Manchester United were dealt a crushing home defeat by Manchester City, losing for the first time at Old Trafford in the league for over year. David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi scored either side of the break to put United’s neighbors 11 points clear at the top of the table and surely on course for a Premier League title.
José Mourinho opted for a back four to match up with City’s preferred formation, but his selection of a pacy front four was an early indication of his intent to play counter-attacking football. That team selection had a knock on effect, however, as United’s defending in the early part of the match was less than convincing. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic were overrun in midfield, and City created a number of half chances only to be let down by poor finishing.
By the half hour mark, a predictable pattern had emerged: City were dominating possession, and United were trying to use their pace to attack on the break. A cagey first half marked by a number of United moves breaking down before they could even get going created a restless atmosphere in the crowd. For all City’s control of the ball though, David de Gea didn’t have his first real save to make until the 42nd minute. Failure to clear a ball into the box led to a snap shot from Leroy Sane. De Gea denied him smartly at the near post, but United conceded from the ensuing corner.
More shambolic defending at the set piece resulted in David Silva being inexplicably left in acres of space to get on the end of a knock down and poke the ball past a helpless De Gea.
That goal seemed to wake the Reds up. The home side mounted their best efforts at the tail end of the first half, and got their equalizer just a few minutes after conceding. It was now City’s turn to make a mess of things. Both Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph misjudged the flight of a simple ball from Marcos Rojo to leave Marcus Rashford with just the keeper to beat at the far post. The young Mancunian made no mistake, and calmly slotted past Ederson to level the scores.
United were forced into their first change at half-time. Marcos Rojo, who was carrying both a yellow card and a head wound following a clash with Silva, was replaced by Victor Lindelöf at the break. The Reds opened the second half with more ambition, seemingly intent on keeping City on their heels. Unfortunately, their defending didn’t get any better.
Kevin de Bruyne lofted an innocuous-looking ball into the box from a free kick, and yet again United’s defending was a shambles. Romelu Lukaku’s attempt at a clearance rebounded off of Chris Smalling and landed at the feet of Otamendi who had time and space to blast the ball into the roof of the net. For all of City’s brilliance this season, United had handed them two goals through sheer incompetence.
From then on, the home side lost their impetus and struggled to create any fluidity. Worryingly for such an occasion, United were unable to match City’s intensity.
With 15 minutes to go and with his team lacking ideas, Mourinho turned to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for inspiration, sending him on in place of Jesse Lingard. With no immediate results, Mourinho then made his final adjustment, introducing Juan Mata in place of Ander Herrera, who had just been correctly booked for a dive in the City box.
Lukaku came agonizingly close to atoning for his defensive error with what looked like a sure equalizer, but his volleyed shot hit Ederson in the throat, and the Blues defenders managed to scramble away the rebound.