Derby Day, The Price of Victory
"The derby day in Manchester is always a particular day. The city is cut in two. The Blues and the Reds invade the streets. And if your club wins, then the city belongs to you."
-Eric Cantona (Former Manchester United player and captain, 1992-1997).
The Manchester derby is the biggest football club rivalry in Manchester. The first meeting between the 2 clubs occurred in 1881 when West Gorton F.C. (ancestor of Manchester City F.C.) hosted Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway F.C. (ancestor of Manchester United F.C.). Since 1881, allegiances were built and then transmitted from generation to generation. Before the Second World War, Manchester City was the more successful club side in Manchester. However in 1945, United hired a new manager who was about to transform the club forever. Matt Busby (later known as Sir Matt Busby) played for City as a player, but it was as United's manager that he left an everlasting mark on the game.
Since Busby's arrival, United became the more successful side, and developed itself into a global brand. For a very long time, City struggled to keep up with United although matches between those archrivals were often tight contests for bragging rights. However, City became a resurging force since Abu Dhabi-based Sheikh Mansour bought the club in September 2008 before investing big money into the club. Since that time, the rivalry became a tense matchup with high stakes, for both the supremacy over Manchester and over the Premier League.
On a more personal level, it was also a battle of managers whose respective fates were linked in the past. Since José Mourinho lost out to Josep "Pep" Guardiola for the head coach's position at F.C. Barcelona in 2008, every match against Barcelona and against Pep has the flavour of a vendetta in the eyes of football lovers although José himself would be the first to play down any talk about a personal rivalry. Among the players, City defender Ricardo "Ricky" Vernardi still despises Kakeru because of the inferiority complex Ricky had for years since he played against the oldest of the Aizawa brothers, Suguru. In return, Kakeru hates Ricky's physical style, and relishes the challenge of tormenting Ricky even more.
On the first match of December, another heated chapter in this long-lasting rivalry was about to unfold.
Sunday December 3
West Didsbury, Manchester, UK
9:30 AM GMT (4 hours before kickoff)
On that Sunday morning, skies were already gray in a typical fashion at that time of the year. While Sarah and Taeko only wore normal clothes, Noriko wore a black "SAEKI 13" shirt under her coat. The shirt was the one that was given by Yusuke to Noriko at Anfield.
"I really can't wait for this. I'm already excited." Sarah said.
"Yeah, it's one of the most important days on the calendar for us United fans from Manchester." Noriko replied.
"I hope our ride won't get late." Taeko said.
"They won't." Noriko replied before she spotted a vehicle arriving from further up the street. "Speaking of the Devil, here they are."
The vehicle was a shuttle van in which a few passengers were already on board. The passengers were all Manchester United supporters.
"Hello, Red Kate!" one of the supporters greeted.
"Hello, Gaz! Nice to see you." Noriko said.
"Nice to see you too. I'm glad that to see Taeko Ishiki and your friend joining us in this match." Gaz asked.
"We may be women, but we wouldn't miss a Manchester derby for anything in the world." Sarah replied.
"My cousin, Red Kate, showed me what the away support looks like in the Liverpool game. So I wasn't going to miss this today." Taeko added.
"Well, hop in." Gaz said.
"Let's do this, Gaz. C'mon you Reds!" Noriko finished.
Noriko, Taeko, and Sarah then got in the van. The shuttle made a few stops along the way to pick up a few more United supporters. Around a little less than 40 minutes later, the shuttle finally arrived in East Manchester, deep in the heart of local rivals' territory. The home of Manchester City, the Etihad Stadium, was formerly known as the City of Manchester Stadium. For United supporters, it was nicknamed as "Eastlands" or as the "Council House".
With the history of tensions between both sets of supporters, heavy police presence took over the district surrounding the stadium. Once the United supporters arrived in their designated entrance area, they already had to endure the taunts from City supporters.
"The biggest waste of council taxes in the history of Manchester." Noriko made a remark about the stadium, which was built with public funds for the 2002 Commonwealth Games before it became the home of Manchester City F.C.
"Yeah, it almost was a gift made to them with those favourable rates going with the lease." Sarah added.
"I guess a number of tax payers were not happy when that deal was made." Taeko said.
"They were really not happy, certainly not when the public sector cut many people's jobs a few years later." Sarah replied.
Meanwhile, Noriko added her own voice to the many United supporters who were returning the taunting to the City supporters walking on the other side of a security fence. The following chant had a few sarcastic lyrics aimed at City.
If you come from Manchester, you're sure to be a blue
Moston, Collyhurst, Salford, Ancoats too
And if you think that this is true, you're nothing but a fool
‘Cause in the town of Manchester, Man United rule
Tra la la laaaaa we all hate City
Tra la la la la la la la...
The chant carried on with a second verse, and then was repeated a few more times before Noriko stopped for a moment.
"You're not holding back at all, Noriko-chan." Taeko said.
"I hate Manchester City F.C. more than anything in the world, Tae-itoko. This is the day when I have to go all out." Noriko replied while she kept on making insulting gestures towards the City supporters.
"This is going to be as intense as ever, especially with City trying to get back in the race against both us and Arsenal." Sarah said.
"Time for us to take the psychological ascendency on them like we did during last season." Noriko finished.
From there, the banter continued for a while before the supporters made their way inside the stadium ahead of the match. Although fans from the 2 opposing clubs can sometimes go back to work as colleagues on the following day, derby day was about letting it all loose on banter and chants for both sets of supporters.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United (Premier League match 15)
Etihad Stadium, Manchester, UK
1:20 PM GMT (10 minutes before kickoff)
In the players' tunnel, almost no words were exchanged between the opposing players except when it's between teammates from the same national teams. However, Ricky Vernardi was not keen on staying silent with Kakeru around.
"So the little Aizawa brother is getting married. I guess that makes you a softer target."
"What do you want now, Vernardi?" Kakeru asked.
"Kick your ass as I always want to." Ricky replied.
"That's funny. As far as I know, you're the one who always ends up getting his ass kicked." Nana quipped.
"Watch your mouth, woman, or I'll take you down on that pitch." Ricky said.
"For that, you'll have to get through me first." Kakeru stood up to Ricky, looking deep into his eyes.
In order to prevent an unwanted confrontation before hostilities officially start, Matthias stood between the belligerents. "Calm down, Kakeru. You, Vernardi, clear off."
"Stay focused, Ricky." City's Belgian midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne, pulled Ricky away.
Finally, both teams moved back into their respective positions before the signal was given by the referee to walk out of the players' tunnel. In the stadium, the main sight in one of the stands was a massive tifo in sky blue and white displaying the word "CITY". The reception from the entire attendance was worthy of being qualified as a cauldron of noise, and the noise only grew stronger while Martin Tyler started the commentary of the match.
Martin Tyler: Good afternoon, everyone. For nearly a decade now, these 2 clubs have played not only for the pride of Manchester, but also for the supremacy in the Premier League. The consistency of Arsenal is clouding the issue, and yet you still feel the same significance of this fixture... Manchester City vs. Manchester United.
In the pre-game handshakes, of which Kakeru and Nana gave each a very cold handshake to Ricky. Just before kickoff, the 3,000 Manchester United away supporters shouted "UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!" with their hearts out. At the same time, the United supporters jeered as the City supporters started singing their own club's hymn titled "Blue Moon".
BLUE MOON, YOU SAW ME STANDING ALONE
WITHOUT A DREAM IN MY HEART
WITHOUT A LOVE OF MY OWN.
