As a city derby, the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United has always had a special kind of spark regardless of which club was doing better at a particular moment in time, prompting the debate whether the city was “blue” or “red”. United are, of course, the most successful club on the domestic scene of England with 20 league titles, a lot more than City’s six, but four of those six for the Sky-Blues have come in the last eight seasons – while United have only one from that period.
It’s very clear that the tide has turned in Manchester and that City are now the more formidable team, if not the bigger club. The debate about that will likely last for a very long time.
The Manchester Derby played on Saturday at the Etihad was a part of round 16 of the Premier League season, and City entered it from third place with 32 points to their name – 11 less than league leaders Liverpool, and already their chances of defending the champions’ title seem very thin indeed. On the other hand, following a poor start to the campaign, only a few decent results, including an important win over Tottenham Hotspur and their former boss Jose Mourinho in midweek, were enough to propel United from deep down to the sixth place, with 21 points.
Both teams have had a number of injury issues through the course of the season so far. As for City, boss Pep Guardiola been without winger Leroy Sane and centre-back Aymeric Laporte for a very long time now, and their absence, particularly that of the French defender, has been felt. They’ve recently been left without their attacking talisman Sergio Aguero as well. Oleksandr Zinchenko, a midfielder by trade but often deployed at left-back, is now close to returning to contention, but the derby simply came too soon.
Ederson Moraes was in goal. John Stones and Fernandinho were the centre-back pair, flanked by Kyle Walker and Angelino. Rodri anchored the midfield, with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in advanced roles. Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling in wide attacking positions supported striker Gabriel Jesus.
Ole Gunnar Solsjaer in the visitors’ dugout was without the services of three defenders; Eric Bailly, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Diogo Dalot. He also couldn’t count of Paul Pogba, with the Frenchman due to return to action soon. Fellow midfielder Nemanja Matic, defender Marcos Rojo and forward Anthony Martial all faced late fitness tests ahead of the game, and only Martial made the team.
David De Gea stood between the posts. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire paired up at the back, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw either side of them. Scott McTominay and Fred acted as the double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 setup, with the trio of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James playing just behind Martial as the striker.
The First Half
It took City less than a minute to impose themselves on the game, move forward in numbers and start circling the opposition box, but it was United who had the first chance early on with Rashford and Martial combining on the left and involving Fred who found James on the other side, but the young Welshman shot straight at Ederson.
City’s domination continued, but for a long time it seemed they were trying to walk into the net with the ball, and with United’s defence rather compact, it wasn’t easy. United occasionally broke the bonds and attacked in numbers, but mostly they looked for chances to hit quickly through the pace of Rashford, James or Martial.
In the ninth minute they broke again and Rashford set Lingard up nicely, but Lingard’s shot from a tight angle prompted a nice foot-save from Ederson. Four minutes later City had a great chance as Bernardo played a one-two with David Silva and squared the ball into the box for Jesus, but Lindelof’s last-ditch tackle stopped the Brazilian from scoring from close range. United quickly threatened again as Rashford’s diagonal found the run of James on the left, and eventually Martial blasted one from just inside the box, forcing Ederson into a third save in the opening 15 minutes. It was a very lively opening period.
There was a lot of controversy in the 20th minute. Rashford again broke into the box and was clearly tackled to the ground by Bernardo. Referee Anthony Taylor initially let the play continue, but VAR intervened and awarded United a penalty. Rashford himself stepped up, sent Ederson one way and the ball the other. A deserved goal for the young England international.
Just a few minutes later Rashford could have made it two as Lingard and Fred orchestrated another counterattack, but his shooting was poor this time. Less than 60 seconds later he tried again from the edge of the box and hit the crossbar. Despite their overwhelming possession, City were looking stunned, and there was no stopping the visitors in their next move.
It was launched by De Gea’s long kick. Martial and Rashford did well to hold the ball up and eventually Martial combined with James on the right, before firing past Ederson into the near bottom corner.
Sterling played mostly on the left wing for City and his duels with Wan-Bissaka were a fierce contest, mostly won by the United right-back.
City still stuck to their game-plan and kept the ball mostly in United’s half, and in the 37th minute they had a great chance. De Bruyne’s accurate cross from the right found the head of Jesus, but the ball went far from the target. Two minutes later, Sterling finally got the better of Wan-Bissaka and won a free-kick on the very corner of the box. It was taken directly by De Bruyne, and the Belgian’s curved effort scraped the roof of the net on the outside. Rodri won one in a much better position soon afterwards, a great angle for a left-footer, but David Silva’s chip over the wall was too slow to trouble De Gea.
Guardiola’s team pressed high when off the ball, but another interesting thing to note was that United weren’t haveing nearly as much difficulty with it as one would expect, given the champions’ reputation. But De Bruyne did create another good chance with another good cross, this time for D. Silva, but the Spaniard failed to get a shot off.
In the dying seconds of the half the home side had a penalty shout when Walker, having played a one-two with De Bruyne and tried to square from the byline, hit Fred on the hand. VAR reviewed the situation and confirmed the referee’s decision – only a corner.
