Armchair Pundit

Fergie to blame for United collapse

Alex Chick

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Alex Ferguson fumes after a touchline spat with Roberto Mancini

It was billed as the most important game in Premier League history; it was certainly the most-hyped.

But in the end no compelling storyline emerged. Carlos Tevez did not put United to the sword; Ashley Young did not dive for another penalty; Mario Balotelli was seen only grinning on the touchline; Wayne Rooney barely completed a pass, let alone an overhead kick; Andre Marriner produced a competent, controversy-free refereeing performance.

In a way, then, it came as a comfort that this ended up as little more than one football team beating another by virtue of playing better.

The winning goal was even scored by the acceptable face of Manchester City. Not Tevez, Samir Nasri or Nigel De Jong, but Vincent Kompany, their universally-admired captain.

And he did so by virtue of a breakdown in United's man-to-man marking scheme - a far less heinous crime in the pundits' eyes than any failure of zonal marking.

City are not champions yet - this weekend brings a trip to St James' Park - yet if they win their first title since 1968, who can say they do not deserve it?

Manchester United - a club so confident and assured during the final few games that they created a name for it - have crumbled in squeaky-bum time.

First they lost to Wigan, then peed a two-goal lead against Everton against the wall. Yet they saved their biggest no-show for the grandest stage.

So passive, so gutless, so pathetic was their performance at the Etihad Arena that it seems futile to point out individual failings - the blame must ultimately lie with their manager.

Sir Alex Ferguson never picks the same team twice in a row, and his compulsive tinkering would make Rafa Benitez and Claudio Ranieri blush.

However, 20 years of almost unbroken success will insulate you against a certain amount of criticism, and Fergie's erratic tactics and selection have escaped much scrutiny.

After he drafted Park Ji-Sung into a negative five-man midfield, the stat sweeping Twitter before kick-off was that the Korean had started in eight of United's last nine defeats.

There are mitigating circumstances - Park has been more involved in cups and Europe this season, where United have been awful, and he is often called on in big games, which you are naturally more likely to lose.

But coincidence is an excuse that can only go so far - Park is associated with a cautious, one-up-front formation, one that has patently failed to deliver results this season.

He has now started in nine of United's last 10 defeats.

After a semi-promising opening, United opted to do a Chelsea in Barcelona and Park the bus.

If a 10-man Chelsea side can do it, how hard can it be? Harder than you think; and once Kompany powered his header past David De Gea, there was never - and I really mean never - any realistic prospect of United getting on terms.

Park went off just before the hour, but Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were far too late in arriving. Javier Hernandez never came at all, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had more chance of coming off the bench than Dimitar Berbatov.

Rather than go down all guns blazing, United surrendered. Meek, humbled, beaten.

Meanwhile, Fergie launched into a tirade at Roberto Mancini following a De Jong tackle that deserved no more than the yellow card it got.

Supposedly the master of mind games, now it was time for him to howl uselessly at the blue moon. Here was a man watching his plans fall apart around his ears, but with no idea how to fix them.

Now Fergie is left like Kevin Keegan 16 years earlier, relying on other teams to dig him out of trouble: "He's got to go to Newcastle and get something!" There was much of Keegan's desperation in his accusation that Mancini badgered the officials all night - something of which Fergie would never dream, of course.

Mancini's 'mind games', in which he repeatedly conceded the title, and continues to declare United favourites even after tonight's game (!), have not been the reason for City's triumph.

The Italian has built a team that totally outperformed their neighbours in both Premier League encounters this season. That is what counts.

Of course Ferguson's career, viewed in its entirety, is still one of remarkable, sustained success. He remains one of the greatest managers of all-time. One result and one season cannot change that.

You might also argue that City, with their endless resources, were bound to win the Premier League sooner or later - no manager can fight back Emirati billions indefinitely.

Yet April 2012 will go down among the worst months of the great man's tenure at Old Trafford. His side had the title won, then inexplicably gave it away. Now all they can do is pray City give it back.

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Alex Chick - @alexchick81

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