Football Features

De Gea the king-maker? Five things learned from Man Utd 0-2 Man City

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:24, 24 April 2019

In a well-fought night, Manchester City won 0-2 against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The win sent Pep Guardiola’s men to the top of the table again and consigned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to his seventh defeat in his last nine games (their worst run since 1972). What did we learn?

1. Brilliant Bernardo

Virgil van Dijk and Raheem Sterling are the ones going head-to-head for the Player of the Year award, with Fernandinho and Sadio Mané as the hipster’s choices. But what about Bernardo Silva? The man who has quietly been so excellent that he is now City’s best right-winger but also probably their best centre-midfielder.

The Portuguese spent most of 2017/18 as a substitute or back-up option, but has been instrumental in everything City has done this season. And tonight, he was the man most often looking to make things happen, always trying to penetrate the gaps in the United defence. In the second half he simply took it upon himself, weaving Luke Shaw inside and out before slamming it hard and low in at the near-post. Silva was more than just his goal, but that goal was so decisive in a big moment that maybe people will finally have to give him his due.

2. David de Where?

If it were to come out that, after the first leg against Barcelona in the Champions League, David de Gea agreed a move to another club this summer and was just waiting for his new side to agree a fee with Manchester United, a lot of people would believe you. That sounds far-fetched but what else would explain De Gea’s complete lack of focus during United’s biggest week in a couple of years?

De Gea let in some absurdly soft goals against Barcelona and Everton, and tonight he was at it again. Bernardo Silva’s opening goal was shot early and well-disguised, sure, but how did De Gea leave such a massive gap at his near-post? Later on in the half on the other side of goal a Leroy Sané thunderbolt of a shot hit him and went in, a year ago he would have saved that with ease.

The Spaniard has now made three errors leading to a goal this season, that’s the most in his entire career. It’s also the first time since 1915 that Manchester United have conceded more than 50 goals in a season! 1915!! Over a century ago! That is extremely worrying for a goalkeeper who just last season was as good if not better than the world’s finest over in La Liga. De Gea looks lost, and unless United can help him find himself again they’ll be going nowhere fast.

3. Ole’s satnav works

It’s very easy to crack jokes at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s expense, especially when he does weird stuff like make United train at their old training ground The Cliff in order to inspire some greatness out of them. But despite the way the game went, he did get the tactics right.

The best way to truly stifle a Guardiola 4-3-3 is to string five defenders across the pitch. This way you have a centre-back for each forward whilst still having wing-backs to handle the opposing full-backs. Basically you have all the defensive gaps plugged across the pitch.

The downside is that this can neuter your attack, but for United it works because it allows you to play two more defensive, hard-working midfield options next to Paul Pogba who is allowed to charge forward and link with the two fast forwards.

It makes so much sense on paper, but things just couldn’t come together given United’s current slump in form, and then two bits of soft goalkeeping saw the game get away from them. Ole is at the wheel and his satnav is giving him the right directions, but his tire burst!

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4. Kompany is yesterday’s man

The match didn’t go all City’s way, however, and a large part of that was mostly because of how uncomfortable Manchester United were able to make City – particularly in their build-up phase during the first-half. And a lot of that (and their success on the break) was through exploiting Vincent Kompany.

Let’s get it straight: the Belgian has been an absolute colossus for Manchester City over the years. A fantastic captain and a dominant defensive presence. He’s actually scored two goals against United (along with Liverpool, the only clubs he’s scored twice against) but today he looked very much like a passenger on City’s hype train.

His passing has never been masterful but it was sloppy today. He was so easily panicked when pressed and he just couldn’t get City going in the same way that even Nico Otamendi is able to, nevermind John Stones!

5. City’s title to lose

City’s win puts them one point clear at the top of the table with just three games left to play. Now, away trips to Burnley and Brighton won’t exactly be gimmies with so much on the line. But they will be winnable matches and they lack the enormous scale and stature of, say, a match against Spurs or the Manchester Derby.

These two games were the big tests that City had to pass, and they managed to do so with… if not flying colours then at least a fairly brisk jog colours. Three goals scored, no goals conceded. Tonight against United they dealt with a tricky first half where The Red Devils gave City as good as they got, but in the second half they upped the tempo and Fernandinho’s injury actually helped them because it had Pep bring on Leroy Sané and that added pace and width as well as Bernardo Silva in the middle of the pitch ended up turning the tide in City’s favour.

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