From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.20 :: May. 16, 2009

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FOOTBALL / ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Tevez highlights the chasm between United and City

With the victory against Manchester City, the defending champions, United, now need a maximum of four points from their remaining three fixtures to be certain of retaining the Premier League title, writes Kevin McCarra.


The only proximity between these clubs lies on the map. No one expects Manchester City to be the equals of the Champions League holders month after month, but occasions such as this ought to bring out the best in Mark Hughes's team. After all, they had won both of the derby fixtures last season.

Great investment in the squad is anticipated, but the owner, Sheikh Mansour, cannot be satisfied with the return on the large sums laid out so far. There is a baleful consistency about City's away games in the Premier League; only two have been won so far in this campaign. They did not act as if they had any desire to make the trip to Old Trafford an exception.

Manchester United now need a maximum of four points from their remaining three fixtures to be certain of retaining the Premier League title. They might have been sparing themselves against City with an eye to the trip to Wigan. Squad rotation is standard practice, but Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection showed that he judged the level of risk in the match to be moderate at best.

Players such as Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney were on the bench, while Rio Ferdinand, who has a calf strain, was not involved at all. There was sufficient zeal among those who were picked. Carlos Tevez, having complained that he feels marginalised at Old Trafford, did as much as he could to show that United should spend the 22m needed to make his signing permanent.

In the closing moments he was heading against the post from a tight angle after Darren Fletcher had nodded a corner towards him. The Ar gentinian strove to spread his presence across the entire occasion. Even before his goal there was incisiveness. He had swept inside Nedum Onuoha from the left and struck the far post in the 31st minute.

His 45th-minute goal, however, came with the aid of some svelte build-up, as Dimitar Berbatov tamed a steeply dropping ball from Fletcher before passing to the striker. Tevez also made space for himself, before firing home off the inside of the post. If he has any regrets, it must be that the impoverishment of City's football meant that his impact looked less remarkable.

United had assumed the lead through a Ronaldo free-kick in the 18th minute that brushed Nigel de Jong. The City goalkeeper, Shay Given, still appeared to have erred by taking a step to his right and then finding he could not cover the gap to his left. The scorer spared himself nothing to introduce intrigue to a bland game.

When Ferguson took him off with half an hour to go, it was an understandable decision by a manager who knew it would be senseless not to conserve the energy of the Portuguese. Ronaldo preferred to act as if his removal was incomprehensible, if not vindictive. He went through his lavish repertoire of sulky, disbelieving expressions and gestures.

Later, the manager more or less passed it off as evidence of the attacker's desire to be on the field. Ferguson may very conceivably be harsher in private. Tolerance is born of the total of 26 goals notched by Ronaldo in this campaign. Two of them came in the Champions League semifinals at the Emirates, as if to confirm that he does not prey merely on the vulnerable, such as City.

Hughes's team was vague in its work, and you had to look hard to spot any tell-tale hints of competence. In the 51st minute Robinho did flaunt his technique to control a through-ball from Elano, but the ensuing shot was rash and high. The match was nearing its end before Edwin van der Sar pulled off a good save, from an effort by the substitute Martin Petrov.

THE RESULTS

May 10: Arsenal 1 (Bendtner 70) lost to Chelsea 4 (Alex 28, Anelka 39, Toure o.g.-49, Malouda 86). Half-time: 0-2; Manchester United 2 (Ronaldo 18, Tevez 45) bt Manchester City 0. Half-time: 2-0.

May 9: Blackburn 2 (Pedersen 31, McCarthy pen-58) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 1-0; Bolton 0 drew with Sunderland 0; Everton 0 drew with Tottenham 0; Fulham 3 (Murphy pen-6, Kamara 46 & 60) bt Aston Villa 1 (Young 14). Half-time: 1-1; Hull 1 (Dawson 90+5) lost to Stoke 2 (Fuller 41, Lawrence 73). Half-time: 0-1; West Brom 3 (Fortune 8 & 73, Brunt 59) bt Wigan 1 (Rodallega 17). Half-time: 1-1; West Ham 0 lost to Liverpool 3 (Gerrard 2 & 38, Babel 84). Half-time: 0-2.

May 4: Aston Villa 1 (Carew 34) bt Hull 0. Half-time: 1-0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009



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