Nani brace inspires United comeback
Nani's injury-time goal settled a wonderful Community Shield victory for Manchester United, as the title holders roared back from two goals down to defeat Manchester City 3-2 at Wembley.
The Portuguese winger had already netted with a jaw-dropping equaliser in what turned out to be the highest-scoring of these encounters since 1992. He then capitalised on Vincent Kompany's blunder to win a game that seemed City's for the taking after Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko had taken advantage of goalkeeper David De Gea's hesitancy.
But Sir Alex Ferguson's introduction of three younger members of his squad at the break triggered a comeback for which United are so famed, Chris Smalling got the ball rolling six minutes after the restart, triggering a richly-deserved victory charge for the Premier League champions.
"I couldn't believe we were 2-0 down at half-time after it looked like we were controlling the game but credit to the players, they kept their heads," Ferguson said. "They have courage to keep the ball and are not intimidated by rough tackling."
It had been some 24 hours for Danny Welbeck. Selected for England ahead of Jermain Defoe yesterday, he started this afternoon's showpiece while Dimitar Berbatov was on the bench and Michael Owen remained in his suit. The 20-year-old was part of a scintillating performance from the Red Devils that lacked only an opening goal.
Between them, Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, Nani and new signing Ashley Young cut City's midfield apart. Had United's final ball been better, they surely would have got their noses in front. As it was, though, Lescott got in the way of efforts from Young, Smalling and Welbeck. Rooney curled a free-kick narrowly wide.
City's tackling grew increasingly desperate and after Mario Balotelli and Dzeko had got themselves embroiled with Nemanja Vidic and Anderson respectively, Micah Richards was fortunate to stay on the field for a studs-first lunge on Young that sent the former Aston Villa winger flying.
The referee issued some strict instructions to Blues skipper Kompany after another shuddering lunge from Nigel de Jong, this time on Welbeck.
Early test for De Gea
How quickly circumstances can change. Ferguson has already admitted to taking a gamble on De Gea, who at just 20-years-old, is being asked to fill the boots of a man with twice his age in Edwin van der Sar. It had been accepted by Old Trafford's coaching staff that some work was required in the weights room for De Gea to have the best chance of dealing with the more physical nature of English football.
His lack of bulk may be the reason why he opted against coming for David Silva's teasing free-kick seven minutes before the break. Neither Vidic nor Rio Ferdinand got themselves in position to make a challenge and Lescott calmly flicked it into the corner.
It got even worse for United, and De Gea, in stoppage time. Dzeko was given far too much room in midfield to decide what to do with James Milner's square pass and after advancing ten yards, lashed a fine shot into the United net.
There was a degree of culpability and clearly, De Gea is on a steep learning curve, not just in his goalkeeping but also United's DNA.
In with the future
Ferguson's response was to replace three of his most senior players - Vidic, Ferdinand and Michael Carrick - at the break and introduce a trio of youngsters in Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Tom Cleverley. Within six minutes of the restart, Smalling had dragged the champions back into it, touching home Young's free-kick after Dzeko had completely failed to track his run.
Then came the equaliser, with Rooney, Nani and Cleverley opening City up with a devastating series of short passes before Nani beat Joe Hart with a delicate chip. De Gea showed his raw talent by beating away a ferocious goalbound effort from Adam Johnson, then palming Richards' powerful header over.
The City duo were two of 14 Englishmen involved. The oldest member of United's second-half side was Young, at 26, during a spell following the departure of Patrice Evra and Dimitar Berbatov's introduction. It was a taste of the future, with Cleverley in particular electrifying form until he hooked an excellent chance over from eight yards.
The pity was it took a blunder to win it, Kompany failing to read Rooney's clearing kick, allowing Nani to rob him and charge forward, rounding Hart before tapping home.