Manchester United have all but ended the championship hopes of neighbours Manchester City following an impressive 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s men had no choice but to win this latest derby, the 179th in history, after watching Liverpool comfortably run out 3-0 winners at Bournemouth earlier today.
However, they couldn’t find the response as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s speed merchants Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial proved too good for the champions, which ultimately handed their fierce rivals from Merseyside a nice early Christmas present.
City, who displayed resilience in abundance, never faltered despite looking shabby early on and made the final minutes an interesting one after Nicolás Otamendi, on as a substitute, halved the deficit.
Naturally, there were individual winners and losers. Here are three of each from this encounter.
Winner: Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford headed into this showdown riding the crest of a wave. He’s arguably been Man Utd’s standout performer in a season where more questions have been asked of the record 20-time English champions under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s leadership. The former academy graduate, in his defence, has been operating at the required level, which across his previous seven league outings before this derby saw him register six goals.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 7, 2019
Make that a double for the season. Rashford’s penalty, just before the quarter hour mark, which he won – but had to be confirmed through VAR – saw him reach 10 goals for this Premier League season which matches last season’s output albeit playing 17 games fewer. In the past, Rashford spoke about wanting to be United’s ‘number nine’ but on today’s showing, where he deserved more than one goal, he’s more effective from the flanks.
Loser: Bernardo Silva
The penalty City conceded, which led to United’s opener, was a silly giveaway. The defending Premier League champions are seemingly undergoing a Jekyll-and-Hyde season. One week they are irresistible, playing some of the best stuff in Europe. But the following game, Pep Guardiola’s men look a shadow of themselves. Such inconsistency, coupled with Liverpool playing near-perfect football, has seen their crown slip as they now stare at a 14 point deficit and we are not even halfway through the season.
Chances of reeling the Reds back and overtaking them seem nigh on impossible, but stranger things have taken place before, such as Bernardo Silva’s attempted challenge on Rashford as he waltzed into the City penalty area. It was a forward’s tackle, one that he didn’t need to commit, which to be fair is keeping up with the atmosphere that has engulfed them of late. Something like this wouldn’t have occurred a year ago. Whatever is going on, they’ll need to find the source before a champions’ defence ends with them hanging onto a Champions League place.
Winner: Anthony Martial
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 7, 2019
A big reason why Rashford isn’t played down the middle by Solskjaer is because of what Anthony Martial provides them in terms of off the ball movement. His ability to play with his back to goal, something Rashford often struggles with, makes him a perfect foil in that number nine role, especially with equally speedy players around the French marksman.
This evening saw Dan James on the opposite flank and Jesse Lingard playing in the hole behind, the very kind of shape they deployed amid their best football under Solskjaer when he was serving as interim boss. His goal, a neat individual effort, was scored despite having a number of opposition players in his vicinity. Martial missed the recent 2-1 win over Spurs, he was subsequently replaced by teenage striker Mason Greenwood, but certainly made up for lost time.
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Loser: Pep Guardiola
It’s easy to forget that Pep Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City wasn’t a success given how good they’ve been from the summer of 2017 onward. That inaugural campaign saw them finish third, his worst league position in an illustrious 10-year career, across 38 league outings City were defeated on no fewer than six occasions which they haven’t come close to matching since.
It was four losses last season, a number City equalled following this latest setback, and two the season before with one of those being a 3-2 loss at home to Man Utd, meaning the Red Devils are the first team to inflict multiple defeats on City at the Etihad during the Guardiola era.
You can imagine there will be more losses this season considering how charitable their defence has been. Conversely, this loss will be greeted at Anfield and the King Power Stadium as Leicester City have emerged as Liverpool’s biggest obstacle between ending a championship drought stretching back to 1990.
Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Less than a week ago, Solskjaer was batting off suggestions that his time at Old Trafford should be coming to an end. He knew deep down inside the powers that be were still in his corner, but that goodwill from supporters was starting to ebb away following a poor 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, which came on the back of a 3-3 draw at Sheffield United – in both games they came from behind to snatch a point from the jaws of victory.
Manchester United are the first team to beat Manchester City multiple times at the Etihad in the Premier League under Pep Guardiola.
City 2-3 United
City 1-2 United
Manchester is RED. pic.twitter.com/brDDB4628G
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 7, 2019
So, with their next two fixtures being against Spurs (rejuvenated under former Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho) and City, no one could have foreseen them collecting all six points available. But here we are. Solskjaer has done the unthinkable. However, should this be so surprising? In the big games under their Norwegian coach, United rarely disappoint. On a personal level, this week is a small victory. How many can say they’ve beaten Mourinho and Guardiola in the space of a few days?
Loser: Gabriel Jesus
Sergio Aguero was in attendance this evening and you could see the anguish on his face as Man Utd raced to a 2-0 lead. He was powerless to do anything, and the same could be said for his replacement in Guardiola’s starting line-up. Aguero’s misfortune was meant to be Gabriel Jesus’ opportunity. He’s been second fiddle this season whenever the Argentine striker was available for duty, which no doubt frustrated him.
That changed recently at Newcastle United when Aguero began the first of what could be many games on the sideline. He’d fail to score across 84 minutes, before grabbing a brace away to Burnley, setting him up nicely for this evening’s derby which unfortunately for the home faithful saw him revert to an anonymous role especially when you consider Aguero’s record against Man Utd: nine goals across 14 matches in all competitions.