Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-1 in a crucial Premier League match at Old Trafford on Saturday to move within a point of Pep Guardiola’s side in the league table.
Manchester City are still second with 39 points from 18 matches, but Manchester United have closed the gap considerably and are third with 38 points from the same number of matches.
Moreover, Erik ten Hag’s team have won16 of their last 19 matches and have also won each of their last nine matches across all competitions.
We now take a look at two things that stood out in the match:
Manchester United should have scored in the first half itself with their refreshing approach
Manchester United looked a completely different side from the team that were thrashed 3-6 by the Citizens at the Etihad in October. They were helped by a sedate start by the visitors, whose front three comprising of Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez managed only five touches between themselves during the initial 15 minutes as their defenders kept playing passes among themselves inside their own half.
The home side, meanwhile, could have gone ahead by a couple of goals as Rashford was set free by long balls from inside their own half, but was denied by a goal-line clearance on one occasion and could not get past Ederson on the second.
Still, it became quite apparent United would continue to pose a serious threat through their counter-attacks. Ten Hag decided to start with a 4-2-3-1, with Fred partnering Casemiro as a defensive midfielder and Bruno Fernandes and Rashford playing on the left and right flanks, respectively. Christian Eriksen played as the No. 10 with his enviable passing range and Anthony Martial started as the centre-forward.
Fred was given the unenviable job of marking the talismanic Kevin de Bruyne and did a commendable job at that in the first half. Casemiro kept playing as the auxiliary centre-back and also came up with vital interceptions and, on one occasion, a crucial block.
City started having more players inside the opposition half only towards the latter part of the first half but could not register a shot on target during the first 45 minutes, with Kyle Walker’s ambitious shot, which missed the target by some margin, being their only attempt.
Manchester City looked different after the break, but United’s resolve was exemplary
Manchester City meant business right after the break and their full-backs started going into the overlap more often. De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva spread out to the right and left flanks, respectively, to combine with the full-backs.
For a brief passage of play in the second half, City had more than 80 percent possession and threatened to score at any time. However, they had to wait till the 60th minute to break the deadlock when De Bruyne played a one-two with Walker before surging into the box to play a perfect cross to Grealish, who had come in as a substitute minutes earlier, for the latter to head home.
Any lesser team would have buckled under the pressure and the weight of the undeniable quality in City’s line-up. However, United under Ten Hag are a different beast and responded in the best possible way.
First it was Casemiro who played a through pass that sliced open City’s defense and almost went to Rashford, who was in an offside position. However, he did not touch the ball and allowed Fernandes to shoot the ball past Ederson. The City players protested but the offside rules was in favor of United.
Even before City recovered from the setback, Fernandes played yet another long ball to Alejandro Garnacho, who had earlier replaced Erikson as Fernandes switched to the role of the No. 10, ran down the left flank to play a cross into the box that rebounded off a defender and came to him again.
Garnacho then dodged past a City defender to send a pass in that found the lurking Rashford, who made no mistake in tapping in.
Ten Hag introduced defensive players like Lisandro Martinez, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay to ensure safety. But there were not enough crosses played from the flanks by City players to make full use of Haaland’s presence as United reduced the deficit both in terms of points and the confidence required to win a marathon league.