I SAID: BLUE MOON, YOU SAW ME STANDING ALONE
WITHOUT A DREAM IN MY HEART
WITHOUT A LOVE OF MY OWN.
Manchester City answered back with a 4-1-4-1 formation with the following players: Ederson Moraes (goalkeeper), Kyle Walker (right-back), Vincent Kompany (centre-back and captain), Ricardo Vernardi (centre-back), Benjamin Mendy (right-back), Fernandinho (central midfielder), Kevin De Bruyne (central midfielder), David Silva (central midfielder), Bernardo Silva (right winger), Gabriel Jesus (striker), Leroy Sané (left winger).
Both teams moved into positions, ready to get it on. United's field players wore red shirts, black shorts, and black socks. City's field players wore sky blue shirts, white shorts, and sky blue socks. Manchester City won the coin toss, and chose to kick the match off. As the clock hit 1:30 PM, the referee gave the signal to begin the duel between the Manchester-based rivals.
Everyone from both sides expected a grueling contest, and it only took less than 3 minutes for the first fireworks to appear.
Martin Tyler: Good turn by David Silva... towards Sané, but it's intercepted by Bailly.
The ball was timely intercepted by Eric in order to prevent a breakaway. United's Ivorian defender then passed the ball to Nemanja, who then passed towards Nana. However before Nana could react, she was tackled hard by a City player in the middle of the pitch.
Martin Tyler: Mishima down... City playing on...
Despite the protests of a few Manchester United players, the referee let the play continue. As City's attack was rushing beyond the two-thirds of the pitch, Eric came into the opposite direction, and decked Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus with a solid hip check to stop the attack.
Martin Tyler: Gabriel Jesus... blocked by Bailly.
The result was a free kick for City. While the City supporters complained about the illegal contact made against their star striker, the Manchester United players asked the referee questions about the previous incident.
"Look over there!" Eric pointed at the location where Nana was taken down to the referee.
"What about the other tackle, huh? That should be a foul!" Matthias pointed towards the same area as well.
"That tackle was dangerous, with the studs out. You missed that." Pog added to the protests.
"I can't call a foul from what I saw. I have to stay with my decision."
"Ово је срање! (Ovo je sranje/This is bullshit!)" Nemanja said out loud for himself.
Martin Tyler: Bailly's first reaction is to protest, not about this decision, but the lack of one earlier.
Gary Neville: Well, that's what the Manchester United players are pointing out. This is the first incident with Mishima and Mendy... Not quite sure he catches her. Then Eric Bailly brings down Gabriel Jesus. It's early in the match, but things are already getting physical.
Meanwhile, Kakeru pulled Nana back on her feet.
"You OK?" Kakeru asked.
"Yeah. I barely got my foot out of the way of his studs." Nana replied.
"Dive like that again, woman, and I will show you what a real tackle is." Ricky tried to play the intimidation card.
"Mind your own business!" Nana dryly replied.
In the away supporters end:
"That referee must be drunk! The City player was showing his studs!" Noriko raged at the incident.
"Nana is lucky to get away without damage." Taeko said.
"I agree. It was cynical of a tackle. Lousy decision from the ref." Sarah replied.
"That's typical of the refs in this fixture here. The lads better do something to shut up those blue idiots soon." Noriko said.
Despite the early clash, no yellow card was given by the referee. The following free kick led to nothing serious as the ball was easily cleared away from dangerous positions by the defending United players.
City's philosophy was mainly about ball possession although players were free to express themselves in the attacking third of the pitch. In order to counter City's approach, United's focus was about maintaining zonal defense in their defensive end while being ready to strike quickly on the counterattack. The first serious crack at either goal came from the players in red.
In the 8th minute:
Martin Tyler: City with the throw...
After the throw-in, Ricky tried to pass the ball on City's left wing. However, the combined efforts from Jesse and Antonio allowed United to start a counterattack. Antonio got past 2 City players on the rush before he passed the ball to Romelu, who then launched a through pass for Nana.
Martin Tyler: Lukaku... Good play for Mishima, no offside.
As Nana just entered City's penalty area, Ricky came in to block all direct shooting lanes. Nevertheless, Nana made a quick turn, and quickly assessed her options.
'Have it, Kakeru!' Nana thought.
Nana then flicked the ball above the City defenders and into Kakeru's run on the left. It was then one-on-one with the City goalkeeper.
Martin Tyler: The pass across for Aizawa...
Finding a good shooting angle, Kakeru shot the ball past the City goalkeeper. However as everyone thought it was a sure goal, Ricky arrived at the right moment to save the ball off the goal line.
Martin Tyler: Cleared off the line by Vernardi!
Despite the save, the ball came back towards Kakeru only seconds later. With 2 City defenders in front of him and no shooting angle, Kakeru had to find a teammate to pass to. The Japanese forward tried to reach either Nana or Pog, but the ball was blocked by Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho. Nevertheless, Nana managed to retrieve the ball on the inside edge of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: It's off Fernandinho, but Mishima retrieves the ball...
Nana then tried a few feints to create an opening, but found none at the time, and thus was forced to pass the ball backwards for Antonio.
Martin Tyler: Mishima to Valencia...
Antonio had only one thing in mind: cross the ball into the penalty area. The long aerial ball was aimed towards 6 yards in front of the far post. In that area, Pog managed to jump higher than the nearest City defender. Unfortunately, the ball was headed wide.
Martin Tyler: Pogba! The shot goes wide.
'How did we not score?' Kakeru couldn't believe his team wasn't ahead on the scoreboard after the 2 chances, especially after his own shot on goal.
'I hope that doesn't come back to bite us later.' Nana thought.
United didn't open the score, but they gave something for the City players to think about despite all the ball possession advantage in favor of the "Citizens". It was the perfect definition of a game of chess as every single wrong move from either side had the potential of bearing heavy consequences.
In the 14th minute:
Martin Tyler: David Silva... It's taken away by Matić.
City's Spanish midfielder David Silva tried to shake Nemanja off in a 1v1 contest. However, Nemanja stuck the leg to take the ball away before he cleared it towards the middle circle. From there, Nana picked up the loose ball, and started the counterattack. Arriving inside the Manchester City half of the pitch, Nana quickly unleashed a long ball forward for Kakeru.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... to Aizawa. He's onside.
As Kakeru dashed on the right wing with the clear intent of bending his run towards the middle lane leading to the Manchester City goal, there was only one obstacle left: City captain Vincent Kompany. With only less than a dozen yards from the City penalty area, Kakeru tried to make a skillful ball roll chop to shake Kompany off, but the Manchester City skipper pushed the ball out of bounds.
Martin Tyler: Kompany kicks it out. Young with the throw...
Ashley quickly took the throw-in, and passed the ball towards Kakeru. The Japanese forward was surrounded by 3 City players, but it was not enough to contain him.
'That's right. Follow me, guys.' Kakeru thought.
As Kakeru appeared to shift his run inward, he then passed the ball towards Pog. With the 3 City players momentarily lured by Kakeru, Pog had plenty of space to whip a long cross in City's penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... back to Pogba. The cross coming in...
In the targeted area, Ricky was supposed to jump and head the ball away. However, Romelu arrived right on cue to hit the ball first.
Martin Tyler: LUKAKU!!! That's off the post!
