At first, Roberto Mancini was almost apologetic. “Very exciting,” he said, with a tell-tale smile as he sat down for the post-match press conference, but the Manchester City manager was soon making it clear he was unconcerned by questions about his team’s defensive approach.
“It’s a good point and it’s not important for me if we get criticised,” Mancini said of a derby that passed by largely without incident – not least, according to Manchester United’s players and management, because of the home side’s tactics.
Sir Alex Ferguson questioned whether City had been content to settle for a draw throughout the second half, and Edwin van der Sar also queried the conservatism of the home side. “City did not really come forward and leave their defensive position,” United’s goalkeeper said. “They were clearly aiming for a point whereas we really wanted to win. They were so defensive I didn’t have anything to do apart from [save] one free-kick.”
Mancini argued that his players were simply suffering from fatigue rather than a lack of ambition. “When you play every three days the players can get tired. It’s not easy playing every three days and then having a game like that. We wanted to win but I would prefer to have one point rather than zero points, which is what we got from this game last season.
“It was a difficult game; they defended very well and we didn’t create many chances, but last season we scored against them [in three of the four games] and lost three matches all in the last minute. I wanted to win but it is much better to draw than it is to lose.”
Ferguson felt the hype may have contributed to the game being such a disappointing spectacle. “In the build-up to the game there was maybe too much tension for it to be as open a match as many people thought it was going to be,” he said. “City are difficult to beat on their own ground. That was obvious from the way they set their stall out in the second half for us to try to break them down. They are very powerful and experienced that way.”
If there was one element of United’s play that disappointed their manager, it was their lack of creativity. “We controlled the game and some of our football was very good. We had good composure on the ball but we needed to make chances and, in that sense, we had only two openings, one in the first half and one in the second half, so that’s disappointing.
“It’s a decent result. Chelsea came here and lost and if City had not had a man sent off early on against Arsenal the result [a 3-0 home defeat] could have been different. But we don’t count draws coming away from home as our target. Our target is to win the game and I think we had enough possession to do that, but to create that opening to win the match was just beyond us.”
Of the two managers, Mancini certainly seemed happier with the point. “My opinion is that Chelsea will win the championship but I think we must wait until January or February to see what happens when the top teams start playing in the Champions League again,” he said. “The Premier League is very long and very difficult. For us, it’s important we stay near the top.”
The Italian expressed his anger at the Football Association’s decision to reject City’s appeal about Mario Balotelli’s three-match ban for his red card against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. “For me, it’s not the correct decision. I’ve seen some games when the tackles have been incredible [without red cards], but it’s over now and we can’t do anything about it.”