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And the Reds go marching on! Manchester United are absolutely flying at the moment and a convincing 2-0 victory over cross-town rivals Manchester City added win number seven to the 10 game unbeaten streak spanning across all competitions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
We have seen signs over the course of this season that suggested this United team was not all that far away from entering a good run of form. And as it turns out, the Reds were exactly a Bruno Fernandes signing away from going on the hottest streak of the season.
It’s now gotten to a point where you can no longer say this run is only down to good fortune. Going 10 games unbeaten, winning seven, and keeping clean sheets in eight is no fluke. It seems like things may finally be clicking for Solskjaer and his men — and at the perfect time.
Despite warnings that Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James would not feature, the trio started the match as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named another 5-3-2 formation in a big game. Brandon Williams also came back in from the Everton draw as Scott McTominay returned to the bench.
Manchester City made four changes to the side that narrowly made it past Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup Final with Claudio Bravo out for the usual league goalkeeper, Ederson. John Stones and Kyle Walker were replaced by Nicolas Otamendi and Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva replaced David Silva in the number 10 role.
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (c), Shaw, Williams, Matic, Fred, Fernandes, James, Martial
Ederson, Cancelo, Fernandinho, Otamendi, Zinchenko, Rodri, Gundogan, Foden, B. Silva, Sterling, Aguero
United came into the derby full of confidence — deservedly so — and in desperate need of another set of three points in the league to stay in the race for top four. The performance that followed was fantastic and worthy of the famous badge.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford felt different even through the TV screen. A sense of unity was oozing around the ground. This is easily the best period of the season for United and you could feel it in the fans too. But the one major difference right now is that the players seem ready for the moment.
There aren’t many, if any, passengers in this squad. Everyone is equally as ready to leave it all out there on the pitch and all 14 players who featured against City showed it in abundance. No second ball was given up, no pass went unchallenged, no tackle was put in on half-effort. The intensity was ever-present. This was a vintage United performance — just how it was written in the history books.
The difference that the acquisition of Fernandes has made on the whole football club was once again on show. Despite being played quite well by the visitors, often even doubled up on in certain areas of the pitch, the Portuguese midfielder produced one piece of magic that put the Theater of Dreams into a frenzy.
An expertly executed set-piece routine saw United’s No. 18 dink a perfectly weighted ball into the path of the alert Anthony Martial who then rifled a first-time volley straight into the net of Ederson. It was magnificent. Just like they practiced it. Old Trafford erupted. The Fernandes-Martial connection continues to blossom in front of our very eyes.
There is a swagger about Fernandes that’s contagious. It’s evidently rubbed off on all of his teammates and the way United carry themselves on the pitch. It can be seen in the defenders too.
Another spectacular defensive showing from the Reds, anchored by the skipper Harry Maguire who is finally coming into his own in a red shirt, and the omnipresent Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The young Englishman has not looked back since hitting the ground running on the day of his arrival at United and he put in another defensive clinic against Raheem Sterling and co. on Sunday evening.
City were dominant in possession, as per usual, but to no success. There was a lot of huffing and puffing, but no chances created. And United were able to eventually put the game to bed and lift the stadium off the ground.
Ederson, hoping to start a quick counter attack, overthrew the ball horribly while aiming for Benjamin Mendy and with it rolling straight into the path of the onrushing Scott McTominay who fired a first touch 40-yarder into the empty net, securing the points for the hosts. At that moment, the Richter scale at Old Trafford had to be registering abnormal movement. It was pandemonium.
The first league double in a decade over “The Noisy Neighbors” was complete. Solskjaer also became the second manager ever to record three wins over a Pep Guardiola managed side in the same season. And as much as at some points of the season the criticism of Solskjaer and his decisions has been warranted, on Sunday, credit was due and credit was given. It was yet another example of his tactical nous in a “big” game, with United further improving their stellar record and showing that there is a project in place. There has been progress. And it deserves to be backed and given time.
