Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-0 at Old Trafford to give their season yet another boost. Anthony Martial struck in the first half before Scott McTominay rounded off a spirited performance. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men are now unbeaten in ten games and sit three points behind the top four. The result also means it is the first time United have done the double in the Manchester Derby for ten years.
Manchester United Sink Manchester City in the Manchester Derby
United’s Phenomenal Defence
Manchester United set their stall out well in the first half. Ole opted to deploy a back five, aiming to nullify City’s attacking threat. United defended with a mid-to-low block and pressing when City got into a dangerous area. Brandon Williams started the game in a nervous fashion, conceding two silly corners.
After the opening ten minutes, United’s defence became resolute. Harry Maguire led the backline confidently, whilst blocking any avenue for Sergio Aguero to run into. The Argentinian struggled to make an impression at Old Trafford where he has previously been so dangerous. Aaron Wan-Bissaka also excelled throughout. The back five meant he could get out wide to deal with Raheem Sterling without worrying about narrow runners. Wan Bissaka’s distribution was extremely helpful on the counter-attack and delivering for James to run.
The second period saw Manchester City pile on a lot of pressure. They had a lot of possession around the box and threatened to create chances. United’s solid defence had other ideas. The three centre-halves were always together in a line, blocking and intercepting everything in sight. It wasn’t until Riyad Mahrez entered the fold that City managed to get in behind. The Algerian’s tricky skill got the better of Brandon Williams a few times, but the monumental Harry Maguire was on hand to clear. All in all, the way United limited City’s attacking players from creating chances was excellent. City could only take their efforts from outside the box, whilst United were always prepared to counter.
Manchester Derby – United the Counter Attack Specialists
Solskjaer’s tactical approach allowed his attacking players to thrive in the first half. Bruno Fernandes was, as always, all over the pitch. His deft touches and clever passes were integral to United’s transitions. The goal came from Bruno’s brilliance. The Portuguese midfielder instinctively chipped a free-kick into Anthony Martial who finished passed Ederson’s near post.
Fred and Nemanja Matic worked hard in midfield to win possession back high up the pitch. The midfield pair did not allow the likes of Gundogan and Bernardo Silva the time or space they wanted. They were first to everything in the midfield and it frustrated City to no end. This allowed Martial and James to make runs in behind to try and penetrate Ederson’s goal. Fred was also helpful in these situations, being the fourth man to join the attacks, and he arguably should have won a penalty. United were dangerous, especially after the goal, which undoubtedly put a spring in their step. Had Bruno got a better connection on a header, United may have gone in at the break 2-0 up.
Daniel James and Anthony Martial worked efficiently as a forward pair. They drifted wide and allowed Bruno the space to cause issues centrally. They were especially potent on the counter-attack with their searing pace. James had the better of Zinchenko and Mendy all afternoon, and even though his decision making could be better, the directness and simplicity to his game was effective.
United eventually capped off an emphatic win, when deep in stoppage time, Ederson made another error. He tried to clear the ball but instead played it straight into the path of Scott McTominay who placed it in the open City goal.
Solskjaer’s Masterplan is Coming to Fruition
This Manchester Derby victory for United is a microcosm for their recent upturn in form. The team spirit of the players on the pitch is a unity that only comes around when players buy into the manager’s philosophy. United are now unbeaten in ten games in Solskjaer’s best run since he took the job full time. The noise in Old Trafford also shows that this harmony is spreading to the fanbase too.
Not only are United improving their results, but the adaptability of their tactical approach is impressive. At Everton last week, Solskjaer deployed a diamond in midfield. Before that, they have played a variation of a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3. Today, a 3-4-1-2 was used. Many have suggested that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lacks a playing style or a plan B. This simply isn’t true. The Norweigan boss adapts his side to the opponents that they face. This is his way of improving results. The formation today worked fantastically, fulfilling the aim to stop City’s clear attacking threat, whilst still being a threat in their own right. This doesn’t mean that the same formation would be as effective against LASK on Thursday.
If United can keep this level of consistency up towards the end of the season, achieving their aims should not be a problem. The level of performance over the last six weeks has meant that they are reaching the deeper stages of cup competitions whilst knocking down the door of the top four. They may be plenty of debate in the coming weeks about prioritising, however, for United, it should be about winning a trophy – and finishing fourth. With the confidence around Old Trafford at its peak at the moment, there is no reason why they cannot achieve both.
There is no doubt that this Manchester Derby result is the crowning moment of Solskjaer’s permanent reign so far, but for this squad, and future additions, there is so much more yet to come.