The ball struck the inside of the post, but rolled parallel to the goal line before Ricky retrieved the ball, and then passed towards French left-back Benjamin Mendy to start an attack. However, the play was stopped when Nana tackled the ball off Mendy's feet and out of play.
Martin Tyler: It's cleared for a Manchester City throw, but what an effort by Romelu Lukaku!
Gary Neville: That was a very good header by Lukaku, but you have to give credit to Aizawa and Pogba on that play. You watch this: Aizawa takes 3 City players with him, and then makes the backheel pass to Pogba, who has the space and time to whip a good cross in the box. Lukaku comes in ahead of Vernardi. The shot then hits the inside of the post and out. It's still 0-0.
In the away supporters' stand:
"What does it take to score a goal? That was a perfect opportunity." Sarah said out loud.
"I know. From Kakeru's move to that cross towards Lukaku, it was perfect. I just hate when we miss chances like that." Noriko said.
"The fact that Lukaku managed to even get there before Vernardi within a split second tells me that it was a very good effort to reach the ball." Taeko said.
"Yeah, it was a good run." Sarah replied.
'We have enough firepower to score on them at any time, but we can't afford to let them breathe. With that front 5 of theirs, they can also punish us if they have control.' Noriko thought.
For several minutes, both teams had their moments. However, shots didn't reach either goal, and thus the score was still 0-0 as we went further in the first half. For all of the advantage in ball possession, City finally earned their first serious crack at the Manchester United goal in the 33rd minute.
Martin Tyler: Fernandinho... Gabriel Jesus, who comes in deep...
Surprisingly, Gabriel Jesus received the pass from his City teammate almost at the level of the center circle. Despite Pog's attempt to take the ball away, the Brazilian striker in sky blue used a skillful body feint to shake off the Frenchman. Nemanja also attempted a tackle, but the Brazilian moved past him by cutting across some of the width of the pitch.
Martin Tyler: He gets past Pogba... past Matić...
As Gabriel Jesus switched his run forward again, he was looking for someone to pass the ball to. The Brazilian had to act quickly as Nana and Eric also tried to close him down.
'This is bad.' Nana thought.
After skipping past Eric as well, Gabriel Jesus then made a pass forward to Leroy Sané. The German winger had an open path to the Manchester United goal.
Martin Tyler: It's through for Sané...
Despite all attempts to stop Sané, the German winger got the shot past David de Gea and into the back of the net. The Etihad Stadium erupted to celebrate the goal until...
Martin Tyler: He scores! Sané for City... Wait, he's offside. The flag is up.
The celebrations were cut short as everyone spotted the linesman's flag being waved up. The goal was ruled out because of an offside decision. No one in sky blue could believe it, and the United supporters took advantage of the situation to mock the City supporters even more.
Gary Neville: Well, talk about persistence and determination from Gabriel Jesus, it wasn't just skill. He had to get past those challenges from Pogba, Matić, and Bailly. As he gets past Bailly, the pass came in for Sané, who was just half a yard offside.
In the away supporters' stand:
"That... was too close for comfort." Noriko said.
"We were very lucky that he was just offside. United were stretched wide open." Taeko said.
"They are a very dangerous side because of players like those two. Yet we haven't seen much of Kevin De Bruyne so far." Sarah added.
"Hey, don't jinx us now!" Noriko replied.
"Sorry. I was just pointing to the fact. Regardless, the lads have to be careful now." Sarah said.
"She's right though. The boys have to make sure some of those City players don't wake up." Taeko added.
"Right. A conservative approach would be welcome in some cases for the rest of this half." Noriko finished.
From that point until the end of the first half, both teams played in a way that they canceled each other. No serious opportunities were created, but 2 moments of controversy marred the course of events in the first half. The first incident came right on the 45th minute on a corner kick for Manchester City.
Martin Tyler: It's a chance for City to take the lead.
Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne took the corner kick. The ball flew towards the near post for Bernardo Silva, but the Portuguese winger was fighting for position with Ashley. As a result, Bernardo Silva let the ball bounce off his head and across for another teammate. The ball appeared to be dipping into Ricky's path.
"Get off me!" Ricky was wrestling for position with Nemanja.
"Never!" Nemanja replied.
In that fight for position, Ricky was already grabbing Nemanja's shirt with the left hand. However, the big Serbian also wrapped his arm around Ricky's left arm as well to restrain the latter's movement. Ricky got his right foot on the ball, but the shot went wide as the Argentine was falling on the ground alongside Nemanja.
Martin Tyler: Oh! Well... Vernardi took the shot. It looked like there would be something fairly simple at the far post for the big Argentine.
"What is that, ref? He dragged me down!" Ricky was still on his backside with his arms raised.
A few City players also complained, but the response from the referee was clear: "No, no. There is no foul there. Goal kick."
"Get up and carry on with it." Nemanja said.
"Get lost!" an angry Ricky shouted back before he walked back to his position.
Gary Neville: Bernardo Silva got the flick-on at the near post. In that chaos, it was a wrestling match between Ricardo Vernardi and Nemanja Matić. You could argue Matić got his shirt grabbed by Vernardi first, but Matić ended up dragging Vernardi to the ground. The Argentine just couldn't take the shot cleanly for City.
'Nemanja tried his luck, and got it right for now. We have to regain control of the match soon.' Kakeru thought.
That last incident was far from being the biggest controversy of the first half. In the last minute of injury time before halftime, a bigger controversy was about to unfold. This time, the action was taken deep in City's half when Jesse and Kakeru switched wings on a rare occasion.
Martin Tyler: Valencia... Aizawa...
After a short forward pass from Antonio, to Kakeru, the Japanese forward started running towards the side of the City penalty area. In a 1v1 situation, Mendy tried poking the ball away from Kakeru, but the Japanese managed to reach Romelu with a pass. The Belgian tried to get the ball past Ricky, but the Argentine tackled the ball away.
Martin Tyler: Blocked by Vernardi, but the ball goes off Mishima...
As Ricky tried to clear the ball far away, the ball went off Nana's leg and towards the Manchester United right-back by the touchline.
Martin Tyler: Valencia... back to Mishima.
Nana received the pass from Antonio with her back towards the nearby City corner flag, but had nowhere to go with 2 City players marking her. And then Nana suddenly dragged the ball back with her left foot before she made quick sideways backheel pass into Kakeru's path.
Martin Tyler: That's brilliant play! Aizawa... he could be in here.
Running in full speed and parallel to the goal line, Kakeru entered the City penalty area looking around for passing options. At that moment, Ricky took Kakeru down with what appeared to be a hip check while no contact was made with the ball at all.
Martin Tyler: Oh! Aizawa goes down... The referee shakes his head.
On the following split second, the ball was cleared out of bounds by Vincent Kompany. Realizing that the penalty wasn't given, Kakeru had his own blood boiling with anger. Furthermore, Ricky's upcoming reaction didn't help in calming things down.
"Get up, you candy ass!" Ricky said.
"Cheat yourself! That's typical of you." Kakeru stood up to Ricky with fire in his eyes.
"Hey! **** off!" Kevin De Bruyne then pushed Kakeru.
"Mind your own ****ing business!" Kakeru pushed De Bruyne back.
Martin Tyler: It's all kicking off here.
Within the next 2 seconds, players from both sides came in with some pushing and strong words. Pog and Matthias took advantage of being the tallest players on the pitch to move through and pull Kakeru out of the mass of humanity.
"Chill out, Kakeru. There's nothing you can do about it." Pog said to Kakeru.
