Was Kompany in and Van Persie out the big difference?

Manchester City’s 4-1 victory over Manchester United in Sunday’s Manchester derby will go down as the first big shock of the campaign but were the fates of two players entwined with the fates of their clubs on the day?

Manchester City had been without captain and best defender Vincent Kompany since his groin injury sustained in their 4-0 win over Newcastle on the opening weekend back in mid-August. The skipper returned to the side after missing three games in which City were inconsistent. Without the Belgian they lost at Cardiff, won at home to Hull and drew 0-0 with Stoke at the Britannia.

Meanwhile, United have enjoyed the fine fitness and form of last season’s Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie – the Dutch ace has scored three goals in four Premier League appearances so far this season. However, the 30-year-old striker was withdrawn from David Moyes’ squad late on Sunday afternoon and watched the game at the Etihad from the stands.

Van Persie scored 26 goals in the league last term for the eventual champions and he featured in all 38 of United’s league fixtures – with him in the side they lost just five games – interestingly, without him in the side in the Champions League, they lost two games (to Cluj and Galatasaray). They also lost in the League Cup to Chelsea without him in the line-up.

Manchester City, meanwhile, lost three games with Vincent Kompany in the team – without him they lost three as well – in the Premier League but their win percentage with him was 65 per cent whilst without him it was 54 per cent and so far this term their win percentage with him is 100 per cent and without him is 33.3 per cent.

United’s win percentage with Van Persie was 71 per cent but, as mentioned, he featured in every game but so far this term their win percentage with him is 50 per cent and without him 0 per cent.

The stats don’t tell the whole story – what Vincent Kompany did on Sunday was command the team and drive them forward at every single opportunity. The constant harassment of Wayne Rooney which effectively took United’s most creative and dangerous player out of the game for large portions minimized United’s threat in a massive way.

In attack, Kompany’s charging run after winning the ball in his own half into United’s six-yard box where he distracted Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand enough to cause them to leave Samir Nasri free for City’s third and arguably the killer goal, was a major factor in their derby win. His tackle late in the game to take out Antonio Valencia near the byline shows the kind of character, focus, commitment and determination he brings to the team and his work ethic fosters that same ethic in his teammates – he leads by example.

Van Persie, when he plays, influences United in a very different way – he is not a leader in terms of his communication or organizational skills but, like Kompany, he leads by example – except with him it’s through a flash of brilliance, a wonder goal or a bit of flair.

With Van Persie in the team, United feel like they can’t lose – it’s a mental advantage, more than anything – and City feel the same when Kompany plays. Wayne Rooney was United’s best player on the pitch by a country mile but who was in charge of him? Vincent Kompany for most of the game, especially in the first half when United were, incidentally, dismal.

If Van Persie had have been involved, Kompany and Nastasic and even the likes of Yaya Toure (who was instrumental in the win too) and Aleksandre Kolarov who was also key to the goals would have had to have a lot more defensive awareness to keep an eye on Van Persie – Kompany would likely not have opted to charge out of his own box and into United’s for fear that one cheeky ball over the top to Van Persie would have hurt them.

I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that if Van Persie had have played City wouldn’t have won and neither am I suggesting if Kompany hadn’t United would have won – it’s not that simple and there are twenty other players on the pitch to take into account. But I do think mentally it had a big impact on the players and subsequently the game.

Van Persie is United’s biggest dangerman and, thus, he keeps the opposition’s mind constantly focused on not pushing too high up the pitch, on not straying out of position, on not allow pockets of space in the final third of the pitch – he keeps them cautious and, equally, Vincent Kompany makes City feel more protected and solid and therefore they have more impetus and confidence to attack and push on.

Those two factors combines, Van Persie’s unavailability and Kompany’s inclusion, are likely why the scoreline was 4-1, had it have been the other way around or if Van Persie has have been involved I would assert it would have been a much tighter closer game.

image: © Doha Stadium Plus

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