It was a day of agony for Manchester United fans, who saw their team thumped 4-1 by a Manchester City side that outclassed the Reds in every department.
How did Manchester United set up?
The major talking point prior to kick-off was regarding the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. It had been speculated in the days leading up to the match that Ralf Rangnick was set to drop the Portuguese in a game where he would likely offer very little, but the German interim boss clarified the omission of the 37-year-old before the game, stating that “Cristiano has some problems with his hip flexor again”. Some are calling Rangnick’s bluff, however, with Roy Keane claiming “it doesn’t add up to me”.
Other absentees included Luke Shaw and Raphaël Varane – both subject to positive covid tests- with Edison Cavani still unavailable.
It was a 4-3-3 formation that the team adopted, but this time the central forward operated as more of a false-9.
Here was the starting lineup and substitutes:
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB), Victor Lindelöf (CB), Harry Maguire (CB), Alex Telles (LB), Scott McTominay (CDM), Fred (CM), Paul Pogba (CM), Anthony Elanga (RW), Jadon Sancho (LW), Bruno Fernandes (CF).
Subs: Dean Henderson, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Hannibal Mejbri, Marcus Rashford.
How it went down?
It became apparent in the first few moments how Rangnick wanted his side to set up, with Pogba and Fernandes operating almost as two strikers when the City defenders had possession. It was something that Pep Guardiola would not have expected, yet it didn’t stop his side from doing what they do best, with Kevin De Bruyne slotting home in the 5th minute beyond a helpless De Gea. It was lacklustre from United defensively, with Wan-Bissaka not doing enough to stop the cross and Telles caught on his heels in the penalty box.Embed from Getty Images
However, despite conceding, the Reds responded positively. In recent years, fans have become accustomed to lifeless football against a good team away from home, but United were putting together some good passing sequences and were creating the odd chances. This came to fruition in the 22nd minute when Sancho found the far-right corner of the net to strike his team level having received the ball on the breakaway, going on to cut inside beyond Kyle Walker and Rodri.Embed from Getty Images
It was only six minutes later when City regained their advantage. Following a Phil Foden flick over a helpless Lindelöf, the Englishman had his shot saved well by De Gea, but a whole host of United players were left scrambling on their hands and knees when De Bruyne tucked away a rebound for his second of the game before the half hour mark.
The rest of the half was a forgettable one in the sense that the home team were controlling the ball without creating much, and the away side were just defending accordingly.
Everything remotely good that was shown in the first half was disregarded in the second from a United perspective. Just as we’ve seen many a time this campaign, the players come out looking unorganised and ill-composed, with Guardiola’s players toying with the men in red until grabbing a deserved third goal in the 68th minute through Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian international found space on the edge of the area as De Bruyne picked him out from a corner, and the former Leicester man saw his strike deflect off Maguire and beyond the reach of a frustrated De Gea.Embed from Getty Images
By this point, it was clearly game over, but the lack of grit and effort on show was shocking in a derby that revolves around grit and effort at the bare minimum.
Rashford and Lingard were on in place of Elanga and Pogba by this stage of the game, but the subs were useless. For two of the ‘Manc born and bred’ academy lads to look as feeble as they did was a joke, especially considering how often the ‘United DNA’ social media tool gets branded around nowadays.
There were jeers at United’s misery at every touch of the ball. This misery was topped off when Man City bagged their fourth. Mahrez found himself in-behind, going on to blast a shot off De Gea’s face and into the top corner. Originally ruling it out, VAR overturned the on-field decision.
Final Score: Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United (De Bruyne 5’ 28’, Mahrez 68’ 90’) (Sancho 22’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Although the man of the match is a rather useless debate after such a dismal showing, Sancho was the best of a bad bunch today. In the first half, the winger completed all his dribbles and long passes, racking up 22 touches, 2 shots and the then-important equalising goal for his team. He was combative too, winning 100% of his duels that he was part of.
It is important to stress, though, that this was by no means a great performance from Sancho. He fell away in the second half, often looking just as lethargic as the rest of them- nobody did the shirt proud today.
De Gea did make some good saves, but he also conceded 4 goals, so it would be naïve to say he was the man of the match.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
It seems that the challenge for the top-four becomes even harder every passing week. Having played three more games, United remain a point behind Arsenal in 5th spot. Should the Gunners do the business with their games in-hand, United are probably facing Europa League football for 2022/23, which is a harrowing thought when remembering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talk about a title challenge at the start of the season.
United next face Spurs this coming Saturday at 17:30 (BST), but the mood around the fanbase is deflated and uninspired. Fans don’t trust these players, with United plummeting even lower than ever.