Meanwhile, Matthias was giving his 2 cents at Ricky: "You're lucky, boy. Next time, I will be after you."
"What are you waiting, you Kraut? I'm right here." Ricky defied Matthias.
"Enough, Ricky! Stop fooling around." Vincent reprimanded his Argentine teammate.
Meanwhile, it was not difficult to know what the feelings in the crowd were. The Manchester City supporters knew that Ricky's challenge could have cost a penalty on the stroke of halftime. On the other side, the Manchester United supporters were absolutely furious at the referee for not making the right decision on what appeared to be quite blatant. Noriko, Taeko, and Sarah were lashing their vocal discontent alongside the rest of the 3,000 United supporters towards the referee. However, the referee was not willing to change his mind. On the following kick of the ball, the whistle was blown to end on a scoreless period of 45 minutes.
In the Manchester United dressing room, a few minutes later:
"Who the **** in the FA appointed that man to be today's referee? He's a ****ing knobhead." Chris swore out loud. The Manchester United players were going loud in their discussions about what happened in the first half.
"I can't believe he denied us a stonewall penalty! Must I bleed to prove my point now?" Kakeru added.
"He's a total retard if you ask me." Yusuke added as well.
"I would knock him over in open play if I have the chance." Romelu said.
"I know you're frustrated, guys. But that's not where we should focus our attention. The last thing we need is to make him both an enemy and a 12th man for them." Nana said.
"Witch is spot on. It's still 0-0, and we can still get something in the next 45 minutes. We have to control our emotions. Let's stay focused, and let's get the job done." Pog added.
"Well said, you two. We are here to make sure they don't get a result." Matthias added.
At that moment, José came in to give his players the customary halftime team talk to say what he expects from his players: "OK, I know it's frustrating that we haven't scored. I know it's frustrating that we didn't get the penalty. But it's still 0-0. If we are frustrated, then they probably are more frustrated than us. Why? Because they are playing at home, and they expect to win. They will come out hard, but you already know what you have to do. Keep your focus. Be aggressive, but stay in control of your emotions. Put strong pressure on them. Hit them quickly on the counterattack. Let's go, guys!"
"YEEAAAHH!" the Manchester United players replied with cheers and applause.
For the second half, United were set to launch their attacks towards the end of the stadium where the 3,000 United supporters were located. After both teams came back on the pitch, many people expected the Manchester City players to be a little fired up by their manager, "Pep" Guardiola. At an early moment in the second half, City started going on the attack more than they did in the first half.
In the 49th minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's David Silva... impeded by Pogba. Referee's giving the advantage.
Surrounded by a few players and slightly tackled by the Pog, David Silva continued his run a couple of yards ahead before making a short pass on the right to Kevin De Bruyne. In front of him, Gabriel Jesus was marked by 2 Manchester United defenders. Nevertheless, there was an option on the left.
Martin Tyler: De Bruyne… finds Sané on the left with some space...
The Brazilian striker saw his German teammate running through some open space on the way towards the Manchester United penalty area. By the time Antonio arrived in an attempt to block a direct shooting lane, Sané dragged the ball half a yard in the opposite direction to take a right-footed strike.
Martin Tyler: Sané! Oh, what a save by David de Gea!
Sané's shot was curling towards the top corner to David's left, but United's Spanish goalkeeper stretched his arms out, and deflected the ball out of danger. As a result, the corner kick was conceded to City.
"Well done, Big Dave!" Matthias congratulated his goalkeeper.
"Come on, lads! We have a corner to defend!" Matthias ordered his teammates to gather into defensive positions for the upcoming corner kick.
'Thank you once again, Big Dave. It's happening exactly as the Boss said; they're coming strong.' Kakeru thought.
The following corner kick was easily caught by David, and thus allowing his teammates to catch their breaths. However, City felt that the momentum was on their side, and thus started controlling the ball with a stronger purpose of searching for the first goal.
In the 54th minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's Ricardo Vernardi making the run... now to De Bruyne. Good ball for Bernardo Silva!
With a simple movement of the ball that started from the centre-back to the attacking midfielder, City quickly moved up the pitch. From the center circle, Kevin De Bruyne found the gap to send a through pass for his Portuguese teammate Bernardo Silva.
"Damn it!" Ashley exclaimed.
The Manchester United left-back and Matthias were running their way back to stop the Portuguese winger. As a result, Bernardo Silva had to stop on the very edge of the penalty area before he passed the ball into the middle for a teammate. There, he found Gabriel Jesus...
Martin Tyler: Here comes Gabriel Jesus... Going for goal!
Although several red shirts tried to close him down, City's Brazilian striker immediately unleashed a low drive towards the goal. United's Spanish goalkeeper managed to make the dive to stop the shot, but the rebound was still loose.
Martin Tyler: Fine save, but Sané's following up!
Sané tried to shoot the rebound in mid-air, but mishit the ball. David, who managed to get up, then clawed Sané’s shot away. Eric then cleared the ball towards Ashley, who cleared the ball a long way ahead. However, Vincent Kompany got first to the ball, and passed it forward to Kevin De Bruyne in United's half.
Martin Tyler: De Bruyne... couldn't get the ball to Bernardo Silva.
The through pass for Bernardo Silva was cut, but City still controlled the ball. After a few short passes between the City players, Kevin De Bruyne received the ball once again.
Martin Tyler: De Bruyne… fouled by Matić...
Nemanja tackled De Bruyne down, but the ball rolled towards David Silva, and thus the referee played the advantage. City's Spanish midfielder then found Sané on his left and on the edge of the penalty area. The German winger in sky blue was in a good shooting position.
Martin Tyler: Here's Sané again. He'll fire it...
However this time, Sané's shot flew high and wide to the Manchester United goal. It resulted in a goal kick and a breather for the visitors.
Martin Tyler: With David de Gea in this kind of form, he'll have to do better than that.
Gary Neville: Well, you'll have to produce something special to beat David de Gea. Gabriel Jesus very nearly did, and that shot was going towards the bottom corner. Not only he makes the save, but he also puts his hand on the second shot. Leroy Sané scuffed the shot right there, hence why David de Gea managed to make the second save.
"Damn! That was dangerous!" Noriko exclaimed.
"Thank God we have Dave in goal." Sarah said.
"Yeah, but it doesn't look good so far since the restart. City are everywhere, and their tiki-taka is starting to work well for them." Taeko replied.
"We need to find a way to have a crack at their goal soon. It's the only way we can make them doubt." Noriko said.
"We better do so. Otherwise, it will be hell for our defenders to endure that many attacks from them." Sarah finished.
City appeared to have the wind at their backs at that time in the match. Nevertheless, the Manchester United players still held faith in their most dangerous tools at their disposal: counterattacks and dead ball situations. Not so long after the wave of City attacks, United created an opportunity.
In the 57th minute:
Martin Tyler: Walker... to De Bruyne.
City attempted another attack from the halfway line through Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian attempted to run past Pog with the ball, but the Frenchman managed to push the ball away. From there, Nemanja retrieved the loose ball, and made a pass forward to Nana on the counterattack.
Martin Tyler: Taken away... Here's Matić... towards Mishima.
As Nana was surrounded by sky blue shirts just across the halfway line, she spotted Kakeru waving his hand and calling for a pass. Without any hesitation, Nana passed the ball into Kakeru's path.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... he's isolated. Walker and Kompany here...
