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May 10, 2009

Tevez plays his part in United surge

Positioning himself a matter of metres from the technical area, both hands cupped to his ears, Carlos Tevez prepared himself for the inevitable entreaty, the latest and loudest of the hundreds of pleas on his behalf. It duly arrived. While Sir Alex Ferguson was unused to having his decisions queried by so many within Old Trafford, the dissent has become commonplace.

The chorus of "Fergie, sign him up" was predictable. Tevez knew as much. Unlike the preening, posturing footballers who often play to the galleries, he was demonstrating an appeal to the masses right in front of the manager who is reluctant to purchase him.

"The fans love tryers," said Ferguson, understanding Tevez's bond with the support. "That's the great thing about football. A lad who tries all the time can be forgiven many a thing." Not that there was much to forgive. Tevez's competitive nature equips him well for local skirmishes; players who seem to regard standing still as a crime can prosper in such matches and this was an occasion to suit Tevez.

Inches away from a hat-trick, he played a considerable part in winning the Manchester derby and, in the process, helping secure a third consecutive title. A wonderful strike crashed in off the far post on the stroke of half-time to double United's lead. Coupled with his terrier-like display against Arsenal 11 days before, it provided proof he possesses a big-game temperament.

Before today, however, he did not possess a Premier League goal at Old Trafford this season. His only previous strikes occurred away at Liverpool, Stoke and West Brom. Had a curling shot and a late close-range header, both rebounding off the woodwork, been marginally better directed, he would have doubled that tally today.

Nevertheless, his departure grows ever more likely. "I'm not getting into that," growled Ferguson, though the continued impasse explains Tevez's admission that he expects to leave. If Manchester United, as Tevez claims, do not respect him as footballer, Manchester City do. They are among his many alleged suitors and Mark Hughes commented: "He was a thorn in our side today. I thought he played exceptionally well and it was an exceptional strike."

Judging by the reaction of the United support, Tevez is an eloquent ambassador for his own cause. Nevertheless, his representative Kia Joorabchian was in the crowd, muttering conspiratorially on his mobile phone, while covering his mouth with his hand.

While one third of United's original Holy Trinity, Sir Bobby Charlton, deemed the current vintage the greatest in the club's history, another trio had a blend of invention and inspiration City could not rival. Even with Wayne Rooney confined to the bench for an hour, the combination of Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov prospered.

The Portuguese broke the deadlock, with a free kick that City both disputed and deflected. Awarded for Stephen Ireland's challenge on Berbatov, Ronaldo's shot clipped Nigel de Jong and wrong-footed Shay Given before nestling in the bottom corner. With the winger pursuing a second successive Golden Boot, his substitution provoked a moment of petulance as he snatched his training top and glowered to anyone who was looking on the bench.

His manager, though, was in forgiving mood. Ferguson said: "He wanted to stay on. He's in great form, but I've got to look at the big picture. He ran his socks off at Arsenal."

That is rarely an accusation levelled at Berbatov, but the Bulgarian was instrumental. Navigating his way out of the tightest of situations, pirouetting balletically on the ball and locating team-mates with enviable easy, he was the conductor of United's orchestra in that way Ferguson presumably always imagined he would be.

By plucking Darren Fletcher's long pass nonchalantly out of the sky, he supplied Tevez for his goal. "He's very, very good at that, taking the ball out of the air," added Ferguson. "He's got good balance."

While Berbatov invariably appears to be strolling, he formed a contrast with a fellow flair player who had a negligible impact. Following his match-winning display at Everton, a genuinely anaemic Robinho reverted to his habit of hindering City on their travels. One glaring miss, following a beautiful pass from Elano, ensured they did not get back into the game.

"There was not much of an end product, unfortunately," admitted Hughes. "We didn't ask enough questions of them."

They didn't. While City did a derby double last season, since then, United have delighted in proving the world's richest club the poor relations in their own backyard. In the people's republic of Mancunia, as a banner at the Stretford End used to call it, the champions of England, Europe and the world, as United like to pronounce themselves, are very much back in the ascendant.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Dimitar Berbatov - There are occasions when it is difficult to query his £30.75m fee, or Ferguson's faith in the striker. This was one of them.

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: Ferguson made five changes, yet United were not disrupted. It helped that two of those introduced, Tevez and Berbatov, were in such form. Fletcher retained his place and produced another diligent display. While many would have welcomed his absence in previous years, he is now being cherished after his unlucky dismissal at the Emirates Stadium. The unsung hero's name was sung regularly.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: In both derbies this season, United have illustrated how far their rivals need to progress, despite their immense wealth and huge ambitions. At the moment, the biggest gulf is in the final third. Despite suspicions he will leave at the end of the season, it was notable Elano produced more than Robinho again.

BERTI WHO? Manchester City's vocal supporters surely managed the chant of the match. Spotting their little-used, fourth-choice left-back, they launched into a rare rendition of: "There's only one Glauber Berti." That's probably just as well. City hardly need a second.

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