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Throwback Thursday | Wayne Rooney's moment of brilliance drags the Manchester derby back into the spotlight

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Throwback Thursday - March 4th edition

Sportscafe

Throwback Thursday | Wayne Rooney's moment of brilliance drags the Manchester derby back into the spotlight

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Siddhant Lazar

03/04/2021

Moments transcends everything in sport and nothing defines that more than football especially the good ones. Welcome to 'Throwback Thursday' where we take a look at a moment in time, and this week, we look at the 2010/11 season and a moment that Manchester United fans will never ever forget.

It’s the 12th of February 2011 and we’re at Old Trafford. The ground is quite literally shaking, you can hear the chanting, the cheering and the noise of it all seeping from every pore in the stadium. There is no room for silence with it long since banished from the grounds and at the moment, it doesn’t look like it was ever making it’s way back. Sir Alex Ferguson is on the touchline guiding and barking at his troops while Robert Mancini did the same.

Because despite it being a Manchester derby, and a low wattage one at that, this game was still on the cusp of either being won or lost by either team. The scoreline, as we entered the 78th minute, was a mere 1-1 but with twelve minutes, or thereabouts, left on the clock anything could happen. It was partly why Old Trafford was buzzing, shouting, screaming and even a few whistles could be heard because anything could happen.

Dimitar Berbatov has the ball, sees Rooney and finds him with a deft pass but the forward’s first touch is poor and the ball loops right back to Berbatov. It’s behind him though but before David Silva or Edin Dzeko can get to it, Paul Scholes does and immediately finds Nani on the wing. The tempo and the intensity of the game has never been high enough to call it a classic but the crowd senses something is about to happen.

That is partly because everything good that has happened for Manchester United has come from this right-hand-side via Nani and whoever seemed to be there. It left Pablo Zabaleta with a very tough job although while the Argentine held his own, quite a few of those opportunities flew past him. But as Scholes pass flew towards Nani, Zabaleta was slow to react and it allows the winger that extra touch he needed.

It means that not even a furiously back-tracking Carlos Tevez could get there in time as Nani weighed up his options. There were acres of space behind the full-back and Nani had enough skill to beat the Argentine not just once over but walk back and do it all over again. Yet with Berbatov, Scholes and Fletcher making their way into the box, with Giggs and Rooney already inside, Nani had options.  

Time has now stopped but before we dive into the climax and make a massive splash, let’s roll the dice back and figure out how we got here in the first place. Because as luck would have it, nobody on this planet would have backed Manchester United to be in a 1-1 draw against Manchester City and that’s even against this Manchester City team. This is, after all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s feared Manchester United side, the same team that had won three league titles in the last four years.

The same side that reached the Champions League quarter-finals the season before, the final the season before that and lifted the trophy the year before. This was a feared side especially with the gruff Scotsman standing on the sidelines barking instructions. Well, that and partly because they had continued their form into this season, well into this season rather, and had become the favourites to lift the title.

Because 26 games into the league season and Manchester United had lost just twice. Both had come within their last ten games with Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea beating them 2-1 and Mick McCarthy’s Wolves pulling off an underdog victory via the same scoreline. But even then, despite just two losses to their name, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had managed to draw nine games going into the Manchester derby. 

It’s why Arsenal sat one point behind them in second place, with Manchester City five points behind and reigning Champions Chelsea seven points behind. Things weren’t looking good and it was a scalp that Robert Mancini and his Manchester City were desperately looking for. One they believed they could get and why not? Things were changing for the blue side of Manchester with their new owners pumping money into the club.

It saw them spend heavily signing six players permanently that summer, with Dzeko arriving in January, and that included Mario Balotelli, David Silva and a few others. Effectively, it handed the Cityzens a team capable of finishing not amongst the top five sides in England’s top tier but amongst the top four and maybe even challenge for the title. But that just wasn’t to be because the closest Manchester City had come, until the derby, was a second-place spot early in the season.

