Whatever happened to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United – and few have been betting on long stay – you thought that at least he would always have Paris. That giddy, spring night back in March where an outstanding performance and a 3-1 win over Paris St Germian sent United into the Champions League quarter finals, secured Solskjaer the manager’s job. Yet it also precipitated the collapse in the form that has brought so much uncertainty to his future.
Well now he has something to equal Paris, perhaps even to surpass that night. He has an evening to remember at the Etihad, a performance which surpassed anything his team has produced under his reign and a derby victory that will live long in the memory.
They may not celebrate allowing Liverpool to move an astonishing 14 points clear. Yet pretty much everything else was as perfect as you can imagine for the red half of Manchester. The score-line made it look close. In reality, in as scintillating a display of football as we have seen this season. United took Man City apart in the opening 30 minutes. They should have been 4-0 up. Perhaps the fact that it was only two indicates the underlying weaknesses. But this was the United the club envisioned when Solskjaer was appointed: audacious, exhilarating, fearless. They were a throwback, even if this was victory conceived in counter attack excellence.
Marcus Rashford gave Manchester United a deserved 1-0 lead with a coolly-taken penalty in the first half at The Etihad
Minutes later, Anthony Martial swivelled and dispatched a left foot shot inside the near post to double United’s lead
City dominated the second half but they were unable to spark a comeback despite Nicolas Otamendi’s late header
Rashford and de Gea embraced after full time as United withstood a late onslaught from the Premier League champions
MATCH FACTS AND LIVE TABLE
Man City (4-3-3) Ederson 7; Walker, 6 Fernandinho, 5 Stones 5 (Otamendi 59 6.5), Angelino 4; De Buryne, 6 Rodri 5, D Silva 7; B Silva, 5 (Mahrez 65, 6.5)Jesus, 5 Sterling 5
Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy Cancelo, Foden
Man Utd (4-3-3) De Gea 7; Wan-Bissaka 8.5, Lindelof 8, Maguire 8.5, Shaw 7.5 (Young 88); McTominay, 7.5 Lingard, 8 (Tuanzebe, 88) Fred 8; James, 9 Martial 8 (Pereira 74, 6.5), Rashford 8.5
Subs: Romero, Mata, Greenwood, Williams
Ref: Anthony Taylor 6
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There are times when Manchester City, for all their consistent excellence, simply disintegrate. Pep Guardiola is so convinced of the his tactical plan, so bold in its execution, that perhaps he forgets he’s playing 34-year-old Fernandinho and an unsteady John Stones as centre halves. As such, asking Angelino taking up a position on the left wing, with Kyle Walker also getting forward (though he, at least, showed some caution) might seem unnecessarily brave.
Perhaps they expected the United that turned up at Bournemouth away last month? They got something quite different. This was the dashing, audacious team that emerged this time last year when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first took over.
More than that, though. That opening thirty minutes was Solskjaer’s finest tactical moment ain his reign so far. We have seen Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool do this to City or Real Madrid and Barcelona do it to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. But Solskjaer has yet to prove he exists in such exalted coaching heights. But here was a game plan perfectly designed and superbly implemented
Pep Guardiola’s side were undone by a perfectly executed gameplan designed by United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Scott McTominay was instrumental for Manchester United once again after a super display in the win over Tottenham
Fred, who has struggled so often this season, impressed as he hustled and harried City’s midfielders in the opening 30 mins
Jesse Lingard went close with an early effort as the pace and movement of United’s front four cut City open time and again
City, for a thirty minute spell, were cut asunder. Scott McTominay and Fred were willing water carriers in midfield, sitting deep, picking up scraps. Yet as soon as they done so, they delivered the ball into Lingard, Rashford, Martial and James. They may be raw, they might not be the world’s greatest attacking force but they are quick. How they showed it here.
Time and time again they exposed Angelino at left back and City’s back four in general. United sat off City, ensured they didn’t lose the ball high up the pitch but simply played quick, direct balls straight to their front men. It was steal straight from Klopp’s playbook but that won’t massively worry United.