David De Gea: 8/10
A clean sheet, a couple of good saves, but overall, not a whole lot to do. City weren’t threatening enough thanks to a colossal effort from the back line and David had a relatively quiet day at the office.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka: 10/10
Sensational. Mr. Consistency. Ever so reliable. Raheem Sterling must hate the sight of United’s right back. Absolutely flawless defensively yet again in the derby and signs of improvement going forward are also beginning to show.
Victor Lindelof: 8.5/10
It was good to see a reassuring big game performance from the Swede. Read the game very well and brought the ball out from the back confidently.
Harry Maguire: 9/10
Colossal. A captain’s performance. United’s skipper has evidently hit form in recent weeks and it’s showing. He is leading this team from the back as United’s clean sheet count has improved to eight in the last 10 games.
Luke Shaw: 8.5/10
The resurrection continues. Seeing the rapid rise of his compatriot Brandon Williams, Luke rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Now, we are witnessing the effects. Another excellent performance as part of the back three, and late on in the game a good switch out onto the left to contain the dangerous Riyad Mahrez.
Brandon Williams: 8/10
Solid. It seems like perhaps the 19-year-old needed a bit of rest. He looked back to his reliable old self on Sunday. Controlled defensively and dangerous going forward in that wingback position.
Nemanja Matic: 9/10
Defensive midfield clinic. Another player who has seemingly found a second life under Solskjaer and is about to be rewarded with a new contract for it. And deservedly so. A great performance from the Serb, controlling the tempo and dictating the play from deep in the middle of the park.
Fantastic. The absolute leader of United’s engine room as of late. He just never stops running. Relentlessly works on and off the ball to get it back and retain it while also getting involved more in the final third as of late. A great season continues for the Brazilian.
Bruno Fernandes: 8.5/10
Our Portuguese Magnifico. City tried their best to keep his touches limited and they did a pretty good job for the most part. But great players always find a way to get involved — and Bruno did. He could have been slotted in to score on numerous occasions, he created a couple of chances for his teammates, and most importantly, he beautifully set up Martial’s opener.
Daniel James: 8/10
A very, very good performance from the Welshman. He finally looked light on his feet again. Re-energized. A nightmare for the left-hand side of City’s defense. Zinchenko and Mendy couldn’t deal with his pace, and some questionable decision making kept James from having the performance of his life.
Anthony Martial: 9/10
Worked his socks off. Excellent in the press and build up play. An expert finish to a sensational ball from Fernandes to put United ahead. His good form post winter break continued as the Frenchman tries to lead United towards cup glory and back into the Champions League.
Eric Bailly: 8/10
Didn’t put a foot wrong after coming on for Williams. Good to see the Ivorian international get more minutes in the tank and look assured when called into action. Long may his good health continue.
Scott McTominay: 8/10
Made his presence felt in the middle of the park straight away. So strong and so aggressive. The United blood was almost pouring out of him as the hosts looked to see the game out. And a fantastic, clever finish from distance to put the game to bed.
Odion Ighalo: 8.5/10
Usually if you get subbed on in the 88th minute you won’t register a rating — but Ighalo’s contribution was felt. It felt like he had velcro on his boot. The ball was glued to his feet every time he held it up and won valuable seconds for United. Also contributed to the sequence prior to McTominay’s goal with great hold up and a deft flick to send Fred through down the wing.
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Manager Rating: 10/10
It’s hard to pin point what Solskjaer could have done better. It was an excellent performance from his players. The passion, desire, commitment were all there. The tactics to hit City on the break paid off. The team selection cannot be faulted and the substitutions were all timely and effective. It was as perfect a day for the United boss as they can get.
Referee Rating: 5/10
It’s Mike Dean’s world and we are all just living in it. As always, the veteran’s performance was filled with some questionable decisions, showmanship, and controversy. But we’re all used to that by now. He did have the game under control in terms of fouls and how much the players were allowed to do. And thankfully, Dean was not able to hurt United in the points department.