Last year's title race was fought out almost exclusively between the two Manchester clubs and their matches following the International break saw the Red and Blue half each sent off as strong favourites to beat two Midlands sides, Stoke and WBA, respectively.
United had the more straightforward task, taking on a Stoke side who are now permanently shorn of their extraordinarily long throw weapon and mid table will remain the height of their ambitious as they gradually try to wean themselves off an over reliance on set play goals.
A cursory glance at the EPL table indicated that City's game could be far from straightforward. Their hosts, WBA had started the season strongly with four wins and a solitary defeat and at the start of the day they lay a point behind City. However, just as the very best can occasionally produce an atypically poor run of short term results, a team that is destined to end the season no better than mid table can also produce Champions League qualifying results before drifting back to their expected level of attainment. The game was certainly not priced up as a meeting of near equals.
It's not uncommon for traditionally mid table teams to start a season by showing markedly improved form, but as this guest post demonstrates few teams manage to maintain that improvement in the manner achieved by Newcastle last season.
Expected Points Graphs For Both Manchester Teams, 20 October, 2012.
11', Rooney(og), 0-1
27', Rooney, 1-1
44', van Persie, 2-1
46', Welbeck, 3-1
58', Kightly, 3-2
65', Rooney, 4-2
23', Red Card, Milner (Manchester City).
67', Long, 1-0
81', Dzeko, 1-1
92', Dzeko, 1-2
So pregame, despite the hot start to the season from WBA, we had two genuine title contenders taking on two mid table teams with United enjoying the added bonus of home advantage and two hours later both Manchester clubs had each claimed maximum points from their matches.
United were the first Manchester club to suffer a setback after 11 minutes, when Rooney lost Shawcross while defending an Adam freekick and tamely walked the ball into his own net as he tried to recover his position. The first goal is often a significant event in a game, however as the post at 5 Added Minutes shows
the opening strike must also be put into a proper context.
United started the game as strong favourites, the game was barely ten minutes old, so they had the lions share of the match to turn things around. At the start of the match the most likely scoreline was a 2-0 victory for the hosts and in the short time that had elapsed, the relative team strengths and the likely shift in game dynamics towards a more attacking United approach made that outcome still most likely. So despite enjoying the ideal start, Stoke were still very much the junior partners in this matchup. And 80 playing minutes later they found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-2 defeat.
If United suffered a minor setback, their rivals City had two punishing obstacles to overcome. Not only did they also concede the opening goal, they did so much later in the game. But they also compounded their plight with Milner's red card after 23'.
A red card on average is bad news. Individual teams can occasionally overcome the disadvantage to secure a positive result, but the general trend is for the carded side to score less than they would have done with a full complement of players and concede more. The severity of the effect is obviously time dependent as well and the graph below illustrates the average depletion in goal difference seen by a team playing with just ten men for varying lengths of time.
The Effect Of A Red Card In The EPL.
Milner's red card, coming as it did after only 23 minutes cost City just over a whole goal. Unlike United, City found the equivalent of allowing the first goal, albeit by way of a red card and the away venue too much of a setback to maintain favouritism in the game and when they further conceded the first goal in reality after 67 minutes, their chances of taking anything from the match was remote. They had to overcome two of the most damaging occurrences in football.
Anyone merely looking at the final score would have seen a not unexpected result, a City win by one goal was the most likely prematch outcome, but as the expected points graph for the game demonstrates, Dzeko provided City with a victory of epic proportions.