Kakeru was not in a position to rush into the Manchester City penalty area with Kyle Walker and Vincent Kompany denying direct entry. The Japanese forward had a very short time window to create something.
'Come on, Rom. Get in there.' Kakeru thought.
Without warning, Kakeru then flicked the ball towards Romelu in the penalty area. However, Ricky managed to head the ball away before the Belgian could get to the ball. Nevertheless, the clearance landed in an area where Nana could load up a direct 25-yard strike on goal.
Martin Tyler: Vernardi away... as far as Mishima.
However before Nana could take her shot, Fernandinho came in with a sliding tackle that took her down and hard on the ground.
Manchester United players and supporters immediately complained about the reckless nature of the foul. This time, the referee was not going to leave the incident unpunished as he produced a yellow card against City's Brazilian midfielder.
Martin Tyler: Sliding challenge from Fernandinho... and he will earn the first yellow card of the match.
In the away supporters' stand:
"Get in the book, you bloody animal!" Noriko applauded the decision against the City player.
"About time, ref!" Sarah added.
"With a guy throwing himself like that, I'm glad things didn't get worse for Nana-chan." Taeko said.
"I know. There are times when Nana really surprises me about how tough she is." Noriko replied.
"Here's our chance now." Sarah said.
"C'MON UNITED!!!" Noriko and Taeko shouted altogether.
Martin Tyler: It's a free kick from a very interesting position for Manchester United.
The point of contact on the foul was located 25 yards from goal and a little bit towards the right side from United's point of view. After a few talks on free kick strategy, Nana and Pog moved into shooting positions. The Manchester City players in the wall were not sure whether to expect Pog's power or Nana's finesse in the upcoming shot.
Pog started his run, but then stopped after a couple of steps. At the same time, Nana arrived from a diagonal position to hit a Beckham-esque strike.
Martin Tyler: Here goes MISHIMA!
The shot flew around City's wall, but finally ended up hitting the side netting. Because of an optical illusion, a large number of nearby United supporters thought for a split second that the shot went in before they realized what happened. Nana put her hands on her head in despair.
Martin Tyler: Goodness me! She wasn't too far away.
Gary Neville: Well, Mishima's reaction tells you that it was the side netting, and not the back of the net. The shot came really close... it's about a foot wide. And the City goalkeeper was left standing as well.
"It's OK, Seven. That was a good effort." Kakeru tried to comfort Nana with words and a tap on the shoulder.
"Nice attempt. This isn't over, Witch." Pog added.
"Thanks, guys." Nana replied before she walked her way back to her position before the goal kick.
United's most recent attack cooled down City's efforts for a few minutes, but it was not quite enough to stop them completely. As we go beyond the hour mark in this tight affair, everyone knew that the side that concedes first would potentially lose a lot of momentum.
In the 61st minute:
Martin Tyler: Headed down by Bernardo Silva... towards De Bruyne.
After Kevin De Bruyne received the ball from his Portuguese teammate, the Belgian started making his run towards the heart of the Manchester United defense.
'I have to get in front of him.' Nemanja thought.
Before Nemanja could get in front of De Bruyne, the Belgian managed to make a pass to Sané on the wing. The German winger was then running inside United's penalty area with the possibility to shoot across the goalkeeper.
Martin Tyler: Good pass by De Bruyne... Sané! Saved by De Gea...
David de Gea responded with a kick save, but the rebound was bouncing towards a Manchester City player just outside the box.
Martin Tyler: David Silva...
David Silva took the low shot, but it was slightly deflected between Eric's legs. The ball then rolled dangerously into no man's land (in front of the 6-yard box).
Martin Tyler: Deflected, it's GABRIEL JESUS!!!
Despite Matthias' best attempts to clear the danger, Gabriel Jesus got to the ball first, and shot it into the back of the net. At that time, the tens of thousands City supporters in the stadium could finally celebrate.
Martin Tyler: They have got the important first goal in the derby with a little more than an hour gone, and it's Gabriel Jesus! Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United.
In the midst of all the noise, the Manchester United players and supporters were left in stunned silence.
Gary Neville: Well, the question was whether City would make something out of that possession, all right. It all started with Bernardo Silva finding De Bruyne. Kevin De Bruyne makes the run, and then finds Sané. De Gea makes a good save, but the ball comes out of the box for David Silva. The second shot took a deflection off Bailly and into the feet of Gabriel Jesus. Goalkeeper had no chance.
Disgusted with the outcome, Kakeru thought: 'We just need a spark. I will provide it anyhow.'
'I won't let them take our efforts to waste. This ain't over yet.' Nana thought as well.
Although Manchester City took the lead, the danger of conceding a goal within minutes after scoring a goal always existed. As Kakeru believed, it was just a matter of finding a spark from somewhere.
In the 63rd minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's David Silva losing Mishima...
In United's half, David Silva shook Nana off to get some space preceding a through pass attempt. However, Eric kicked the ball high and down the pitch.
Martin Tyler: Good clearance by Bailly.
Since Vincent Kompany moved a little ahead to support the midfielders at that moment, Ricky stood the furthest away from the Manchester United goal to collect the loose ball. After the ball bounced off the grass once, Ricky tried to kick it forward. However, Kakeru was putting unexpected pressure on Ricky. The Japanese forward touched the ball forward in mid-air before his right foot made contact with Ricky's right foot in the follow-through. The Argentine defender was spun around, and fell to the ground. However, the play was still on.
Martin Tyler: Oh, it's Aizawa. He's got the better of Vernardi. No foul called here...
While thousands of City supporters screamed for a foul, Kakeru was on a clean breakaway towards the City goal. No City defender could match Kakeru's speed. At the crucial moment, Kakeru easily slotted the ball past Ederson and in the back of the net.
Martin Tyler: HE SCORES! Manchester United are level. Kakeru Aizawa put the pressure, and has gone all the way. 1-1!
The Manchester United players then gathered around their instant hero to celebrate.
"Get in there, Knight!" Romelu congratulated Kakeru.
"Huge goal, man!" Pog added.
"You did it, Kakeru!" Nana ruffled Kakeru's hair.
"Great play, Knight!" Nemanja said as well.
"Thanks, guys. Let's score the next one." Kakeru replied before he and his teammates started walking back to their positions for the restart.
Gary Neville: Well, we have a proper game of football here. It was a routine ball for Vernardi, but Aizawa puts on immense pressure here. Aizawa sticks his foot in, and touched the ball first. After that, he has acres of space ahead. It was a matter of whether Aizawa can finish it. He slips the shot to the goalkeeper's right.
Martin Tyler: It's already Aizawa's 15th goal in all competitions for Manchester United. He really has an eye for goal.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' stand, the United supporters were jubilating.
"Well done, Kakeru! Well done!" Noriko shouted.
"He did a great job there! I didn't think he could hound Vernardi like that." Sarah said.
"That was some determination. He got us back in it all by himself." Taeko added.
"We really can do this. Let's go!" Noriko replied.
On the other end of the spectrum of emotions, Ricky and the Manchester City players were not happy with the referee's earlier decision to tolerate the contact between Kakeru and Ricky.
"What the hell was that? I got his boot on my right foot. That's a foul." Ricky complained to the referee.
"That was a high tackle, really dangerous." Kevin De Bruyne added.
"Aizawa touched the ball before Vernardi could get there. That's a fair contest for the ball." the referee replied.
