Premier League: Ole Outwits Pep to Win Derby Day
Manchester City 0-2 Manchester United
The pre-match narrative had been written.
Yes, this was a Manchester derby, yes there would be passion and intensity.
Yes, this was one of the biggest rivalries in world football, one which took on a new definitive chapter once the sky blue half of Manchester was taken over by a billionaire in 2008, ushering in the most successful spell in the club’s history.
However, this was Premier League derby day with a difference.
A lack of spectators and 14 point gap between the sides at kick-off ensured that.
After all, we were told (understandably) that Manchester United were more concerned with finishing in the top four than genuinely chasing down their rivals across town.
After all, we were told (understandably) that Manchester City – who had made it 20 wins on the spin against West Ham last weekend before seeing off Wolves for number 21 in midweek – were in a league of their own.
In those 21 consecutive victories, they had scored 55 goals and conceded eight. Indeed, they were two wins from equalling the longest wining streak ever recorded in a top five European league – set by Bayern Munich (23 consecutive victories last year).
So, the Premier League betting odds were strongly in favour of the runaway league leaders against opponents who had only won once in their previous five matches.
What followed went against all of the narrative.
Highlights of the game
The earlier league meeting just before Christmas was largely forgettable as a spectacle and ended in a derby stalemate at Old Trafford, so it wasn’t going to take too much to become a more exciting contest as far as Premier League highlights were concerned.
What we didn’t know was that the drama would arrive so quickly.
The first whistle had scarcely blown and a home player had not even touched the ball when it was blown again as the lively Anthony Martial was bundled to the floor and United had a penalty kick.
The outcome was inevitable as Bruno Fernandes despatched the spot-kick with aplomb, despite the best efforts of goalkeeper Ederson.
City were clearly a little stunned at United’s quick-fire start and they needed the Brazilian again after quarter of an hour as Fred found Marcus Rashford and his shot from distance was saved.
Inevitably, City would attack and Ederson’s opposite number Dean Henderson dealt with a shot from left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko before tipping over a dangerous free-kick from Kevin de Bruyne.
United remained disciplined, although would have been relieved on the stroke of half-time when de Bruyne fed Riyad Mahrez and the Algerian’s shot flew narrowly wide of the far post with Gabriel Jesus close to converting.
The fine margins that can make all the difference in football were evident at the start of the second period.
Three minutes after the restart saw Jesus tee up Rodri only for the Spanish midfielder’s effort to cannon back off the crossbar.
Then, just two minutes later, United counter-attacked with deadly effect to double their lead.
It was a move started by goalkeeper Henderson who threw the ball out wide with pace to the marauding Luke Shaw who drove forward with his own turn of pace, exchanging passes with Rashford before taking a touch and sweeping the ball through Rodri’s legs into the far corner.
What could easily have been a home equaliser was suddenly a two-goal advantage and United had some daylight.
The importance of Ederson to City was emphasised midway through the second half as Scott McTominay and Ruben Dias collided on the edge of the box and the ball fell to Martial who was denied one-on-one by the shot-stopper.
The loss of Rashford to injury 18 minutes from time was a worrying sight for the visitors, so important is he to the United cause, even more so with Edinson Cavani among their absentees at the moment.
As he was replaced by youngster Mason Greenwood, it was another exciting young English talent who came close as City’s Phil Foden, also a substitute, ran at the United defence.
If that was fairly near to reducing the arrears, the runaway league leaders went even closer moments later as another sub, Kyle Walker, delivered a pinpoint cross only for Victor Lindelof to deflect the ball through Raheem Sterling’s legs with the forward set to pounce.
City kept probing but United kept them out to ensure their neighbours’ superb 21-match winning run was over.
Manchester United players celebrate after Luke Shaw scored their second goal against Manchester City
As results go, this will not have any impact on the outcome of this season’s title. Pep Guardiola’s City are already champions-elect and we’re only in the first week of March.
But this was a real example of attitude and character and one man so often under fire, not least from this SBOTOP observer, deserves much credit.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium three times in the past 15 months – he’s won the lot!
Solskjær is the first manager in United’s history to win each of his first three away meetings in all competitions with Manchester City.
Fernandes’ penalty was the 92nd in the top flight this term, equalling the same number from the entirety of last season.
After 101 seconds, Fernandes’ spot-kick was the earliest goal that City have ever conceded in a league match at the Etihad Stadium. It is also the first they have conceded within two minutes at home since Steed Malbranque for Fulham at Maine Road in January 2003.
Shaw has been directly involved in six Premier League goals this season (one goal, five assists) – his most in a single season in the competition.
United have won four of their past five league and cup games away to City.
Eight of the past 11 Manchester derbies in all competitions have been won by the away side.
United are the only side in one of the top five European leagues yet to lose an away league match this season.
They are unbeaten in 22 Premier League away games (won 14, drawn eight), five short of the top-flight record set by Arsenal between 2003 and 2004.
The relentless schedule for both Manchester clubs continues apace.
City host Southampton on Wednesday (March 10) and then go to basement battlers Fulham on Saturday night in the Premier League.
United welcome AC Milan to Old Trafford in the Europa League on Thursday (March 11) and then West Ham three days later.
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This message was edited by SBOTOP on 08-Mar-2021 at 4:59 PM