WHEN they are at it like this, you have to wonder how Manchester
United are 11 points behind their crosstown rivals.
This was a masterful performance against elite opposition as Ole
Gunnar Solskjaer’s men halted Manchester City’s 21-match winning
It was all here – the intensity of the high press, the raw pace on the
break, the bruising defensive blocks.
The way Luke Shaw rampaged from left-back like a latter-day Roberto Carlos.
The way Fred harassed Kevin De Bruyne like a crazed stalker.
And the way Harry Maguire stuck in that famous over-sized bonce of his
time after time.
United’s victory is surely too late to re-open a title race, but it
evaporated the idea of City strolling imperiously towards a quadruple
and it went a long way to ensuring Champions League football at Old
Trafford next term.
Bruno Fernandes netted a second-minute penalty and Shaw netted a
brilliant second, with a helping hand from keeper Dean Henderson, who
looked far better than an understudy.
Even in these behind-closed-doors days, derby matches can be formbook-shredders.
United had failed to score in their last six Premier League meetings
with ‘big six’ rivals and City had been tearing it up relentlessly
United have delayed City’s coronations in the past – most memorably
when Jose Mourinho roared back from two-down to win here in 2018.
Indeed, United have now won on four of their last five visits to the
Etihad but none have been as impressive as this.
They nag at City, the way they used to nag at Liverpool during the
Anfield club’s dominance of the 1970s and 1980s.
That is not enough for a club of United’s stature but it sure can be a
If only there were pubs and offices open for United fans to crow inside.
Instead, the city was grey and hushed on derby day – a year on from
City’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, which was the last Premier League
match played in Manchester in front of fans.
That result, during a long, relative slump for Guardiola’s side,
seemed a lifetime away now.
United arrived on the back of three straight goalless draws – yet they
ripped into City from the off and won their spot-kick after just 45
Gabriel Jesus had lost possession in midfield but the Brazillian
striker’s effort at atonement proved disastrous when he upended
Anthony Martial just as the Frenchman had darted into the box.
Ref Anthony Taylor pointed straight to the spot and Fernandes shuffled
up and hammered into the far corner, despite Ederson getting a decent
hand to his effort.
Suddenly, City looked all over the shop in defence, Joao Cancelo was
caught dawdling in his own area and was robbed by Shaw, who shot
straight at the keeper.
Then Fred dispossessed De Bruyne and Marcus Rashford arrowed in a shot
which Ederson saved at his near post.
Fred had clearly been detailed to do a job on De Bruyne and he soon
centre his fellow No 17 tumbling into Solskjaer’s technical area with
a hard, but fair, challenge.
United’s Brazilian enforcer was soon sparking appeals for a City
penalty after a challenge on Raheem Sterling, but the winger had gone
down too easily.
A long-range shot from Olksandr Zinchenko shot was first tester for
United keeper Henderson – covering David De Gea’s paternity leave –
the Englishmen diving to push it away.
MENACING ON THE BREAK
Maguire was seemingly booked for tackling Jesus too well – a thumping
effort which won the ball cleanly but displeased the sensitive Taylor.
The volume and intensity of the swearing from both benches made you
imagine, monetarily, that this was being played before a proper crowd.
Henderson tipped over a 30-yard De Bruyne free-kick and Riyad Mahrez
fizzed a shot just wide, Jesus colliding with the post at speed as he
attempted to divert it home.
But United were frequently menacing on the break – Dan James ending
the half by stretching City’s defence with a burst of his extreme
Early in the second half, Rodrigo pinged a shot against the angle of
crossbar and post.
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Then that simple but brilliant second from United, Henderson’s long
throw locating an unmarked Shaw, who surged past two City players,
exchanged passes with Rashford and steered his shot inside the far
Scott McTominay ploughed his way through the City defence to release
Martial but the Frenchman’s shot was saved by Ederson before he looked
up expecting an offside flash that didn’t come.
Phil Foden replaced Jesus 20 minutes from time and soon swivelled past
Victor Lindelof only to shoot wide, then Sterling flung himself at a
Walker shot but couldn’t nudge it over the line.
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