"Our teammate couldn't protect himself. He could have been injured." Kyle Walker also protested.
"Stop bothering me. I won't change it. It's a goal, and off you go for the restart." The referee ordered the City players to stop protesting.
Ricky then looked towards Kakeru in distance while thinking: 'So this is how you want to play, huh? I will crush you once and for all before this match is over.'
"You'll be OK?" Vincent Kompany asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just give me Aizawa." Ricky replied.
With the score tied at 1-1, it was anyone's game. However, no one expected the nasty turn of events that would soon come... except for Ricky himself. Feeling humiliated by an Aizawa once more, the Argentine defender only had one thing in mind: revenge.
In the following minutes after Kakeru's equalizer, City made the first substitution of the match by replacing David Silva with German midfielder İlkay Gündoğan. Meanwhile, United were preparing to make their first change as Anthony was set to join the action for the purpose of providing new energy to the attack..
In the 71st minute:
Martin Tyler: Gündoğan... dispossessed by Mishima.
In the center circle, Nana pushed the ball away from the German midfielder. The loose ball went towards Nemanja, who then pushed forward for Pog. The Frenchman then started running on the counterattack.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... towards Lukaku...
Spotting Kakeru making the run ahead of him and slightly on the wing, Romelu passed the ball towards the Japanese. However as Kakeru pushed the ball a little further ahead, Ricky came in the opposite direction, and threw a hard right-footed tackle that struck Kakeru in the area between the right knee and the sock. Kakeru went crashing down on the grass immediately.
"HEEEEEEEYYYYY!!!" the Manchester Uniited players, coaches, and 3,000 supporters shouted in unison when they saw the violent impact.
Martin Tyler: Oohh... Vernardi could be in trouble here.
Ricky raised his arms to claim his innocence, but was soon greeted by angry opponents in red. While several Manchester United players pleaded to the referee for a rightful punishment, a few others, including Nana, signalled for the doctor and the physio to attend Kakeru ASAP. The Japanese forward was screaming in pain.
"What did he..." Kakeru looked at his leg, but the sight brought shock horror on his face.
"Kakeru, are you... Oh, God!" Nana was also shocked when she saw Kakeru's injury.
The result of Ricky's tackle was that Kakeru's leg sustained a very nasty gash, and it was bleeding noticeably. What's even worse was that a bone in Kakeru's leg could be seen deep into the gash itself, and thus fears of a fracture were legitimate. It was a horrible sight for anyone who came in close enough to see the extent of the open wound. Kakeru couldn't hold his tears any longer with the excruciating pain.
After the referee saw Kakeru's injury, he immediately asked for Ricky: "Ricky. Ricky, come here."
"Come on. I didn't do it on purpose." Ricky tried to plead his case.
"The ball was nowhere near your attempted tackle, you showed your studs, and that was totally reckless. You leave me no other choice: you're off." the referee then pulled the red card out of his pocket.
Martin Tyler: Vernardi has been shown a red card. Manchester City are down to 10 men with a little less than 20 minutes to go.
Gary Neville: I don't know what was going through Vernardi's mind here. It's a reckless challenge, it's in the air, and he goes with the studs. He had to be sent off.
Ricky only replied by waving away the referee's decision before he walked a few yards towards Kakeru. At the moment he stood over Kakeru, the Argentine said in Japanese: "You got what you deserve."
However, Nana heard Ricky's words as she was standing by Kakeru, and those words got her blood boiling. On the next second, Nana went after Ricky.
"Hey! How can you say he got what he deserves?" Nana shouted in English to make sure everyone around on the pitch could understand what Ricky just said.
"I have nothing to say to a woman. Beat it." Ricky was showing his back to Nana as he was walking away.
"Now face me when I'm talking to you, sick ****!" Nana then forcefully grabbed Ricky to have him facing her.
"You're asking for it!" Ricky then shoved Nana.
Martin Tyler: Now Mishima and Vernardi have a go at each other, and it's all kicking off again.
Several players from both sides came to hold Nana and Ricky away from each other, but some of them continued with some serious shoving. Nevertheless, the verbal scrap was far from over between Nana and Ricky, despite the referee's attempts to restore order.
"You wanna go? Come on, pretty face!" Ricky shouted.
"I've been doing that all my life. Let's go!" Nana replied.
"You'll do nothing. ¡Puta estúpida, puta de mierda (You stupid whore, you ****ing whore)!" Ricky insulted Nana in a mix of English and Spanish, wrongfully thinking that she doesn't understand Spanish.
"You need a rewiring, kusotare (****head)!" Nana shouted back.
What Ricky didn't know though was that the referee understood Spanish. What the Argentine just said didn't go unnoticed to the ears of the official.
"That was extremely sexist language, Ricky. That will be in my report, and you're in big trouble. Get off the pitch!" the referee ordered.
Finally, one of the Manchester City coaches pulled Ricky away, and led him towards the exit tunnel. When both sides finally calmed down seconds later, the referee gave Nana a strong verbal warning before the yellow card was produced. Nana was also walking on a thin line for the rest of the match. Meanwhile, the paramedics arrived with the stretcher after team doctor Steve McNally applied a makeshift bandage on Kakeru's leg wound to stop the bleeding temporarily. After Kakeru was put on a stretcher and given an oxygen mask to help him breathe, Nana came to see him one last time on the pitch.
"Seven... Make sure he doesn't get away with this."
"We will make him pay, Kakeru. Stay strong now." Nana replied.
"I know you can do this. Unleash hell." Kakeru said.
Nana then replied with a nod before the paramedics carried the stretcher on the way out. The home supporters gave a polite applause as Kakeru was carried out. However as the stretcher went out of everyone's sight, boos started echoing in the stadium. On one side, the 3,000 United supporters were shouting vilifying words at City supporters. On the other side, some City supporters shouted insults back at the visiting supporters while others expressed their disapproval at Ricky's dismissal.
In the away supporters' stand:
"You ****ing blue wankers!" Noriko shouted while making several gestures aimed at City supporters in distance.
"Vernardi's a ****ing prick! Just like the rest of you, you eggheads!" Taeko added her 2 cents as well. She was very upset to see her friend Kakeru stretchered out.
"That was just a disgraceful tackle. Why did he do that?" Sarah asked.
"I already knew that Vernardi has an inferiority complex towards the Aizawa brothers, but I never thought he would go that far... that son of a bitch!" Noriko replied.
"I just hope we will get the next goal to shove it up where the sun doesn't shine for him." Taeko said.
"Yeah, I hope so too. We better do it." Noriko finished.
A few seconds ago, Anthony came on to replace Kakeru after the latter was stretchered off the playing surface. The first thing the Manchester United players did was to gather together in a circle so they could get the record straight ahead of the remaining time left in the match.
"Listen, lads. I know it's tough to see Knight go, but we don't stop now. We go in there again! We go in there for him, and we go for the 3 points!" Pog gave the pep talk to his teammates.
"Let's go kill this game!" Matthias added.
"YEEEEAAAH!!!" his teammates replied, full of good intentions.
'Let's do this.' Nana thought.
When a player gets severely injured, the most difficult thing for both sides is always to get over the psychological hurdle quickly enough. Furthermore, the long interruption time, which is necessary for medical staff to attend and carry the injured player off the pitch, is a momentum killer. It took several minutes of play for both teams to find the previously frantic pace. In response to Ricky's red card, "Pep" Guardiola was forced to take off Leroy Sané to insert English defender John Stones. However as minutes winded down, United took most of the action in the attacking half against the 10-man Manchester City team.
