening onslaught in which David Silva re-announced himself as an attacking player of wonderful wit and suppleness, an impression that survived his early failure to deliver a crippling blow to United after an exquisite build-up, and then for a while after the Spaniard freakishly conspired to produce an equaliser in the second half.
It is also true that Rooney's other-worldly intervention with 12 minutes to go would have stripped down the buoyancy of any team unlucky enough to be on the receiving end.
However, when United were on top they were undoubtedly the more convincing pack, scoring a goal through Nani which on almost any other day would have been celebrated hugely for its brilliant execution.
There was, of course, a very good reason for this. United, whatever their resources on any given day, have certain expectations, and the most basic of them is that they win.
City, despite players of the most enviable talent, have been candid enough about their very different understanding of life's possibilities.
Against their most formidable opponents, they say, a draw is enough. It is part of the time-scale of their ambition, their plan, and it is no doubt why Roberto Mancini explained after Saturday's defeat that his team have yet to develop a "strong mentality" – the kind, he added, which comes with winning titles.
The proposition is fair enough if you put out of your mind the question about the chicken and the egg – and the fact that though City did have those threatening passages of play, their five-man midfield had only in Silva the commitment to outright creative football while United fielded Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the explosive Nani.
It meant that when Giggs, who for most of the rest of the time was a near-catastrophic haemorrhage of possession, delivered the ball beautifully to Nani for the opening goal, City's early ascendency had become a somewhat distant memory.
Mancini was obliged to throw in Edin Dzeko and the scampering Shaun Wright-Phillips and for a little while we saw the benefit of that.
Inevitably all was obliterated by the starburst of Rooney, one which left City out of serious title contention and also, if any of their slide-rule strategists cared to note, no longer entirely in charge of their Champions League destiny with Spurs and Chelsea, respectively, having one and two matches in hand.
No doubt the problem is negotiable enough if City can more consistently revisit the best of their performance at Old Trafford, especially by Silva and a Vincent Kompany equal to anything this side of the definitive Wayne Rooney. Mancini, as he seemed to concede, might also beef up the communal mentality.
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