COMMENT: City's old guard provide solace for Guardiola

Alam Khan 28/04/2017
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Kompany (r) has been impressive in recent weeks.

Immense, inspirational and imperious have been words to describe Vincent Kompany ever since he joined Manchester City.

So too again on Thursday night when he marshalled his side’s backline so effectively in the goalless Premier League draw with rivals United. As mad as Marouane Fellaini was for his crazy headbutt on Sergio Aguero, his fellow Belgian was magnificent against frontmen with the pace and prowess of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Next August will be a decade since Kompany signed for just £6 million from Hamburg – days before Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s landmark takeover.

Arguably the most important arrival in City’s history and easily the biggest bargain in a period of expensive outlays. Yet Kompany is fighting for his future following injury concerns, particularly over the past two seasons.

On the evidence of his dominant derby display in a third successive start without breaking down, Pep Guardiola should rejoice.

Many thought the 31-year-old was finished, but he is reborn. The titles ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ may be synonymous with Chelsea stalwart John Terry, but apply to Kompany too.

Courageous, a calming influence, he brings reassurance to the City backline and commands respect.

Guardiola may worry about how many games he can play successively, but with the right management of his schedule and training, there are few centre-backs better when he’s in shape – and he deserves at least another season to prove that.

Leonardo Bonucci would be a fantastic addition to any team, and the prospect of the Italian alongside Kompany, Otamendi and John Stones would provide the cornerstone of a side capable of challenging for all four trophies next season, not just battling for the top four.

Experience allied to enthusiasm will be key to City’s future hopes and, while an influx of youth is needed at full-back and midfield, Guardiola should be careful not discard the old guard just yet.

While changes are inevitable after a campaign of under-achievement, Yaya Toure – like Kompany – is another to show he can still make an impact. He may be 34 next month and out of contract in June, but has run their midfield in the past two games against Arsenal and United, for whom Michael Carrick has been equally efficient at 35.

Gabriel Jesus may be the future but Sergio Aguero has hit 30 goals in 41 games this season, two shy of his best-ever tally.

Kompany, Toure and Aguero still provide a solid spine from where City can rebuild and ensure this trophyless season was just a blip.

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Marouane Fellaini saw red for headbutting Sergio Aguero as Manchester City retained a slim advantage in their top-four battle with Manchester United following a frantic goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium.

Fellaini’s moment of madness came six minutes from time in a tense stalemate that leaves City a point in front of their neighbours and in charge of the Champions League race.

Fellaini had been booked moments before for a trip on the City striker and was in wide-eyed and animated mood as he eventually left the pitch, a stunning denouement to a match the home side had dominated without finding the net.

MANCHESTER CITY

GK – CLAUDIO BRAVO – 5/10

Had very little to do most of the game, although he nearly gifted United a goal in the first half when flapping at a ball into the box. Went off injured after an awkward landing when collecting a corner kick late in the second half.

RB – PABLO ZABALETA – 5/10

Restored to the starting lineup, Zabaleta struggled early on with Anthony Martial’s pace and trickery, but looked comfortable after that as United went into their shell. However, didn’t attack with the spirit and zest Pep Guardiola expects of his full-backs.

CB – VINCENT KOMPANY – 6/10

It goes without saying that the shaky City defence looks infinitely more solid when the club captain is fit. Kompany gave young Marcus Rashford an education in the physicality of the Premier League, but was rarely called upon to do more.

CB – NICOLAS OTAMENDI – 6/10

Followed Kompany’s lead in marshalling Rashford, although was lucky to escape a yellow card for some of his tackles on the youngster. The shakiness he showcases alongside John Stones disappears when Kompany is alongside him.

LB – ALEKSANDER KOLAROV – 5/10

Like Zabaleta on the other side, Kolarov was steady in defense but didn’t offer enough in attack apart from a couple of wayward shots from range.

MF – YAYA TOURE – 6/10

Apart from a spell in the first half, he was comfortable for most of the game without being a dominating force. He saw a lot of the ball and was heavily involved in City’s build-up play but couldn’t make it count.

MF – FERNANDINHO – 5/10

Was fortunate to escape a yellow card for a first-half challenge on Ander Herrera. Covered a lot of ground but did little on the ball.

RW – RAHEEM STERLING – 6/10

Plenty of pace mixed in with a little trickery and he had United defenders back-tracking regularly. He wasn’t able to produce an end product but certainly created inroads. Had a few shots on target without really testing De Gea.

CAM – KEVIN DE BRUYNE – 7/10

Bore the play-making responsibility in David Silva’s absence and created plenty of chances, taking three shots at goal himself. Needed to be a little more clever to unlock United’s defence.

LW – LEROY SANE – 5/10

Went on a few exciting runs but wasn’t able to threaten the United defence enough.

ST – SERGIO AGUERO – 6/10

Was a constant threat, firing eight times at De Gea’s goal but to no avail. Missed City’s best chance of the first half, unmarked from close range, but could only strike the post. He began to snatch at chances and missed another point-blank chance late in the game.

SUBS:

WILLY CABALLERO – N/A

Had nothing to do after coming on for Claudio Bravo. His biggest moment of stress was deciding whether or not to go up for a last-minute corner.

JESUS NAVAS – 5/10

Was perhaps a surprise choice as City’s first man off the bench. With United packing the box in defence, the Spaniard struggled to find the cross to threaten the visiting defenders especially since he was up against Matteo Darmian who appeared to be struggling.

GABRIEL JESUS – N/A

Had very little time to come up with a miracle, but nearly pulled it off nonetheless. His would-be game-winning goal was rightly chalked off for offside.