The Second Half
As expected, City attacked hard after the restart, and after only three minutes D. Silva’s shot from around 15 yards whizzed over the far top corner. But their efforts still weren’t as unpredictable or unmanagable for the opposition as they can be.
United mostly knew exactly where the danger would come from and closed down any space that the hosts had their eyes on exploiting. They also had a good idea when to press high and when to drop into a low block.
Further more, Walker and Angelino were still having much trouble with Rashford and James, respectively. Angelino in particular found it difficult to deal with the pace of James. But in the 55th minute, City came very close after a long and intricate move caused a bit of a scramble in front of De Gea, and eventually De Bruyne took a shot which Lindelof stopped with a timely block.
From the ensuing corner United sprang a counterattack. James took the ball far up and involved Lingard who was mowed down recklessly by Walker. The City defender marvelously passed without a yellow card, but a few moments later disaster struck. With Laporte already out injured, Guardiola was forced to replace Stones through injury, and Nicolas Otamendi took to the pitch in the 59th minute.
A minute later Sterling dispossessed Lindelof deep in United’s half, charged into the box and past several opponents, before Wan-Bissaka stopped him once again with a well-timed toe-poke. A similar situation at the other end almost resulted in City going further down as James stole the ball from Angelino and burst forward, but the Blues defence survived the scramble. Then it was Rodri with a blast into the top corner for City, but De Gea made a fine save. City had another great chance immediately afterwards as Sterling’s shot caught a deflection off Wan-Bissaka and almost fell perfectly for Mahrez, who had replaced Bernardo earlier, but Shaw defended well. Then it was James who pulled another fast counterattack and involved Lingard whose shot was saved by Ederson.
There was also a very ugly moment in the 67th minute. A corner was given to United, and as Fred went to take it, City fans started throwing objects at him and only stopped at the request of several players in blue shirts. It will be interesting to see if there is any action taken from the English FA for that.
As the game entered its final 20 minutes, the frustration of Guardiola’s players was becoming more pronounced. They were now attacking constantly in numbers, but once inside the box, they either went down too easily or screamed for a penalty claiming a United player had handled the ball. They were becoming more nervous with every passing minute, as was Guardiola himself on the touchline. The frustration was perfectly depicted in the 80th minute, when first Walker needlessly clattered Fred from behind and De Bruyne followed that up with a nasty, deliberate foul on McTominay.
On the other hand, United seemed to know what to do in this situation. They defended patiently and still looked for for a chance to hit quickly, but understandably felt no pressure. And when intricate play didn’t work, City finally found another way to break through in the 85th minute.
Mahrez took a corner and delivered the ball well to the edge of six yards. Otamendi came up and jumped highest, slamming the header in.
City suddenly sprang alive, attacking more fiercely than ever, and Mahrez came very close to equalizing straight away and was only denied by a great save from De Gea. Solskjaer then reacted by replacing Lingard with Axel Tuanzebe to strengthen the back line, and he had to replace Shaw with Ashley Young because of an injury to the starting left-back.
When the five minutes of injury time started running, United’s intentions were very clear – to defend and waste time by any means possible, which seemed to be driving City players mad. City were flinging the ball into the box non-stop, but apart from a few scrambles, there was nothing they could do. The final whistle was accompanied by a smile from Sir Alex Ferguson from the stands.
The Manchester Derby has been known to spout results against all odds and that was certainly the case on this occasion. Few believed United would be able to get a point, let alone win at the Etihad, but that’s what happened and it was well-deserved.
Solskjaer’s men showed a great amount of tactical discipline and hit their hosts where it hurts with pace and smart runs, they’ll be very happy to have painted the town red.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has been showing mild bewilderment on his face as his team gradually fell behind in the title race, and it sometimes seems as if he is at a loss for what to do next. Injuries have been hard on them, it’s a fact, but it also seems his brand of football, so indomitable for a very long time, is slowly getting found out. More teams than ever are finding ways to hurt them and they are dropping points that are very likely to prove very costly at the end of the season.
The champions are now third, 14 points behind Liverpool in the table, and with second-place Leicester City yet to play at the Villa Park on Sunday. As for United, it wasn’t that long ago that they were only two points above the relegation zone. Now, after two consecutive wins against top opposition, they’ve climbed to fifth and are once again eyeing a top-four finish.
MANCHESTER CITY: Ederson 7, Stones 6 (59′ Otamendi 7), Fernandinho 7, Walker 6.5, Angelino 6, Rodri 7 (86′ Gundogan N/A), De Bruyne 7, D. Silva 7, B. Silva 6.5 (65′ Mahrez 7.5), Sterling 7, Jesus 6.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 7.5, Maguire 7, Lindelof 7, Wan-Bissaka 7.5, Shaw 7 (89′ Young 7.5), McTominay 7.5, Fred 7.5, Lingard 6 (89′ Tuanzebe N/A), James 7, Rashford 7.5, Martial 7 (74′ Pereira 6).
GOALS: Rashford (P) 23′, Martial 29′, Otamendi 85′.
YELLOW CARDS: B. Silva 22′, De Gea 54′, Pereira 74′, De Bruyne 79, Walker 90′.
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor.
DATE & VENUE: December 7, 2019, Etihad Stadium, Manchester.