Manchester is Red this Sunday night as United scored goals either side of half-time in a fantastic performance at the Etihad.

City threatened for much of the first half but it was United who went in ahead after an early penalty scored by Bruno Fernandes. Luke Shaw made it two after half-time, picking up a Henderson throw, driving forward, poking it to Rashford and finishing well into the bottom right corner.

The result leaves United 11 points behind City in the Premier League table.

Solskjaer’s big game brilliance

It had been a season of woe against the league’s ‘traditional’ ‘big six’ until Solskjaer came up with a plan to repel the country’s free-scoring and unstoppable City. Not only did United nullify the threat of their ‘noisy neighbours’ but they attacked with purpose if not always the final moment of quality.

Manchester United players celebtrate their second goal by Manchester United's English defender Luke Shaw (3R) during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Dave Thompson / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE.
(Photo by DAVE THOMPSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

United pressed as an organised front line, held a high defensive line and squeezed the space in which City could play. The United manager was aware that Shaw and Wan-Bissaka can cope in one-on-one situations against Mahrez and Sterling. The problem was going to be the central runs from Gundogan, de Bruyne and sometimes Cancelo. That’s where most of City’s chances did come from. But United limited them to little.

Martial plays with quality except in his finishing

For a player who faced a late fitness test, Martial’s performance was outstanding. Finishing aside, and that is important to note but not to dwell on, the Frenchman provided so much to United. His hold-up play proved crucial in all of United’s moves forwards and alleviated the pressure at times when United’s defenders were gasping for breath. Of course, he won the early penalty, but it was the pressing after that which was so important to Solskjaer’s tactical set-up.

Gary Neville named Martial as his Man of the Match on Sky Sports and after a hugely disappointing few weeks, that’s telling.


Organised chaos? United’s favourite state

When games are chaotic, United tend to prosper. End-to-end ties allow United space in which to charge forward with pace. It allows one-on-one defensive duels which Wan-Bissaka and Shaw can win.

It gives United a great chance of victory. The first quarter-of-an-hour of the game was chaotic and United made chance after chance. Once City settled down, things became tense. How you create games of chaos is hard to say, but if United can have moments of chaos more often, they’ll keep doing well.

Dean Henderson earns further faith from fans and coaches

Henderson’s moment in the spotlight came not with a save but with a long throw to the forward-running Luke Shaw. Shaw controlled it, took it past Cancelo and drove onwards. The end result was a goal. Henderson began it. When he went to take the throw, he had waited for his players in front to move before launching it long.

The biggest benefit of Henderson is the confidence he commands in his area, though. He inspires confidences in the way that he claims crosses, whether from set pieces or otherwise, and mops up loose balls poked into the penalty area. It’s his main advantage over De Gea.

What if? What if United hadn’t messed up their recent fixtures?

United are 11 points off City. With 10 games left, it’s too much to catch; probably. It wouldn’t be so large if United had not fumbled their recent fixture list so much. Missed opportunities against Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Chelsea, West Brom, Everton, Arsenal and Sheffield United show that United could still be in the title race.

For now, they can once again look up the table towards City rather than down into the top four race. More consistency and victories is needed to keep it like that.

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