MANCHESTER UNITED

GK – DAVID DE GEA – 6/10

Commanded his box with usual aplomb, and stopped every shot that came his way. Was never called on to be spectacular though.

RB – ANTONIO VALENCIA – 6/10

Showcased his usual form at right-back, rendering Leroy Sane largely anonymous. Offered little going forward, but that was partially down to Jose Mourinho’s defensive game plan.

CB – ERIC BAILLY – 8/10

Was imperious, commanding United’s back-line and was the best player on the pitch. For all the talk of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, Bailly has shown why there are United fans who think he was the club’s best signing last summer.

CB – DALEY BLIND – 6/10

Fans wondering how Blind would cope with the pace of City’s front four needn’t have worried. The Dutchman was sloppy on occasion but his sense of positioning ensured he was rarely beaten by Aguero, Sterling, and company.

LB – MATTEO DARMIAN – 6/10

What Valencia did with Sane on the opposite flank, Darmian did with Sterling, albeit to a lesser extent. Was running on fumes towards the end but was still committed to the cause.

MF – MAROUANE FELLAINI – 3/10

Should never have put himself in the position to be red-carded and can have no complaints. Offered little to the game even before those 19 seconds of madness.

MF – MICHAEL CARRICK – 6/10

Was the calm head needed in a potentially fiery game. Could rarely affect the game from an attacking sense but marshalled Kevin de Bruyne and negated the Belgian’s impact.

MF – ANDER HERRERA – 6/10

Was his usual busy, feisty self in midfield, snuffing out City attacks although unable to conjure any for United. Fluffed his lines when presented with the standout chance of the first half, heading wide from point-blank range.

RW – HENRIKH MKHITARYAN – 5/10

Lasted the whole game, unlike the first Manchester derby of the season when he was infamously hooked at half-time (and then withdrawn from the team for two months). However, he couldn’t produce the attacking impact that Mourinho expects of him and lost the ball on a few occasions as well.

ST – MARCUS RASHFORD – 6/10

A learning curve for the young star striker. Kompany and Otamendi gave him grudging respect with the level of physical play they needed to keep him quiet. To his credit, he was a willing runner throughout and had a few good moments in the first half.

LW – ANTHONY MARTIAL – 5/10

Martial finally gave Mourinho the defensive work rate the manager has been asking of him all along, tracking back and ensuring Sterling couldn’t have an impact. He went on a few fine runs forward as well in the opening 45 minutes, skinning Kompany on one occasion and Zabaleta on a couple.

SUBS: 

JESSE LINGARD – N/A

Many would have expected him to start, given his superior defensive work rate compared to Anthony Martial. With United under the cosh, he was unable to have an impact on the game after coming on.

TIMOTHY FOSU-MENSAH – N/A

Made only his third appearance in the Premier League, coming on immediately after Fellaini’s sending off.

ASHLEY YOUNG – N/A

Came on as a late substitute for Marcus Rashford, to help out in defence as Matteo Darmian began to tire.

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Marouane Fellaini was sent off for headbutting Sergio Aguero Manchester United frustrated Manchester City in a 0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

City remain fourth, a point behind third-place Liverpool with a game in hand, with United, who also have a game in hand on Jurgen Klopp’s side, a point further back in fifth place.

A ‘MARCED’ MAN

Marcus Rashford wasn’t allowed much space to operate in at all. Already starved of service, the 19-year-old was repeatedly fouled and battered by the City defenders. He’s stepped into Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rather large shoes impressively of late but was pinned down on this occasion.

City obviously identified him as the chief threat on the break and there were plenty of instances off the ball when they made sure he knew they were around. It’s just the sort of thing that the youngster will have to get used to and cope with as his stock rises.

In a week when many have made the argument that United may be better off without Ibrahimovic and instead work well with Rashford upfront, this was a timely reminder that the budding striker still has much to learn before he can assume the kind of responsibility that the big Swede has shouldered for so long.

CITY MISSED SILVA

As far as absentees go, United were in a much more dire situation as compared to their neighbours. The aforementioned Ibrahimovic was missed dearly and the likes of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Chris Smalling in particular left them short.

However, the absence of David Silva proved to be pivotal for City in a game like this. Especially in the second half, they dominated proceedings but on so many occasions lacked that killer final ball, slipped into the narrowest of corridors that could unlock United’s stubborn defence and break the deadlock.

They resorted to shots from distance with 58% of their efforts coming from outside the box. Kevin De Bruyne was in top gear, particularly in the second half. The Belgian completed 10 crosses and four take-ons, had three shots at goal and created five chances. The situation called for the deftness of his Spanish team-mate’s play-making though.

UNITED LIVED DANGEROUSLY

When United beat Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford, it was attributed to a masterful game plan which was executed by the players to perfection, and that was indeed the case. But the tactics deployed by Mourinho at the Etihad lacked a certain panache, coming off as basic and uninspiring instead.

The visitors sat back for most of the game, retaining just 31% of the ball and failing to use it efficiently when they did. They lined up on the edge of their own area for long periods, parking the proverbial bus.

To their credit, they did restrict City to shots from range for the most part but a few of them could’ve so easily landed up in the back of the net. They were indecisive in defence too, failing to clear their lines at times and should’ve been behind early on when Aguero struck the post.

A late Gabriel Jesus goal was rightly ruled out for offside and Aguero miscued his effort from a great opportunity at the far post in stoppage time as well. It was not the kind of defensive display that can warrant many plaudits apart from those directed at the players’ commitment and hard work.

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