Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday Feb 12 2011.
By Duncan White
It was one of those reassuringly rare moments when you realise you have just seen a moment of athletic excellence that will stick with you for life.
Even someone who thinks they hate football would be able to appreciate the audacity of Wayne Rooney’s remarkable overhead kick, never mind that it was the goal that won this Manchester derby. If you have not seen it already, hunt it out. It is the kind of technical feat that can be watched on repeat.
If Manchester United do go on to win this title, it will be the iconic goal of this campaign but, by Rooney’s own admission he had not really had a good game. Even in the build-up to the goal he could not bring the ball under control and it skewed up and back into midfield.
Fortunately for United it went straight to Paul Scholes who passed it crisply out to Nani. The Portuguese winger had been United’s most dangerous player but this time his cross hit Pablo Zabaleta and looped into the box.
What happened next was astonishing. Afterwards Rooney said he had acted by instinct, drawing on the memories of outrageous schoolboy exhibitionism. Just the jump itself was a gymnastic marvel, Rooney appearing to hang in the air, reclining on an Old Trafford fresco.
From that moment of stasis, he jerked into life as the ball dropped towards him, scissoring his body to make clean, violent contact with the ball. It dipped just below the bar and into Joe Hart’s goal.
Rooney sped off and bathed, arms spread and chin jutting out, in the Old Trafford adulation.
It is what the Italians admiringly call a rovesciata and even Roberto Mancini could derive aesthetic pleasure from the flair and execution.
“When a player like Rooney scores a goal like this we should clap,” he said.
In the mortal context of the game, it was hard to swallow for manager Mancini because the goal punctured Manchester City’s momentum.
They had drawn level through a lucky break with 25 minutes to go and opened up the game. Shaun Wright-Phillips had hit a low cross which ran to fellow substitute Edin Dzeko. His effort to steer the ball goalwards struck David Silva in the back and deflected into the net.
With the impish Silva darting into spaces between United’s defence and midfield and Sir Alex Ferguson having thrown on top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, a winning goal was not unexpected. It was just that manner of it that was astounding.
Both managers had fielded conservative line-ups. Still, City started with more purpose and, after just four minutes, some clever combinational play between Silva, Micah Richards and Carlos Tévez presented Silva, being played onside by Nemanja Vidic, with a terrific close-range chance that he poked wide.
As the game wore on, United began to settle. Much of their threat was coming from Nani, who delivered an array of dangerous crosses and wild shots.
As Ferguson observed after the game, United’s fine opening goal will probably be forgotten after Rooney’s spectacular effort. Edwin van der Sar hit a deep clearance and Joleon Lescott was too easily shaken by Rooney’s aerial challenge.
The ball dropped to Ryan Giggs whose exquisite pass had been anticipated by Nani’s sprint. Nani’s first touch was perfect and it set him up to pass the ball simply past Hart.
The goal forced Mancini into a reshuffle and early in the second half he sent on Wright-Phillips for the struggling Alexander Kolarov, with Dzeko not far behind.
With Chris Smalling and Vidic obdurate, City could not create the clear chances they needed, for all Silva’s witty use of the ball.
Just two minutes after going behind again, Dzeko had a good sight of goal but was heavy with his first touch and it hurried his shot.
Getting the Bosnian to play in tandem with the ever impressive Tévez is Mancini’s next tactical task — it would certainly give them more options going forward.
United are running out of title rivals. Mancini conceded their challenge was all but over, following from Carlo Ancelotti’s concession the previous day. United have eight points and a game in hand on City, a vast gap at this stage of the season.
“It is very difficult,” Mancini said. “We did not deserve to lose this game and eight points is too much in this moment. But we have to stay positive.”
You don’t lose to goals like that every week.