It was quite excitedly that I arrived at my local to watch Wednesday's Manchester Derby. For the first time in memory, I felt that United were perhaps the underdogs in a match that has perpetually been one of the centrepieces of the English Premier League season. Last year's contests - there were four of them - had three decided in added extra time.
So it was with disappointment that soon after kickoff I realised that this was a horrible match, devoid of excitement and totally lacking in energy and enterprise from the blue half of Manchester. Let's be honest and say that the Red Devils weren't much better - they showed more of an adventurous spirit but were lacking the final, decisive pass in the end. Sitting there, beer in hand, I couldn't help but think it was analogous to the early rounds of a boxing match: both teams were simply feeling the other out, not wanting to commit too much in case it left them overexposed.
Perhaps this is the way that Roberto Mancini & SAF looked at this match: early doors, not worth expending too much endeavour on. I'd suggest however that this approach represents what it is that Manchester City do. By employing three defensive midfielders at the expense of using only one player who can unlock a defense, it's obvious Mancini prizes stolidity above all else. Unfortunately it's also United's modus operandi at present, the Reds hampered by a lack of creativity from central midfield, theirs not so much by choice but by injury and terminal shortness of cash, by age and infirmity.
What else did we expect? More chances, sure, but did we expect that Mancini would change a setup that he's employed with good effect against other big teams? You can bet your bottom dollar that what you see is what you get with City. It's apparent that he'd rather draw taking no chances than lose giving it his best shot. With the red-nosed Scot he's had his hands tied by lack of funds, the disabled list and an ever-growing envy of the funds available to whoever the manager of the Citizens is this month. The stakes, for both sides, are now higher than ever. Instead of that producing the outstanding contests that it did last year, it's led us to this: a fear of failure.