If this is any indicator of starting line-ups - minus injuries (Rafael/Chicharito) or late returnees from tournaments (Aguero) - then we might make the following assessments about both teams:
- Micah Richards started at RB and is priced very reasonably at 7.35 in the Yahoo game - not bad for a starting RB for a top 4 team. Especially a team starting at home against a newly promoted team. Just saying.
- Anderson looks like he'll finally get his chance to shine and prove Jeremy right (or horribly wrong) once and for all. Jeremy has been holding out hope that the Brazilian will make the big step up for a few seasons now and with Scholes gone he seems to have his chance.
- Welbeck has apparently earned a promotion up into consideration for serious playing time. With Chicharito out, I have to admit I was surprised that he got the start over Berbs who doesn't appear on any injury reports. With Chicharito likely out for a while longer, you'd think this would be SAF's chance to get the first team playing together - you don't think that means Welbeck has moved past Berbs, do you?
- Looks like all of the "DDG is not necessarily our #1" talk from Ferguson was just a motivational tactic to make sure that the kid kept playing and training hard. I can't think of a single reason they'd start him in this match and then not do it again when the curtain raises for real.
- United: They seemed to go mostly to Ashley Young with Nani taking the occasional attempt - particularly the direct kick from about 25 or 30 yards in the middle of the first half that deflected off Dzeko and ended up going just a shade wide.
- City: Silva and Kolarov split duty with Silva taking most of the attempts from the right side of the field and Kolarov from the left. Silva's cross for Lescott's opener was very nice.
- Some unusually shoddy defending from Rio and Vidic who let Lescott come straight down broadway for the opening goal.
- Dzeko's goal toward the end of the first half was a nice piece of speculative shooting from long, it looked like DDG took a beat too long to react which prevented him from getting even a fingertip to it. Not a good sign for DDG's candidacy. On the other hand, likely the most aggressive attacking move I've seen from Dzeko in his time in England - maybe he'll be breaking out of his shell this season.
- No doubt about the fact that this is a derby as well as a competitive match - 5 YCs in the first half with a bunch of other tough tackles.
- At the end of the first half, it hasn't felt like City have dominated but they're up 2-0.
- A few changes at halftime for United down 2-0; Phil Jones, Tom Cleverly, and Johnny Evans in for Rio, Carrick, and Vidic. Is that SAF throwing in the towel? Carrick was a doubt coming into the match but it seems like he is resting his first choice central pairing. City made no changes.
- Richards is looking like he has made it his goal to get a Red Card today - just not making smart plays which I suppose has always been the criticism on him.
- Smalling pulls one back for United from a well-taken Ashley Young set piece - forget I said that about SAF throwing in the towel.
- Evans made a horrible give-away in his own end that Dzeko can't slot to a teammate (couldn't see who) who was running free down the middle. This is why Phil Jones was brought in as the eventual partner for Smalling in United's next generation starting central pairing. Evans just isn't very good.
- Beautiful, dare I say Barca-like, goal from United for their second that ends with a nice finish from Nani. I think the key part went Rooney to Cleverly to Nani. Apparently United's substitutes benefited greatly from their time away on loan last season.
- Balotelli is substituted and heads straight down the tunnel - not a very mature one is he? Not like his manager was taking out a player who was making an impact. The corpse of Gareth Barry comes on for Balotelli.
- The uptick in United performance has coincided with Rooney dropping back a bit further into midfield #NewScholes.
- Rooney and his new hair have been spending some productive time waiting deep on the opposite side of the field on set pieces. Over the course of a couple of minutes he got a nice opportunity that ended in a corner and another that ended in a rocket that went high and wide. Not an entirely new feature of his game but for some reason City haven't seen fit to pay any attention to him in those positions.
- Rafael apparently isn't all THAT injured as he comes on for Evra in the 72nd minute.
- The ability to have athletes like Welbeck, Cleverly, and Anderson in the middle along with Rooney has made things difficult on City in the middle of the park - they just can't seem to get settled on the ball. They don't look quick or decisive enough with the ball. I hate to revert to stereotypes but on occasions where English teams outplay Italian teams, this is what it looks like. The Manchester Italians appear to favor a slower pace in midfield between Barry, de Jong and YToure (I think Silva could play at just about any pace). Dzeko isn't helping either. Lacking a little bit of speed to force United's midfield to loosen up.
- Clichy on for Kolarov in an effort to inject some speed.
- Berbs with a token appearance coming on in the 89th minute. Seems as much like a slap in the face to last season's co-scoring leader in the Prem. The only logic I see is that he's probably a better penalty taker than Welbeck and we're a couple minutes from PKs to decide the issue. In other news, Berbs' hairline is receding almost as quickly as his minutes played line. Next stop, Rooney's "hair guy".
- Smalling has looked very good at right back going forward and defending - just what United need - more flexibility.
- Kompany gives Nani a gift at midfield that Nani takes all the way down the field, around Hart, and then into the back of the net. Even Arsenal's central defenders are watching that and saying "Damn, that was weak"
- Fergie Time makes an early debut in the 2011-12 season. Fun match, competitive match. Nice bridge between the pre-season friendlies and the real thing next weekend.
United Verdict: As we suspected all summer, United's acquisitions and returning youngsters will have them in much better position to win this season. Ashley Young is an upgrade over Valencia who is, in turn, a big upgrade as the first winger off the bench. Jones, Cleverly, Welbeck, and Smalling are all much stronger spare parts than the people who filled those roles last season. Going to be tough to beat. We can only assume DDG will get better.