a The forward runs for a through ball. The defender advances. The ball is played and the striker is in an offside position. The attacker chases, follows and escorts the ball. Something in his head – perhaps Bruno Fernandes’ screaming – warns him that it might be offside and so he turns away, allowing another striker (let’s call him ‘Bruno Fernandes’) to sweep the ball into the net. Is this a sneak forward?
He did not touch the ball, but can it be considered that he did not interfere? Didn’t his presence prevent the first defender from stepping back and trying to hook the ball away? It is the kind of question that would have kept medieval theologians busy their whole lives. Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas had written controversial tracts on them, and those tracts were then analyzed and those analyzes themselves. Entire libraries would have been devoted to this subject. To what extent, if God is omniscient, can we ever have free will? If our thinking is flawed, can any revelation escape the flaw? What is the intervention?
All we had at Old Trafford was a brief conversation between assistant referee Darren Kahn and Stuart Atwell. Everything was respectfully traditional. No use of microphones and headphones, no recourse to the VAR screen, only two middle-aged men who look anxious and talk behind their hands, nodding occasionally. Ray Tinkler and Bill Troup could have decided West Brom’s Colin Suggett hadn’t stepped in and blown up Leeds’ title chances at Elland Road in 1971 (as now, Arsenal were the indirect beneficiaries). Then, a final gesture, Atwill, dramatically, his habitually restrained features take a decisive aspect, pointing to the central circle.
It’s a potentially defining moment – in the title race and in the history of Manchester United and Manchester City. Under the law as it currently stands, this might be the right decision, but modern offside law is a mess. Everything about Manuel Akanji’s stature and decision-making was contingent on what Marcus Rashford did. It may be easier to judge whether or not a player is effectively offside by interpreting the tackle as touching the ball, but that does not mean it is correct. Rashford essentially played the longest-running puppet in history.
Four minutes into this equaliser, United got a second, again from a ball played behind the backline. A defeat that was seen as confirming City’s superiority despite their recent form became a victory that lifted United one point clear of them. Even if it had ended in a narrow defeat to Manchester United, which had seemed likely for some time, it would have been a marked improvement over the previous three derby tournaments; For the first time in at least a decade, they appear to be on an upward trajectory.
But what about City? It says a lot about the criteria they set that a streak of 14 matches in which they won nine can be considered a shambling. But the performance in the Carabao Cup loss at Southampton was very poor. Recently, they failed to break Everton. That’s dropped seven points in their last five league games, and while that might recently seem like a bit of a clincher, it was enough to allow United to come close and give Arsenal the chance to open up an eight-point lead with victory at Tottenham on Sunday.
At least temporarily, the aura, the sense of the city as an inevitable, unstoppable force, was gone. That will, again, lead to questions about the influence of Erling Haaland, who mustered just 19 touches. It is what he is, and his effectiveness in front of goal – 21 Premier League goals already this season – can hardly be questioned. But he forced a change in City’s style of play, and not just in not being involved in the long passes that have long characterized Pep Guardiola’s sides.
Haaland’s outspokenness means he needs to play the ball in front of him quickly, to take advantage of his powerful passing. But that was never Guardiola’s way. He has said that it takes 15 assists for his team to set themselves up to be able to attack with a reasonable sense of security that they won’t be held back by a quick counterattack, something their high line of defence, which is essential for the press. vulnerable.
However, both of the goals conceded here, regardless of the first goal’s suspicions, came from the kind of passing behind the four defenders that has often been their fatal weakness, particularly in Europe (and again, Guardiola’s side slipped by a .a series of targets that are accepted in quick succession).
United are getting better, the offside law has changed to seem ridiculous at times, but some things remain the same: when City fail, things feel so familiar and lingering that Aquinas and Scotts have written about them.