Even that saw them four points behind Chelsea but they weren’t completely out of title contention and always kept to within seven or eight points of first place. But Manchester United’s run of form saw them fly up the table and the kicker was, they were doing it without arguably their best player at the time in Wayne Rooney. An ankle injury against Bayern Munich just under a year ago had sent Rooney spiralling into an abyss despite him being the club’s talisman.

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That is with Cristiano Ronaldo now dancing across the Santiago Bernabeu for fun, Rooney was the man United turned to but he was struggling to showcase his talent. More often than not, so much so that everyone was claiming where they’d seen the best of the man who rocked English football from the tender age of 16. He walked into the derby with just four goals in his opening 26 league games, a tally that agreed with what the critics put across.

That meant that going into the derby, Manchester United had to do it against a rival that had slowly is starting rising into prominence. But both sides made weird changes to their teams with City leaving out their new £27 million striker while United placed their leading scorer on the bench. That played into the pre-match talk and made it looked like both sides wanted to get the game out of the way and nothing else.

But like most derbies, this started out wonderfully after a cute one-two between Carlos Tevez and David Silva sent the Spaniard clear into the area. Yet with only Edwin van der Sar to beat, Silva sent a tame finish across the goal and wide of Van der Sar’s far post. The Dutchman was beaten and a quick look at the Spaniard’s face told us just how bad a miss that was. 

That was about the best chance either side had in the opening 40 minutes, that is with the exception of a few long-range attempts from either side. All in all, not the greatest half of football and then Manchester United struck via a wonderfully worked move. Nani, who had been a threat all game, broke through the middle and beyond Zabaleta and was found with a deft lofted pass from Giggs.

His first touch was stopped the ball in its tracks and took it away from the Argentine in one expertly worked move which allowed him to slide a neat finish past Hart. Suddenly, the low-tempo game had a goal and it had gone the way of the hosts. And yet despite the goal, it was the away side that had slightly more control over the game than many expected with Yaya Toure proving to be a real menace in midfield.

That combined with Rooney being shackled by a superb Vincent Kompany, left the game with very little to offer in the first-half and that did not change in the second. But, the Cityzens started the half a far better side than their hosts and flashed more than their fair few crosses across Van der Sar’s bow. Nothing major for the Dutch international to deal with but more of a looming threat that just stood over menacingly and did nothing else.

It meant that when the equaliser arrived nobody was more shocked than Van der Sarr himself as Dzeko’s attempt to send a cross into the net deflected off Silva’s back and flew in.  A scrappy goal for a what had been a scrappy game but the equaliser proved to light a fire under both sides as they flew forward as if realising that this was a derby. The decibel levels slowly rose inside the stadium but despite a few decent half-chances, neither side looked capable of taking the lead.

And yet, the crowd sense that something was about to especially with United’s leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov now on the field. The Bulgarian was sent on immediately after the equaliser and had injected a bit more confidence and tempo to United’s play. He has the ball now as we enter the final thirteen odd minutes and slowly meanders forward. Yaya Toure is marking him but has been unable to deal with the forward since he walked onto the field.

Berbatov finds Rooney on the edge of the area but the Englishman’s first touch is poor and he loops the ball fifteen yards back, forcing the Bulgarian to back-track. But before he can get there, Scholes has read the move and mopped up with David Silva and Edin Dzeko surrounding him. Shaun Wright-Philips is on his right and yet the danger is coming from Gareth Barry. The City man is charging the United midfielder down, but Scholes effortlessly finds Nani on the right.

The Portuguese winger has caused problems for Zabaleta all evening and this seems to be another issue of the same comic as he bides his time. There is space behind the full-back for Nani to run onto but at the same time, he has two men waiting inside the area with three ready to make the late sprint for a cross. It’s a real quandary for Nani but the fate of this game, and probably the title race, rests on his shoulders as Rooney finds a makes a little space between him and Kompany.

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