City 3-1 United: The One-Sided Manchester Derby We All Expected

Manchester City came into this game knowing that a four point gap had opened up between them and Liverpool the day before thanks to Nunez’s last minute winner. With Arsenal breathing down their necks, the pressure was on. Man City had only scored once goal in each of their last three league games, though they had dismantled Luton in the FA Cup in midweek with Haaland scoring 5 goals. United had just been starting to find some form in the league themselves, they had won four matches on the trot heading into last week’s game at home to Fulham, but conceded at the death to end up losing 1-2. It’s certainly no coincidence that the result came at the same time as the injury to Rasmus Hojland, who was also going to miss the derby.

The final score in the Manchester Derby was probably exactly what most people had expected before the game started. There were few surprises in the Man City line up with just one casualty through injury in Jack Grealish, and Pep opted to start with Doku on the left wing. United had a lot more players sidelined, Harry Maguire the latest casualty to join the likes of Wan Bissaka, Martinez and Shaw in the physio room, leaving Ten Haag with few options defensively. It meant that Varane was partnered with thirty six year old Jonny Evans, who last played in this particular fixture for United in December 2012. They also opted to play without a recognized striker; Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho would start on the wings with Bruno Fernandes playing as a false nine.

City started the game strongly, and it was clear what United’s game plan was early on. Soak up pressure and hit City on the break, particularly with the City back line playing a high line. And it appeared to work really well for the first half hour. In fact, it took only 8 minutes to break the deadlock; Bruno Fernandes did well to hold up a long kick from Onana, teeing up Rashford to strike from distance and score with a scintillating strike. They got behind Man City’s line a few times after that too, but Rashford and Garnacho were somewhat wasteful with the few opportunities they were presented with.

City on the other hand had the bulk of the possession and enjoyed particular freedom on the left flank with Doku in particular trying to carve out the defence, but United defended well, and Onana was called upon when needed. And when Haaland missed a sitter on the stroke of half time, there would have a been a few watching thinking that this could just be Man United’s day.

But the second half started, and United started dropping back further and further as City turned the screw. Kevin De Bruyne in what was not his best game ever, was popping up all over the attacking third trying to create something. Haaland too was fairly anonymous, waiting for chance and chance go begging. And so it was up to another attacker to take it upon himself to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Phil Foden, still only twenty three though we feel like we’ve seen him for a decade now, curled a wonderful strike past Onana on 56 minutes thanks to a wonderful one-two with Rodri, and the game was on. Julian Alvarez came on for the tiring and ineffective Doku to add a new flavor to the City attack, and they attacked potently. Yet United still repelled them. At least for a further twenty minutes. And it was that man again, Phil Foden, this time combining with Alvarez to slot a low and hard shot past Onana, this time from the left side, to give City the lead.

Many would have though United would put up more of a fight; they hadn’t managed a single shot in the entire second half yet, but their substitutions did little to worry the City defence; Antony’s main contribution in his 15minutes was to be caught offside three times. And right at the death, Haaland got his goal thanks to an error from Amrabat, another new signing who has been unflattering all season to say the least.

City deserved the three points, and it was really their own doing that it took them so long to pierce the stubborn United defence. Everyone had been talking of De Bruyne and Haaland being the key men to take City to victory, but Pep will take solace in the fact that they have another difference maker in Foden who has the capacity to turn games like this. England fans will be licking their lips too with the Euros coming up in a few months.

United host Everton next weekend in the league, and following that, they host Liverpool in the FA Cup. With it being their only hope of silverware this season, they have to go all out in that game if they are to salvage their season, having slipped six points below fifth placed Tottenham.

Much bigger tests are to come in the coming weeks for the Cityzens though. Next weekend, after a midweek Champions League tie, they travel to Anfield in the league in a mouth watering clash at the top of the table, and their following league cup is a home tie to Arsenal. It will be a defining few weeks in the Premier League title race; its so rare to there to be a three-horse race at this stage of the season.

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