Two-goal Tevez has his revenge
They are noisy neighbours, Sir Alex Ferguson had said in September. Then it appeared a snide comment, now a statement of fact. Noisy? They were positively raucous. 'The council house,' as their rivals have disparagingly called it, echoed to the sound of a song that is all too familiar to the Manchester United manager. "Fergie, sign him up," was the inevitable chorus.
It is aired on a regular basis, but this was louder and longer than normal. The chant, initiated by Manchester United fans last season, has become the soundtrack to Manchester City's season. For footballing or financial reasons, Ferguson did not sign Carlos Tevez up. And just as the City fans have borrowed their United counterparts' refrain, so Tevez is revisiting his own actions. After scoring a semi-final first-leg winner, the Argentine cupped his hands to his ears to savour the supporters' mantra and mimic his own celebration, aimed at the United directors' box, in last season's Manchester derby.
He is no modern-day Denis Law but, once a Red and now a Blue, Tevez is becoming a potent finisher. A derby-deciding double took his tally for the campaign to 17, two more than he mustered in the whole of last season. It is too soon to say if he will join the select band who have achieved greater things after leaving Old Trafford but he is providing proof there is life after United.
"I am very happy for Carlos because he is ex-Manchester United," said Roberto Mancini. "Carlos plays big games very, very well." The question was asked if Ferguson erred by allowing him to leave. Mancini's response was diplomatic: "We are happy because Carlos now plays for us."
"We have had a few players who have left the club and scored against us," said Ferguson. "It's just the way it happens. It can be like that it can bite you. It is not an issue, we are happy with the players we have."
Nevertheless, the combination of an in-form Tevez and an official, in Mike Dean, who awarded City two contentious decisions made it an utterly unwelcome occasion for Ferguson. The hosts' equaliser came after Tevez slid a pass into the path of Craig Bellamy who was hurtling clear as he was tugged back, initially outside but then on the edge of the penalty area by Rafael da Silva. "I am not getting into the penalty," growled Ferguson. "Everyone can see it for themselves." Dean saw an offence in the box and awarded a spot kick. Tevez dispatched it emphatically, thumping the ball past Edwin van der Sar.
His second followed a dubiously-awarded Bellamy corner that Van der Sar punched ineffectually. Pablo Zabaleta headed it back into the penalty area, Vincent Kompany improvised to hook it across goal and Tevez applied the finishing touch.
It was appropriate Bellamy played a part in both goals. Pursuing his scorched earth policy on the left wing, he was terrific. So was Tevez, leading the line alone and mirroring his former partner, Wayne Rooney, who approached identical duties with equal zeal.
Indeed Mancini opted for "that Italian system" as a passing City fan referred to it upon seeing the teamsheet. Both managers did, preferring a formation that permitted the wingers to get forward. Its benefits were apparent when United took the lead.
Patrice Evra switched play with a diagonal ball that Antonio Valencia met. The Ecuadorian edged past Bellamy and curled the ball into Rooney's path and, while his shot drew a point-blank block from Shay Given, Ryan Giggs tapped in the rebound.
Cue a City comeback, yet United could easily have won a second superlative derby of the season. But for a brilliant Given, they surely would have done. He made a succession of outstanding stops as his personal duel with Rooney continued, with the Englishman thwarted four times. From Rooney's deep cross, Giggs managed a header that Given repelled. A block from Rooney afforded Michael Owen the chance to reprise his derby heroics on the rebound. Micah Richards, covering on the goal-line, prevented an equaliser.
So there was no 96th-minute reprieve for United this time. Nor, indeed, was there a late goal with Valencia contriving to miss from two yards. But if this was Tevez's revenge, United only have to wait eight days to exact their own retribution. And while it is advantage City, it is only just. Mancini added: "I think we have a 51% (chance)."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Shay Given
Another outstanding individual performance from the City No.1. Ferguson has suggested Van der Sar is the best goalkeeper in the world; given the Irishman's form, he isn't even the best in Manchester.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: In one respect, it epitomised their season: their three finest players were scintillating; Bellamy, a terrific Tevez and a defiant Given. Excellent as City were, the number of chances United created may have provide a concern. But keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford next week and it will be asked who put the Manc in Mancini.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: Ferguson's new-found fondness for the Carling Cup may have less to do with wanting to win the competition than trying to stop City triumphing, but his strongest possible team was selected. Defeat was harsh on the rampaging Rooney and the classy Giggs.
FRIENDS REUNITED: Tevez's celebrations apparently brought a one-fingered response from his former team-mate Gary Neville, who was warming up at the time.