As early as the second minute James was played in wide right and shot straight at Ederson when he should have scored. On eight minutes Rashford strode away from City’s chasing players, played a lovely inside pass to Lingard who, again, found Ederson rather than the net. On 16 minutes, Rashford drilled the ball to James, who sprinted away, played in Martial whose shot was again saved by Ederson. Yet the pattern was clear. City had no answer.
United were awarded a penalty on 23 minutes following a VAR review after Rashford was bundled over by Benardo Silva
Rashford showed wonderful composure as he sent Ederson the wrong way at the end of a stuttered run up
Rashford has now scored 16 goals in 27 games in all competitions this season and four in his last four games
Thus it was no surprise when Rashford, dribbling with pace inside the area, won himself a penalty after being barged aside by Bernardo Silva, even if it took the VAR to give it. City were discombobulated and it showed. Rashford is pretty cool in these situations. From Paris to Moscow, he had kept his head while other are losing theirs. The cacophony of boos and whistle emanating from around the Etihad appeared not to faze him. He stuttered and put it away from Ederson into the right hand corner.
Another superb chance arrived on 25 minutes, United countering through Lingard and Martial, yet on this occasion Rashford did lose his head, passing his shot well wide rather than adding the second. He did better on 27 minutes: played in by James, he curled a ball towards the top corner only to see it rebound off the bar. City were utterly helpless by this stage.
United’s second on 29 minutes underscored the point,. Initially it looked as though the moment had gone, when Martial failed to play in James. Yet the pair took stock, weighed up their options and simply played a series of passes around Fernandinho and Angelino at the end of which Martial drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
Six minutes after Rashford’s opener, Martial made it 2-0 when he deceived Ederson with a brilliant near post finish
Minutes after Martial’s goal, Gabriel Jesus squandered a chance to pull a goal back when he headed wide of goal
City also saw a strong appeal for a penalty dismissed by VAR after Fred had handled Kyle Walker’s cross from the right wing
There had to be reaction. It came belatedly in the half, on 38 minutes, when Kevin De Bruyne swung in a cross for Gabriel Jesus. It was pretty much the first time a compact United line had been breached, but the Brazilian headed wide.
Everything was turning against City. In added time of the half, it seemed their moment had come when Walker drilled in a cross and Fred slipped and handled. United, who should have been 4-0 up, would surely be deflated by a penalty now. But both Anthony Taylor and the VAR ruled it sufficiently accidental to let it go unpunished.
The second half would, naturally, be very different tactical beast. This was where the defensive block came into play. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were excellent but Aaron Wan Bissaka excelled against Raheem Sterling, imposing both physique and personality on the England winger.
Aaron Wan Bissaka excelled against Raheem Sterling, imposing both physique and personality on the England winger
City applied pressure in the second half and pulled a goal back late on when Otamendi headed past David De Gea
Victory gives Solskjaer further credibility on the back of an impressive 2-1 win over Tottenham on Wednesday night
Rashford climbed over the advertising boards to give his match shirt to a United fan after the final whistle
Pretty much every corner City attempted to play long was headed away by Maguire – up until the 85th minute that was. When it looked as though De Bruyne was in to score on 56 minutes – his shot was away and the net about to ripple – it was Lindelof who slid in desperately and deflected it away, a little punch of the air indicating his satisfaction and the importance of the moment.
A few minutes later, when Lindelof lost the ball to Sterling and the winger cut across the penalty area searching for a chance to shot, it was Wan-Bissaka who got a crucial foot in to turn it away. Maguire then blocked Bernardo Silva a minute later. And when Rodri struck from long range, David De Gea flew to his right to tip over. United knew what kind of half they were in for, yet they were ready.
They held on until the 85th minute, when a De Bruyne corner swung in to meet the head of Nicolas Otamendi to set up a thrilling finale. Within a minute, De Gea was having to dive to his right to save from Mahrez. Yet United would hold on for their finest hour thus far under Solskjaer.