Manchester United overcame their biggest problem to beat Man City

January 14, 2023

Man Utd beat Man City 2-1 at Old Trafford in the Manchester derby thanks to goals from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford…

Marcus Rashford’s winner was the cue for a Manchester City staff member to vacate his seat. Amid the euphoria, some United supporters noticed the crest on his tracksuit and did not let him off. He was goaded him as he skulked down the gangways.

Getting one over on City is what United supporters have been accustomed to for most of their supporting lives. This one will live long in the memory; a modern comeback as stirring as Maine Road in 1993 and the Etihad in 2018.

Erik ten Hag wheeled away in celebration so wildly when Rashford struck he almost ended up in the Stretford End. Scott McTominay and Lisandro Martinez, prepared to come on at 1-0 down, popped their bibs back on at 1-1 and mobbed Rashford at 2-1 in front of the throng of Reds. The City end was as silent as a grave.

Raphael Varane turned cheerleader at full-time, lofting his arms in the air to cheers time and again. A smiling Wout Weghorst took it all in from the directors’ box, moving nearer to the supporters.

With City supporters locked in, United’s enjoyed their own lock-in up the other end, serenading Rashford. He will have heard it in the dressing room.

City will stew over Bruno Fernandes’s equaliser when he latched onto a pass intended for the offside Rashford, who carefully avoided contact with the ball. That was more of an assist than Casemiro’s piercing pass. The City analysts were still carping on about it with former midfielder Michael Brown after full time.

The game was ultimately decided inside those freznied four minutes. Fernandes scored, was flagged, the goal was confirmed and City, still affronted to be level, were suddenly behind. City will rue not turning the screw at 1-0, particularly given the lack of game-changers Ten Hag had to turn to.

Ten Hag was on the pitch in the final minute, cajoling Alejandro Garnacho. What Pep Guardiola did with the goalscorer Jack Grealish Ten Hag did with Garnacho, the creator of Rashford’s poached winner. The 18-year-old is already one of the league’s most effective game-changers.

United have responded resoundingly to sceptics who have queried their recent winning run. Ten Hag has claimed the scalps of Klopp, Arteta, Conte and Guardiola before the halfway stage and they are a point behind City and six off leaders Arsenal.

For the first time since Jose Mourinho’s maiden campaign, United have won nine successive games. This was by far the most stirring and pivotal, the team’s maturity patent three months after they found themselves 6-1 down at City after 64 minutes.

Ten Hag has imbued United with resilience. They overcame a setback with the half-time withdrawal of the paradoxical Anthony Martial, whose worth increases when he is off the pitch. His departure upset United’s balance, City probed, Guardiola introduced a £100million asset and Grealish nodded in on the hour.

Grealish, seemingly destined for the Manchester of United three years ago, once tweeted his support for the reds over the blues as a teenager yet was jubilant in savouring his first Manchester derby goal. At the finale, he was the most narked by United’s triumph, going toe-to-toe with Lisandro Martinez.

For United, their attacking woes were ultimately masked. Guardiola could have introduced Julian Alvarez or Ilkay Gundogan to sharpen the front six. Ten Hag inexplicably included the harmless Anthony Elanga on a bench that featured three centre halves.

Rashford appeared certain to be substituted at the break, having gone down. United cannot do without the Wythenshawe goalscorer, who has now struck in nine consecutive home games.

Goals have been hard to come by all season for United and their lack of ruthlessness was punished by the champions. Had Weghorst been on the bench, Ten Hag might still have turned to the flaky Antony as an auxiliary centre forward. United will have to contend with dubious attacking depth until late May. They have rallied impressively in the first half of the season.

Rashford, so clinical of late, had two presentable openings for a fifth derby goal at 0-0. Amid a cold snap in England, Rashford snapped, clutching his groin. He soldiered on for the final five minutes of the half but Ten Hag had already collared Antony.

Antony warmed up in his kit at the pause only Rashford re-emerged and Martial was withdrawn. Martial had audibly irked the supporters twice over his unwillingness to press and, whatever the fitness concerns, it is impossible to discern whether the Frenchman is injured. He would almost certainly not have positioned himself as expertly as Rashford did for his decisive goal.

Weghorst, sat in the directors’ box with his wife and children after his signing was confirmed nine hours after the deadline to participate, can expect more playing time with Martial substituted in the ninth game running. His consistent run has been a reminder of how inconsistent Martial is. Only Martial’s absence compromises United approach.

United did not learn every lesson from the Etihad, where their wingers abandoned the full-backs. Their four forwards were detached from the defence as City boxed them in and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was distracted by Erling Haaland, allowing the untracked Grealish to ghost in.

Haaland was otherwise ineffectual. Varane and Luke Shaw, an unlikely defensive axis, did not get a clean sheet but did get the win and Shaw’s defending in added time was Herculean.

“Haaland, Haaland, how’s your dad?” enquired the Stretford End. Roy Keane ensured Alf-Inge Haaland would not forget his last appearance at the stadium. “Keano, Keano, Keano,” the United fans chanted. Yorkshire-born Kalvin Phillips was not spared during his warm-up, either, branded a “fat b—–d”.

Guardiola’s tease that he was considering a “ridiculous” tactic was a smokescreen and City’s line-up conventional. Ten Hag moved the pieces by recalling Shaw at centre-back and relocating Fernandes to the right flank, with Christian Eriksen in the No.10 position. That accommodated Fred in a tighter midfield than the porous pair in the reverse fixture and, not for the first time, Fred thrived in a derby.

Ten Hag was so conscious of City’s sterile domination in the opening stages he beckoned United higher up the pitch, conscious they were conceding too much territory. Haaland dropped so deep he was almost on the toes of City centre-backs Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake, causing uncertainty at the opposite end. Varane started to track Haaland and Casemiro dropped back next to Shaw.

De Bruyne skinned Fred in front of the north stand but the Brazilian prevailed in their next two duels, the latter eliciting a roar from the Stretford End, who soundtracked the derby with some Hacienda by chorusing to “Fred will tear you apart again” to the Joy Division classic.