Manchester United are back being decisive to a title race, even though they are not the ones in contention. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s out-of-sorts team had the temerity to go to the den of the defending champions and do the unthinkable: defeat Manchester City 1-2 at the Etihad with goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. For City, substitute Nicolas Otamendi notched the consolation with a headed goal.
With this result, Pep Guardiola’s team are stranded 14 points away from runaway leaders Liverpool who won away from home at Bournemouth with a convincing 0-3 scoreline.
With last night’s results, Manchester United find themselves in fifth position, five points away from Champions League qualification spots; City stay third on 32 points with fourth-placed Chelsea dangerously close to usurping them.
Here, we look at the major talking points from a match that could very well be one that defines the rest of 2019-20 Premier League title-chase:
Marcus Rashford, a worthy number 10
To better explain this performance, let’s lend from the two words etched on Rashford’s brand of shoes – Mercurial Vapor. The mercurial Manchester United number 10 left vapour trails as he latched onto another through ball, that set the entire Manchester City backline agonising with a jerking pain. Each and every counter-attack that found the path of Rashford had the crippling effect of a sudden sneeze so hard that it pulls your back.
Leading into the match, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enthused that his team needs to better express themselves. On the night, Rashford’s cleats turned into a paintbrush for Manchester United’s distant, audacious dream. For City, he was the man with a cigarette lighter that lit the flame at the edge of their blueprint pinned to the board.
On the 20th minute, Rashford wedged himself between Bernardo Silva and John Stones and has his calf clipped by the knee of the Portuguese international and duly fell down inside the box. VAR intervened, the referee pointed to the spot. Undaunted, the 22-year-old sent Ederson, the City goalkeeper diving the other way, while the ball rested in the bottom right corner. After that, his confidence was unassailable. Five more minutes and Manchester United, had they taken their chances should have been four up, with Rashford with at least two more goals.
Anthony Martial gliding down the right found Rashford who tried to curl the ball around an off-the-line Ederson, but the effort was well wide. Soon after Daniel James, gaining headway down the right located Rashford at the edge of the box with a pass – this time, an effort that would have done Wayne Rooney, the former holder of the number 10 shirt proud, clipped the crossbar, inches away from being added to the highlight reels of the best ever Manchester Derby goals. Angelino, the City left-back may have been made to suffer from an existential crisis throughout the first half. United played around if as if he didn’t exist. To make matters worse, Rashford decided to show the full extent of his all-round game soon after.
At the 29th minute, Anthony Martial found the net at the near side – he couldn’t have directed the shot better had the Frenchman picked the ball up and placed it with his hands. This was made possible by a heavily attended-to Rashford dragging City defenders wide, making space for Daniel James to have a quickfire exchange with Martial at the edge of the box.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the anti-Sterling
To say that Aaron Wan-Bissaka had Raheem Sterling in his pocket will be a gross understatement. He was the yang to Sterling yin, the black hole to his star, who sucked all the light (and the ball) onto himself. With death-defying tackles and interceptions, he became a regular source of turnover in the possession and an essential cog in the Manchester United machinery.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s silver lining playbook
Smiles finally returned to the faces of the red faithful. Sir Alex Ferguson on the stands punching the air at the final whistle while former Manchester United goalkeeper raids the media rooms for the second time to pilfer all the sweets to share among the heroes clad in red in the away dressing room.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pulled off an absolute masterclass, dismantling Pep Guardiola’s tactics play by penetrative play, pass by slick pass, making it seem all too effortless.
The instructions to his charges were simple enough: Quick-release on the ball on the counter-attacks; that coupled with the first-time pass down the wing-back channels left Pep Guardiola’s possession-orientated football in utter disarray.
Solskjaer used this tactic to quell Liverpool at home, resigning them to their only draw this season, then to near perfection in the game vs Tottenham; and vs Manchester City, it reached a level of high-art.
“They were clinical,” mourned Guardiola in the press-match press conference. An enthralled Solskjaer agreed to the assessment, “The start of the game we were exceptional. We should have been five up really. We played so well. We were playing the best team in the world, for me, and the best coach.”
What impressed neutrals more was the kind of defiance and organisation Solskjaer instilled in this United performance with City knocking on their doors vehemently until they broke through in the 85th minute with a goal from defender Nicolas Otamendi. There were still 10 minutes to endure with five minutes added on, and they did, like Spartans.
It’s not only Manchester United that will take a lot of heart from this showcase, but almost everyone in the Premier League will be grateful for Solskjaer playbook when they face the defending champions.
Manchester United is (F)Red
The yellow bird howls like a siren as gets its string-attached tail tugged by the floor manager. The camera pans left to a visibly elated, off-duty quarryman sliding down the back of his Brontosaurus backhoe and right into his parked car with immaculate timing. He pulls up to his driveway in a space of a few seconds thanks to the sheer his footpower, the mailbox reads The Flintstones. Fred Flintstone then proceeds to pick his family of four (that includes a sabertooth tiger cat and ‘Dino’ the baby Snorkasaurus), Barney Rubble and his family and scoots over to a drive-in movie. The entrance has two placards on either side: one reads ‘The Monster,’ the other ‘Tonite Only.’
Cut to the Etihad Stadium last night, Manchester United’s Fred drove through the defending champions’ midfield with frolic and fortitude of a man finally set free from the sloppy gruel-on-plate pathos of the everyday nine-to-five, and is on a night out. On the ball, his head took a metronomic quality on his hefty shoulders, looking left to right and back again tapping into the pulse of his team’s play; while his legs were quietly boisterous like an exclamation mark on the end of a sentence, with a nutmeg here, an interception there and through balls that consistently threatened to become the pass before the assist. He won’t be talked about with the kind of embellishment that the likes of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial, but his lowkey hustling laid the foundation of Manchester United’s counter-attacks.
Prior to last night’s 1-2 win, the €59 million man had been deemed symptomatic of all of Manchester United’s incompetencies; in fact, he was synonymous with them. Lethargic, with a lack of positional sense and what his role entailed, he drifted in and out of games showing only sparks of his qualities. The script should have that he shrunk like a wilted violet with the prospect of facing Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and co.
Instead, he opted to become the embodiment of Manchester United terrier-like tenacity that frustrated the Manchester City midfield to the extent that they started losing their nerves as the sand slipped away though the 90-minute (plus extra-time hourglass): the usually De Bruyne skid into needlessly careless tackles near the touchline, Bernado Silva took a position that moved him further away from goal, Silva was anonymous barring a brilliantly lofted ball into the box in the first-half that came to nothing. And not last but not least, Fred got under the skin Manchester City fans.
On the 68th minute, fuming Manchester City fans near the corner flag, ill-adjusted to be trailing at home, flung a barrage of lighters and bottles, with a few of them striking Fred as he was preparing to take an offensive corner. Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez, arms raised, rushed to calm the section of fans, while City captain David Silva went to check on the injured Fred.
Their excuse? The consensus was that there were time-wasting tactics being deployed by Manchester United. Even so, in no civil society is it acceptable to throw projectiles at a human being, never mind a man who is only out there to do his job.
To add to the shambles, there was a solitary Manchester City fan caught on camera directing monkey-gestures at the Manchester United midfielder.
Manchester City released a statement regarding the incident promptly:
“We are aware of a video circulating on social media which appears to show a supporter making racial gestures during the second half. Officials from the club are working with Greater Manchester Police in order to help them identify any individuals concerned and assist with their inquiries. The club are also working with GMP regarding objects being thrown on to the field of play. The club operates a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life.”
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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2019 14:07:13 IST