Football Features

“Martial echoes the greats” – Five things learned as Man Utd complete first league double in a decade over Man City

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:02, 8 March 2020

After an incredible evening of football, Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-0 at Old Trafford.

The win keeps United well in touch with Chelsea in the race for the top four and marks the Red Devils‘ first league double over the Sky Blues for an entire decade. What did we learn?

1. Bruno reclaims Old Trafford

United have won just two of their 9 home Manchester derbies in the Premier League this decade, and only one of those since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. They have struggled mightily at Old Trafford, where Pep Guardiola won three derbies in a row before Sunday. They were torn apart in the EFL Cup here and the Sky Blues just seem to relish playing in their rivals’ back yard.

Bruno Fernandes has quickly become a talismanic figure at Old Trafford because he has lifted the mood around the club by being the iconic playmaker that United have been crying out for since Paul Pogba‘s first season ended in Europa League triumph. Since then injuries and managerial belitting have reduced Pogba’s effectiveness and United have suffered his absence. Fernandes makes them forget that, and today he has took another leaf out of Pogba‘s book by guiding United to a phenomenal derby win.

Fernandes didn’t get United the win with goals as Pogba did, but instead through a mesmeric bit of ingenuity. After winning a free-kick with some canny play, the Portuguese then faked out the Man City defence with a gorgeous, utterly spellbinding chipped pass behind a sleeping Man City defence that Anthony Martial ran onto and volleyed home. Now, Martial’s shot was weak and Ederson should have saved it, but the sheer genius that was his pass, the audacity to try it and the technique to pull it off, was worth a goal all on its own.

After five years, United have finally got their stadium back and it’s thanks to Fernandes. Both for his individual genius in creating the first goal and his talismanic impact in terms of lifting the Red Devils up and giving them their swagger back.

2. City’s channel problem

Man City’s defence has been shocking this season. The Sky Blues have scored 68 goals this season, the most in the Premier League. Yet despite that massive haul their goal difference is just 38. For the mathematicians out there, yes, that means they’ve conceded 30 goals. That’s more than in both of their two title-winning campaigns (27 and 23) and Man City still have 10 games left to play.

Now this has been down to many factors but chief among them is the left side of their defence specifically the channel between centre-back and left-back. Aymeric Laporte’s injury has exposed how thin Man City’s defensive options are, and even though Fernandinho has filled in admirably the presence of Nico Otamendi is as much of a problem as Man City’s left-back issue.

Man City won the Premier League in 2017/18 with Fabian Delph at left-back and in 2018/19 with Oleksandr Zinchenko there. However, these were both stop-gap measures at best as their star signing Benjamin Mendy has had such a problematic run with injuries.

United brutally exposed this channel time and time again and with some smarter play from Daniel James, the Red Devils could have really put a hurt on the defending Premier League champions today. Man City obviously need to address their defence by signing one or two centre-backs but the biggest thing they need is a stud left-back, someone with genuine world-class talent that they can rely on.

Man Utd’s average positions vs Man City

3. Martial echoes the greats

Martial has always been an inconsistent player, despite his individual genius he has never managed to score more than 11 goals in a Premier League campaign. Today he scored his 11th goal of the season so far, which means that with nine games left he has already equalled his best-ever tally and is ready to make new records.

That 11th goal essentially won the game on Sunday. Now whilst it definitely had an element of luck to it as Ederson should have saved the shot which went straight at him, hitting the volley so sharply was impressive enough of a feat – especially as it was the Manchester derby.

The derby is one of the biggest matches of United’s season, a contest where it’s rare for a Red Devil to score both home and away. The last player to do before Martial managed the feat on Sunday was Cristiano Ronaldo. Martial also became the second United player to score in three consecutive Manchester derby starts in the Premier League – who did it before him? Eric Cantona.

Anthony Martial’s touch map vs Man City

Equalling Ronaldo and Cantona with one single goal, a single goal that essentially won a Manchester derby, is a phenomenal achievement. When Marcus Rashford went down injured, Martial had to step up and become a great goalscorer rather than a scorer of great goals. On Sunday, he took yet another colossal step to finally coming close to fulfilling his potential at Old Trafford.

4. VA-blah

It’s kind of old hat to talk about about VAR negatively these days, but the Premier League‘s implementation of it is so absurdly flawed that you can’t not bring it up. At Old Trafford we had a poor refereeing performance that was begging to be corrected by VAR, but no interventions were made to overturn on-field decisions.

Those decisions include but were not limited to: the free-kick from which United opened the scoring (it wasn’t a foul), the precision offside call on Sergio Aguero’s goal which was utter nonsense, and of course the most absurd of all was Fred being booked for diving despite the fact that he was clearly kicked in the shin by Otamendi. Mike Dean ruled a dive, which was bad, but how did VAR not correct him? It’s that kind of nonsense that has people thinking so poorly about VAR.

Man Utd’s passing sonars vs Man City

5. Solskjaer vs. Guardiola: differing priorities

Not to excuse Man City getting tuned up by United for the third time this season, because that is absolutely ridiculous and beating Guardiola three times in a single season is not something that is done. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the second manager to do so after Jurgen Klopp in 2017/18, but the match today revealed the differing priorities for both of these sides.

Man City played with a lack of sharpness and focus that they have shown in other competitions, such as when they obliterated United at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup. Ederson’s two goalkeeping mistakes were uncharacteristic for him and showed that Man City weren’t completely on it. Their focus is understandably on the Champions League and the FA Cup.

Aguero didn’t look too bothered, Guardiola didn’t rush Kevin de Bruyne back from injury and Man City didn’t exactly beat David de Gea’s door down when trying to get back into the match.

Sure, if Raheem Sterling didn’t turn to a big puddle of goo in front of the United goal then you never know what could have happened, but there wasn’t the same amount of energy you’d expect.

And then you look at how United fought tooth and nail to pick up the win, desperately clawing for every inch they could get. They needed this win to keep pace with Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Solskjaer has now won more games against Guardiola than anyone besides Klopp and José Mourinho. That’s impressive, whatever else you want to say about the Norwegian manager. His priority was getting a win on Sunday, and by hook or by crook, he got what he wanted.

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