Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City lacked belief needed to beat United

By Ian Herbert

Roberto Mancini said he was "not interested in sending messages to United or anyone else," but the opposing manager certainly had one for him, in a side whose average age was 22 years and two months as the clock ticked down to 90 minutes.

We seemed to be looking at the Manchester United side as we will come to know it well: a defence perhaps anchored around Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, with Chris Smalling as a very fine right back. Time will tell if Paul Scholes's inheritance belongs to Tom Cleverley, who is 22 on Friday, but this display bore out the signs we saw against Barcelona in Washington eight days ago – that the next midfield playmaker has been there all along. Never in the course of the 11 Community Shields Sir Alex Ferguson has won did he punch the air quite like that.

Mancini probably feels like punching something else. The Manchester City manager wanted to get out of the picture as soon as the courtesies of the handshakes were done and the undoubted psychological blow of another defeat of this kind to United is accompanied by the sense that little has changed at City. He and Ferguson have both spent around £50m on three acquisitions for the first team in the past three months but there was nothing shiny and new about City and, if anything, the gulf between his side and United looked greater than ever.

City pushed United hard every time they encountered each other last season and that FA Cup semi-final triumph last May seemed to have destroyed that aura of red invincibility which exists around Manchester – a city where, as Tony Wilson once reminded us, the rivalry belongs to a population "who do things differently but who find it difficult sometimes to share the same oxygen". It appears that invincibility may still be intact after all.

Ferguson's was not an entirely well-oiled machine. Wayne Rooney's plaintive cry and gesture at Nani in the first 10 minutes made his displeasure clear, and by then Ashley Young had already despatched an anxious shot when flanked on his right by Danny Welbeck, who was far better placed to score.

But City – average age 25.8 at the end – still resembled the assembled group of strangers they can so often be. Mancini was the manager in possession of the game's best playmaker – David Silva's first-half display was an extension of his shimmering performance in Dublin against Internazionale a week ago – but there was not the appreciation of each other's running and movement that Mancini should expect, entering his second full campaign.

And with a lack of appreciation came a lack of belief. Mancini did not brief his side to drop deep and allow United to come at them, after the interval, but that is what he got. "We need to have a strong mentality. You need to stay high like the squad not go too deep like we did in the second half," he said. That mentality is something money can't buy. It comes with time and continuity – year after year of knowing what a difficulty looks like and how to deal with it. United have that; the look of champions.

We've not seen City's finished product yet. Sergio Aguero will come in and the prospect of a successful move for Arsenal's Samir Nasri advanced over the weekend, with Arsène Wenger resigning himself to cash in on a Frenchman he believes will not commit his heart to the Arsenal cause. But that will only create yet more need for integration. "City will not be as strong as United because United are working for the long-term by bringing through young talent," Eric Cantona declared last week and yesterday only added force to his argument.

Belfast Telegraph

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