City struggled to gain a foothold throughout the entire first half, and a lack of awareness from the visitors allowed Anthony Martial to get on the end of a quickly taken, chipped Bruno Fernandes free-kick to volley under a despairing Ederson on the half-hour mark.
Pep Guardiola’s side improved after the break and put United under pressure as full-time approached, but the English champions ultimately fell to a third defeat to their rivals in four clashes this season, with Ederson faltering again to give substitute Scott McTominay a late goal.
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The result saw United stretch their unbeaten run to 10 games and close the gap to fourth-placed Chelsea to three points, while City languish 25 points behind champions-in-waiting Liverpool.
Here are the main takeaways from the Manchester derby.
1. Fernandes is the real deal
Sure, United fans have been saying this since before he signed, but dispassionate observers were waiting for a game like this. Sunday’s fixture saw the Red Devils take on their toughest opposition since Fernandes signed at the end of January, just one day after the last Manchester derby. Those in attendance at Old Trafford would have hoped that the Portugal international would show up with another goal or assist following his promising early showings in a United shirt, but there was no guarantee of that against Guardiola’s side.
Fernandes delivered, however, showing sharp focus and well-honed technique to chip a quick free-kick over Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan and onto Martial’s boot. The resultant shot squirmed under Ederson, meaning another assist for Fernandes, who also won the free-kick – seemingly via crafty means.
2. City have become too reliant on Kevin De Bruyne
This one seems destined to end badly. When a team begins to depend too heavily on a player, like Arsenal with Robin Van Persie or Chelsea and Eden Hazard, it’s as though an hourglass starts shifting sand. Has De Bruyne been linked with a move away from the Etihad? Not really, but that doesn’t matter. Any player who records 20 assists and eight goals across all competitions will pique the interest of Europe’s elite, and those numbers are only going to rise before the transfer window opens.
That’s not to say Real Madrid or Juventus will swoop in just yet, but give it time. Can a player of De Bruyne’s talent and drive really resist Champions League football for two years?
3. Guardiola is not really helping Phil Foden
One week on from the Carabao Cup final, the England youngster was handed another rare start. In De Bruyne’s absence, the 19-year-old seemingly had an opportunity to prove his worth to Guardiola, but was ill-positioned out on the right wing. That Guardiola didn’t substitute him was certainly something to note, but Foden was a passenger on Sunday. If Guardiola is going to play him, he might as well deploy him more centrally, otherwise neither player nor manager is benefiting.
4. Martial can be trusted
If you give Martial game time up front, he will deliver – maybe not week in, week out, but he has netted 15 times in all competitions this season with five assists, and it is for Solskjaer to find the balance between Martial and Marcus Rashford, who has 19 goals and five assists in all competitions this term. With the right supporting players, Martial and Rashford should be able to take turns as United’s main man up top throughout a season, providing each other with competition and allowing one another to stay fresh.
5. The title race might just be more fun next season
United, who have been so inconsistent through the term, have finally produced a prolonged period of (relatively) positive performances. So much so that many fans and pundits favoured them over second-placed City heading into Sunday’s game. With City having dropped off noticeably this season and Liverpool slowing down somewhat in recent weeks, there is reason to believe that the title race next season will be a bit more fun. Especially when you factor in Chelsea’s demolition of Everton earlier on Sunday.
That’s not to say that Liverpool and City won’t be the strongest teams again, but United and Chelsea will likely improve their squads over the summer transfer window and can hopefully narrow the gap somewhat.