Thursday, December 13, 2018

Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City: Five things we learned as Manchester City tighten their gip on the Premier League title

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In the second instalment of a derby Sunday, Manchester United hosted Manchester City with the league pretty much on the line. If Manchester City were to win, then they would stretch their lead to 11 over United, while a win for the hosts would see them cut the gap to just five points.

The first-half was one which City dominated, with their hosts happy to sit deep and soak up pressure. United’s presence in attack was rather muted, with their opponents able to isolate Romelu Lukaku. Despite United defending well, they were made to pay from a corner as David Silva poked home. Marcus Rashford then slid the ball into the back of the net following Nicolas Otamendi missing a header, but the defender made amends as he volleyed home from six-yards out.

United did their best to get back on level terms and had a glorious chance, but Ederson saved twice, and the game peetered out as City kept the ball in the corner, with United frustrated by their inter-city rivals.

From the game, what five things did we learn?

Set-pieces let United down

Manchester United defended very well for 43 minutes as they were pinned in their half for much of the first 45. Despite being the league’s second-best team, Manchester United were subjected to the same treatment that Manchester City have been handing out to every other side in the league, regardless of their position in the table.

Jose Mourinho would have been happy with his side then, with United defending well. This had seen City dominate the ball, but when they made it into their host’s box, they seemed almost scared to shoot. Raheem Sterling was the biggest culprit of this, as he found himself in a number of ideal situations, only to pass up the chance to shoot, or take far too long to pull the trigger. It all added up to United defending admirably for 43 minutes.

The manner in which they conceded will have irked Jose Mourinho even more then. A corner was fired in and Jesse Lingard missed his header, which allowed the man he should have been marking in David Silva the time and space to poke the ball around de Gea, to open the scoring. Considering the size of the players and the tactical awareness and solidity Mourinho instils, the fact they went a goal down in such a way would have had the manager seething.

It did not end there though. David Silva floated in a free-kick that Romelu Lukaku simply had to deal with. However, his clearance was blocked, and Nicolas Otamendi was able to volley the ball home. Lukaku was bought for his scoring ability yes, but he has to be able to do the simple things like clear his lines. It was a moment to forget in the career of the striker then.

Mistakes hurt City too

It was not just Manchester United that were let down by defensive errors though. City were able to keep their centre-halves as spectators for much of the first-half, but when they were called upon, they looked as shaky as they always do.

Nicolas Otamendi was called to head a ball away, but he missed it completely, which blindsided Fabian Delph as the ball merely struck him, allowing Marcus Rashford to take a touch and slot his effort into the back of the net and away from the despairing Ederson. It was hugely against the run of play, but United had taken one of their first chances of the game to go in level at half-time.

It displayed that while Pep Guardiola is an incredible manager that has turned City from a good side into a world class one, he cannot perform miracles. He is being continually hamstrung by the transfers of the managers before him, and he still does not have an entire defence that he has built. Indeed, the rash nature of Otamendi is something that constantly threatens to unravel the defence. Delph, who was playing at left-back, is a midfielder, and he was found out on multiple occasions as United targetted him.

If Manchester City are to continue to grow as a team and compete both domestically and abroad, they must become better in defence.

Manchester City enjoy the perfect weekend

What a round of games it was for Manchester City. Chelsea were beaten 1-0 by West Ham, Liverpool could only draw with Everton, Arsenal befell the same fate against Southampton, and City were able to dispatch United. It means that City now lead United by 11 points, Chelsea by 14, Liverpool 16, and Arsenal by 17 points. It all points to the fact that the title is pretty much in City’s grasp, and it will take something outrageous to knock them off their perch at the top.

Of course, the Premier League is renowned for being the most competitive league in the world, which will surely see City drop points in their remaining games. However, the teams below them are dropping points at an alarming rate, with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal failing to win against teams most would have backed them to beat.

It is very unlikely that City will go through the rest of the season unbeaten, but it is even more unlikely that the chasing pack will do that either.

Ederson saves the day

What a moment it was for Manchester City’s young goalkeeper Ederson Moraes, as he kept the score at 2-1. It seemed for all the world that, despite a dismal showing in the Manchester derby, Romelu Lukaku would steal the headlines for securing a point for his side late on. However, the goalkeeper was in the right place at the right time as Lukaku struck the ball into his face.

Substitute Juan Mata then shaped to shoot, but before he had done that, Ederson was back on his feet as he made himself as big as possible to deny the Spaniard from point-blank range. While Otamendi’s goal was the one that put City in front, it was the goalkeeper’s heroics that won the game for the visitors.

His last minute save was made all the more impressive by the troubles City have had in between the sticks in recent seasons. Joe Hart had the saving ability, and Claudio Bravo had the footwork, but Ederson has the blend of the two attributes, and he is making a name for himself at City. Despite having a defence that seems very shaky at times, Guardiola’s outfit know that they can now count on their goalkeeper with both his feet and his hands.

Lukaku has an awful game

The stage was set for the striker to prove that he can turn up in the big games, but all he demonstrated was that he is not currently a big game player. It was an accusation that was often levelled at him during his time with Everton, and he has been unable to shake it despite his big-money move to Manchester United.

Lukaku was awful throughout the game as he made almost no impact for his side. The striker is a player that seems best when he does not touch the ball until he is in and around the box, meaning his first touch is quite often a shot. However, Mourinho’s tactics on Sunday meant that they needed Lukaku to hold the ball up and wait for support to arrive, before playing it into a teammate and making a forward run. Time and time again, United would fire a ball into him and his touch would let him down or he would make the wrong decision. Admittedly, United did not always play good passes into him, but nothing stuck for the Belgian.

The biggest impact he had on the game was when his clearance from a set-piece was deflected, and it allowed Otamendi to volley home the winner. Lukaku is not a defender, but it was Sunday League stuff in the end, as the mega-money forward gave City the lead, and most likely, the title.

There was time for Lukaku to have a sight of goal and redemption though. The ball was drilled into him in the box as he held off his marker, but with the goal at his mercy, he could only hit the ball straight at Ederson, with the goalkeeper then saving Mata’s second strike. It was a moment in which great strikers wheel away as they level the score, and where players that fail to deliver on the biggest stage lie with their head in their hands. Lukaku fell under the latter once again.

Manchester United: De Gea 7 – Valencia 6, Smalling 6, Rojo 6 (Lindelof 6), Young 6 – Matic 7, Herrera 6 (Mata 6) – Martial 5, Lingard 5 (Ibrahimovic 5), Rashford 6 – Lukaku 3.

Unused subs: Romero, Jones, Shaw, McTominay.

Manchester City: Ederson 8.5 – Walker 7, Otamendi 7.5, Kompany 6 (Gundogan 6), Delph 5 – Fernandinho 7, Silva 9, De Bruyne 9 – Sterling 8, Jesus 7 (Mangala 6), Sane 8 (Bernardo 6).

Unused subs: Bravo, Danilo, Zinchenko, Aguero.

Referee: Michael Oliver.


Benjamin Darvill

Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.



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