Ger McCarthy looks at the three things we learned as Man City beat Man United 2-0.
Pep Guardiola didn’t need reminding that failure to defeat United would hand the initiative to Liverpool in the tightest of Premier League title races.
Manchester City were facing an opponent with a new-look back five and one that had gone 11 consecutive matches without a clean sheet for the first time since 1998. An inability to break through United’s rearguard meant the visitors failed to grab the lead inside the opening 15 minutes for the first time since early March.
Other title challengers might have panicked or resorted to more a more direct approach. Not Pep Guardiola and not this Manchester City team.
Staying true to their values, the visitors’ ability to switch play from one side of the pitch to the other and find space in the tightest of channels helped prise open United’s defence for Bernardo Silva’s opener. The swiftness of the build-up to Leroy Sane’s goal underlined the raw speed at City’s disposal.
Guardiola and his players now know that victories over Burnley, Leicester City and Brighton will deliver a fourth Premier League title.
Ole’s got a lot of work to do
Deploying a 5-3-2 formation and reintroducing Matteo Darmian for the first time since the previous December, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s intentions were clear from the opening whistle.
Luke Shaw and Ashley Young had licence to get forward whilst a three-man midfield pressed as high up the pitch as possible. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard’s selections represented a more fluid attack than United’s previous humiliation at Goodison Park.
Solskjaer’s tactics had the desired affect and surprisingly helped his side dominate possession for the opening half an hour. Crucially, the home side were unable to make their opportunities count and began to look vulnerable once tiredness set in.
United toiled hard but simply couldn’t live with the pace and intelligence of their opponents movement.
This was a much improved performance but then the bar was low considering how poorly Solskjaer’s team has played in recent weeks. In truth, the past month has shown that the off-field issues during Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous reign are still present.
The next two transfer windows are the most important in Manchester United’s history. Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be under intense scrutiny as United look for a return to the glory years under Alex Ferguson. It may be a long wait.
The de Gea problem
Manchester United and relegated Fulham share one of the worst defensive records in this season’s Premier League. Both clubs have managed a paltry two clean sheets on their home ground during the entire 2018-19’ campaign.
David de Gea was at fault for Manchester City’s second goal and been a shadow of his former self since news broke of a possible transfer away from Old Trafford.
The Spaniard’s erratic handling and wayward distribution has unsettled an already nervous looking Manchester United back four in recent weeks. Perhaps a move back to Spain would be best for both player and club.