In the 82nd minute:
Martin Tyler: Stones... Oh, a bad pass. Now Pogba...
In an attempt to start an attack, the City centre-back attempted a pass towards a teammate. But the pass lacked accuracy, making it an easy interception for Pog. The Frenchman then passed forward to Jesse, who then faced John Stones.
Martin Tyler: Lingard... blocked by Stones, but Lukaku gets the ball.
Stones used his body to push Jesse down, but the Englishman in red successfully flicked the ball to Romelu on his right a split second earlier. As the referee played the advantage, Romelu ran a few yards further before he took a shot from outside the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: It's Lukaku!
Romelu's shot had pace while dipping towards the underside of the crossbar, but the Manchester City goalkeeper put his hand in the way. Nevertheless, the end result was a corner kick in favor of the team in red.
Martin Tyler: Corner!
Immediately, Nana ran down towards the corner flag with the ball. Before both teams were ready to go, Matthias uttered something that appeared to be inaudible with the noise in the stadium. However, Nana replied with a nod.
'OK, Matthias. Just as we did on the training ground. Make sure you get there.' Nana thought.
Finally, the signal was given for Nana to take the corner kick. Just as it was planned, Matthias got his way to the edge of the 6-yard box and right in front of goal. At the peak of his jump, Matthias turned his neck muscles in an attempt to redirect the ball either into the back of the net or towards a teammate lurking by the post.
Martin Tyler: In by Mishima... towards Köhler!
Unfortunately for United, the deflection didn't result in a shot nor in a pass towards Romelu. The ball flew just away from Romelu's reach and wide to the goal.
"Scheiße (Damn it)!" Matthias exclaimed.
Martin Tyler: Oh! Köhler's shot went wide, and just missed Lukaku.
Meanwhile, Nana also looked helplessly at the ball going to nowhere while thinking: 'Again, so close!'
In the following 6 minutes, both teams proceeded with a few changes. City took Bernardo Silva off, and replaced him with Argentine striker Sergio Agüero. Meanwhile, José replaced Nemanja with Ander Herrera. Despite the changes made by City to add more attacking experience, the momentum was still on the Red Devils’ side. United kept on knocking at the door.
In the 88th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's De Bruyne. City might hit on the counter.
After a failed free kick, City regained control of the ball inside their own penalty area. As Kevin De Bruyne attempted to pass the ball for his teammate Sergio Agüero, the latter had Ander and Eric in pursuit. As the action moved at the level of the center circle, Eric came in with a sliding tackle that pushed the ball in the opposite direction and into Jesse's feet. United were in position to attack once more.
Martin Tyler: Good tackle by Bailly! Here's Lingard...
Jesse held onto the ball just long enough to get the attention of 2 City defenders, and then passed the ball towards Antonio on the right. Having run a few more yards ahead, United's Ecuadorian right-back whipped a low cross into City's penalty area. Nana appeared to be the intended recipient to take a one-time shot, and thus had City defenders moving into the shooting lane.
'Gotcha!' Nana thought.
Instead of taking a shot, Nana posed herself as a dummy by letting the pass roll between her legs. Having read Nana's intentions, Pog arrived in full speed from behind and to her left. The Frenchman immediately struck the ball.
Martin Tyler: Into Pogba!
The hard shot was then stopped by the goalkeeper Ederson, and the ball flew out of bounds to the side. Once again, it was a chance gone begging.
"I don't believe it! City should be destroyed by now." Taeko said out loud.
"Yeah, City are just defending for dear life right now. It has to go in anyhow." Sarah replied.
"We have to keep pushing. After everything that happened, we can expect lots of stoppages. They will fold if we carry on like this." Noriko said.
If the 3,000 United fans were feeling tense because of the many opportunities that did not go in, the thousands of City supporters were biting their nails at the sight of their team barely hanging to the 1-1 scoreline with 10 men on the pitch. Furthermore, the prospect of having extended stoppage time due to the earlier injury incident was a worry for the home side.
In the 91st minute, at the beginning of injury time:
Martin Tyler: We have 6 minutes of injury time.
In the stands, the City supporters moaned when the official number of stoppage time minutes was indicated by the 4th official. On the other hand, the United supporters roared in expectation of one final push towards victory.
Martin Tyler: Young... Pogba... Mishima...
In a quick succession of actions, Ashley first passed to Pog. Then the Frenchman tried dribbling his way past a few City players before passing to Nana on his right. However, Fernandinho tackled the ball away from Nana on the edge of City's penalty area. Just 2 seconds later, Ander got to the ball before a City player, and his improvised pass went just by Jesse just inside City's penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Kept in by Lingard here...
With a second effort, Jesse kept the ball in play, and then instinctively crossed the ball into no man’s land. In that area, Romelu out-jumped Stones for the ball.
Martin Tyler: LUKAKU! Pushed out again...
Romelu's header shot was aimed at the bottom corner to the goalkeeper's left. The City goalkeeper barely managed to stop the ball with one hand, but the juicy rebound went directly into Nana's feet. Without hesitation, the Little Witch blasted the shot in the back of the Manchester City net.
Martin Tyler: MISHIMAAAAAAAA!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!
Immediately after the 2-1 goal, Nana ran her way to celebrate just a few yards in front of the nearby United supporters' stand where it was wild euphoria. Venting out all the frustration that was accumulated between Kakeru's injury and the goal, Nana thumped her left chest a few times, and then kissed the badge on her shirt before her teammates arrived.
"You did it, Witch!" Romelu congratulated Nana.
"Hell yeah! You've got the goal!" Pog added.
"Great work, Witch!" Matthias ruffled Nana's hair.
"YATTAAAAA (I DID IT)!!!" Nana screamed.
Martin Tyler: The Little Witch comes for the big occasion once again! Nana Mishima, who scored a late winner against City last season at Old Trafford, has done it at the Etihad, again in stoppage time! Manchester City 1-2 Manchester United.
In the away supporters' stand:
"You did it, Nana! You did it!" Noriko exclaimed.
"Great goal, Nana-chan!" Taeko also shouted.
"That's some revenge, Nana! Way to go, girl!" Sarah added.
Then the vast majority of the 3,000 United supporters started singing the following chant aimed at City.
UNITED ARE THE TEAM FOR ME
WITH A KNICK-KNACK PADDY WHACK.
GIVE THE DOG A BONE.
WHY DON'T CITY **** OFF HOME!?
However in the midst of the celebrations from the players in red, a few angry City supporters started throwing coins and other objects on the pitch. Although some spectators were arrested, several City supporters continued shouting profanities towards the United players. However, Nana stood tall staring at them in distance for a few seconds before she kissed the Manchester United badge on her shirt as a reply. The few cameras that caught Nana's facial expression at that moment could see the fire in her eyes.
Only 2 minutes after the goal, José ordered Nana to come off and be replaced by defender Phil Jones. The substitution was made with the purpose of protecting the lead with extra defender, especially since the City supporters' earlier antics have forced an extension of stoppage time. On her return to the bench, Nana was congratulated by the coaches and her teammates.
"Nice work, Witch." Chris gave Nana a high five.
"You did great." Nemanja added.
"That was the right way to avenge Kakeru. Well done." Yusuke said.
"Do we have news about Kakeru?" Nana asked Yusuke.
At that moment, Steve came out of the exit tunnel and back on the Manchester United bench.
