After dropping points away to Everton in their last league game, Manchester United’s intention were the three points only in their next fixture, which was against no one else but their local rivals in Manchester City at Old Trafford. They went on to achieve the victory with conviction, as the team managed to do the league double over the Citizens for the first time since the 2009/10 season.
Due to Chelsea and Sheffield United winning their respective games whilst Leicester City face Aston Villa on Monday night, it was a must win game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men, who were quite confident going into the game as Pep Guardiola’s key man in Kevin De Bruyne was unavailable to play because of a shoulder injury. And without the Belgian international, Man City were still able to dominate possession, but did not have the cutting edge of quality to create the key chances.
The visitors, as expected, were in full control of the game from the first second of the game to the final whistle, as they went on to achieve 73% possession of the ball and just under 150 passes in the attack third compared to United’s 50 successful passes in the final third. However, it was the hosts that made the key moments count, as the crucial goals from Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay were more than enough for the side to pick up much needed victory to go back into fifth-place.
At the end of the day, the noisy neighbours simply did not have much to play for in the league and did not bring their A Game to a fixture they have dominated on so many occasions over the past three to five seasons. On the other hand, the Red Devils had the motivation of the manager and most importantly the whole of Old Trafford behind them, to proceed onto winning the game.
Here are the three things we learnt from United’s latest league game…
The back-three/five setup is proving to be the perfect plan for the Red Devils
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not had a regular system or style of play in place that has been consistently successful and effective at the same time. However, the back-three/five setup fits the current squad of players like a glove, as it allows the team to totally nullify the opposition’s attack before going onto producing a few attacks of their own. The perfect example was honestly from today’s game, as City had managed to create one chance and complete just seven shots throughout the whole game.
And when United had their time and space on the ball, they were able to counter attack through the likes of Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James, who were offering the perfect mixture of creativity, movement and burst of pace on and off the ball. Meanwhile in midfield, Fred and Nemanja Matic did more than enough to cover the middle of the pitch, two individuals who have the aggression and intelligence to protect the backline whilst help the team to push high up the pitch.
Solskjaer’s record against the top-six teams continues to grow and flourish
For sure, after doing the league double over Chelsea and now over Man City, the talks about Solskjaer’s incredible record in the big games will continue to increase, as he has played the top-six teams on 12 occasions in all competition so far this season, having won seven times, drawn twice and lost three times. This is actually quite a positive record for a young manager who does not have the greatest of squads and is still missing the key individuals in Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba.
As long as he is able to do the double over Jose Mourinho’s Spurs next week as well as pick up maximum points in the remaining league games, to help the side qualify for next year’s Champions League football, he may end up managing the club for another couple of years, despite the recent rumours of Max Allegri or Mauricio Pochettino taking over as manager. And if he does end up doing the unthinkable, the board will have no choice but to back him up in the summer, which could lead to a potential charge for the league title along with possible success in the domestic competition.
The complete performance from the likes of Bruno, Martial and Wan-Bissaka
The whole United starting line-up played intelligently and superbly from start till end, even the likes of Eric Bailly, Scott McTominay and Odion Ighalo had put on quite the perfect cameo from the bench towards the last 15 to 20 minutes of the game. However, the key individuals that stood out the most were none other than Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes, three important players that are pure specialists in their expertise and are truly indispensable from the first XI.
Wan-Bissaka, who has been the side’s player of the season just after Fred, has got the whole right flank on lockdown time and time again, as he successfully kept Raheem Sterling in his pocket for the third time this campaign. Bruno Fernandes, since arriving to United in January, has completely transformed the team around and has helped to bring the best out of a number of players. Finally on Martial; he has had a lot of unnecessary criticism towards him in recent weeks, but his performance as well as his key goal to give his team the lead should be enough to see him getting back to his best.