Manchester United's abandoning their tactical formation gave Manchester City the base to use the Ivorian to counterattack and eventually close the game down
This was a predictably tight and nervy occasion, ultimately settled by a header from a set play but there was an irony that, in attempting to close the game down in the latter stages, Manchester City actually ended up posing more of a threat than when all their attacking talent had been on show.
Manchester United had settled the quicker, flooding men behind the ball whenever the home side gained possession. The grafting Park Ji-sung was forever tight on Yaya Touré – clearly identified pre-match as a potent threat who justified such close attention – with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick at the South Korean's side. United may have lacked rhythm but they hardly looked in trouble. Indeed, with Nani and Ryan Giggs so narrow, City could not find the space to play passes into their mobile front men. The tactic generally worked well even if Vincent Kompany's headed goal was the hosts' reward for a 15-minute spell of increased urgency.
Once behind, United were inevitably forced to abandon their tactical formation around the hour, with Danny Welbeck introduced for Park as a front target and Wayne Rooney operating off him. But, by withdrawing the man-marker, United offered Touré more space in which to operate. Initially, the sight of Nigel de Jong replacing Carlos Tevez 10 minutes later looked a concession to Roberto Mancini's innate "what we have, we hold" philosophy – Italian habits die hard – but, while City were more solid centrally, by appearing to close the game down they actually boasted a stronger base from which to counterattack.
They duly tapped into Touré's leggy acceleration far more regularly, the liberated Ivorian charging through the middle to leave United wary of being caught on the break. Released of his designated marker's attentions, he had more licence alongside the diligent Gareth Barry and De Jong's tackling assistance. The other substitutions – Micah Richards for David Silva and, later, James Milner for Samir Nasri – were more obvious indications of a step on to the back foot. However, the excellent Pablo Zabaleta was still able to maraud forward safe in the knowledge that he was backed up by the presence of a third centre-half at his back.
City ended up locking the door, denying United even a fleeting glimpse of goal. Touré, such a powerful presence, was used to great effect but there were massive performances to admire from many of their team: Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta overloading from right-back and the excellent Gareth Barry in the middle. It is rare for Sir Alex Ferguson's team to be denied a single shot on target but City held what they had and now sit at the summit.