"Doc! What's the news?" Nana asked.
"Kakeru has been taken to the hospital by ambulance." Steve replied.
"What about his right leg? Was there a fracture?"
"Difficult to say, Nana. His leg started swelling. We won't have a clear picture until the swelling subsides."
Nana then sighed in disappointment as she couldn't get more information then. "Thanks, Doc."
At that moment, City tried to build serious attacks on the Manchester United goal. However, the shots attempted by the "Citizens" went to nowhere, and United held on well. In the dying seconds of injury time, City had a corner kick. In a desperate attempt to create something, the Manchester City goalkeeper rushed forward to provide an extra body in United's penalty area.
Martin Tyler: De Bruyne with the corner.
The Belgian midfielder whipped the ball towards the pack of players, but Pog cleared it away. However the ball went towards Kyle Walker, who had a chance to whip the cross into the box.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by Pogba. There's no one in goal for Manchester City... Walker! Blocked by Lingard...
After the attempted cross was blocked by Jesse, he and Kyle Walker went after the same ball. Walker then passed the ball towards Fernandinho before the the Brazilian attempted one last desperate aerial pass into the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Fernandinho... Bailly clears... and Lukaku can knock it into the net...
After the Manchester United defender cleared the ball away, Romelu ran forward with the ball alongside Pog in a 2v1. When Romelu crossed the halfway line and into City's half, the sound all United players and supporters wanted to hear finally came.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Martin Tyler: ...and he won't have to because the final whistle has blown. United have won the battle of the bragging rights in Manchester, and have reclaimed the top of the table. Just as she did last season at Old Trafford, Nana Mishima has won it for Manchester United with a goal in stoppage time. Kakeru Aizawa had a big part in the result with equalizer shortly after Gabriel Jesus gave City the lead, but had to come off because of a reckless challenge. It's a big win for United, but it has come up with its share of unpleasantness in it as well, of which you will hear later. The result is a Manchester United 2-1 away win.
After the final whistle, a few City players and United players shook hands. However, the animosity that was built during the match led to plenty of cold handshakes. Then the Manchester United players came celebrating in front of their supporters for a couple of minutes before they walked their way towards the exit tunnel.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"You want your bag, Nana?" the team's kit man asked.
"Not yet. I just need a few minutes." Nana replied
Then Nana sat down at her temporary seat in the visiting team's dressing room. However, her teammates started looking at her wondering what was going on. It was very unusual for Nana not to take her own sports bag before she gets changed in a separate dressing room right away after a match. Nana also sighed and wiped out a couple of tears in her eyes.
"Hey, are you alright?" Pog asked.
"I'm fine... It's just tension. I just need a moment." Nana replied.
"I know it really sucks for Kakeru, but you played a great game even after he left." Matthias said.
"It's not only Kakeru’s injury, Matthias. I never thought a player would have dared looking into my eyes while saying the things he said out there, especially after I earned my right to be here."
"Some players are and will forever be cowards and idiots. Enduring them is a price we all have to pay when we play this game to win. That goal was the perfect revenge against him, Nana. You played like a lion out there, and no one will take that away." Pog said.
"Thanks, Pog." Nana replied.
"You are one of us, and we're proud of that." David added.
"I'm sure Kakeru is happy right now knowing that you scored the big goal." Yusuke gave Nana a tap on her shoulder.
Nana then looked at her teammates nodding and applauding in agreement to what has just been said. Then she got up from her seat.
"Thanks a lot, guys. I really don't know what we would do without all of you." Nana said.
"We're a family, and will always be a family." Pog replied.
"Yep!" Nana smiled.
Tuesday December 5
Aon Training Complex, Carrington, UK
Following his discharge from the hospital, Kakeru was given painkillers to deal with the pain. Antibiotics were also in order for preventing any further infection. Kakeru had to wait for 2 days for the swelling to subside, and thus allow the medical staff to assess the full extent of the injury. For the time being, Kakeru was forced to walk with a cast and crutches.
As Nana just finished training with the team in preparation for the 6th and final group stage match of the Champions League, she met Kakeru outside the team doctor's office.
"How has it been with the X-rays?" Nana asked Kakeru.
"I just came out of the scanner not long ago. The Doc and his colleagues are looking at the pictures right now. I can only hope... Oh, man."
"I may not be back on the pitch until a very long time... Perhaps my season's over. When Vernardi tackled me, I felt the pain straight away... I was in shock. I haven't felt a wound that deep in my flesh since the accident that almost killed me many years ago. It was terrifying."
"I know it's terrifying, Kakeru. But this is far from being the end. No matter how long it will take, I will walk with you on every step of the way." Nana replied as she gave Kakeru a comforting hug.
"Ahem! Well, I'm glad that you already have strong moral support for each other regarding what's lying ahead. I have the results, Kakeru." Steve said, walking on his way to his office.
"How is my leg? Is it really bad?" Kakeru asked.
"First, come in my office, Kakeru. You too, Nana. I think it's better if you both get the news." Steve replied.
"Very well." Nana replied before she and Kakeru entered the doctor's office.
"I have good news for you, Kakeru." Steve said.
"Go ahead then." Kakeru said.
"We looked through and through at the X-rays; they are negative. Basically, you avoided the worst case scenario of a leg fracture. That was our main concern until we saw the results."
"That means you will play again this season, Kakeru... and how long will it take?" Nana asked.
"The recovery period might take almost a full month if there are no other problems arising." Steve replied.
"A month?" Kakeru asked. "I can't wait for that long. Our former teammate Luís Nani came back from a similar injury only 9 days after he was tackled badly in 2011. He didn't suffer a leg fracture either."
"I know where you're getting at. I was there at Anfield when Nani got that nasty injury. However, it's not that simple, Kakeru. There has been considerable damage to the muscle fibers even though the bones are fine. You'll need to give the muscle fibers time to heal properly, and then regain your lower body strength back. Furthermore, we have to make sure the swelling doesn't reappear during the recovery process. Just take it slow and steady." Steve replied.
Kakeru took a few seconds to understand everything that was just said before he gave his reply. "Fine, Doc. I will do as you say."
"The staff and I will come up with a more detailed plan for your recovery, including physiotherapy sessions in due time. If necessary, the sports psychologist will work with you too. That is all for now." Steve said.
"Thank you, Doc." Nana said.
Kakeru and Nana then left the doctor's office. Kakeru sighed after he realized what was said about the wound. However, Kakeru's facial expression showed more disappointment than anything else.
"Why the long face? It really isn't as bad as we first thought, no?" Nana asked.
"Being out of action for one month is not that good, especially with the busiest stretch of the season coming between now and the New Year. Vernardi, you dirty son of a bitch!"
"Cursing out loud here won't help, Kakeru."
"I wish I could be of any use for the team right now, Nana. I hate feeling useless." Kakeru replied.
"You will be more useful to the team if you come back even stronger when we take on the second half of the season. Our friends and I will take over for the time being. And don't forget Zlatan; he will be coming back after he signs a contract in January. You're not alone in the team's success."
"Sorry, Nana. I got carried away. You're right about our friends; they are a very big reason why we are where we are now."
"Hey... Just think about the job ahead. That's all we need now." Nana cupped Kakeru's face with both hands.
"Nana... Thank you." Kakeru said before he gave Nana a little kiss.
"Remember: we are both in this together, through thick and thin." Nana said.
"I sure will." Kakeru finished.