Manchester United played their best football of the season on Saturday, getting the best of cross-town rivals Manchester City at the Etihad. Two first-half goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial sealed all three points for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men and perhaps saved their manager from the inevitable sacking that could have followed had United failed to pick up a win.
With this victory, the Red Devils move up to fifth in the Premier League, five points behind Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. Here are three things we learned from December’s Manchester Derby.
United’s defense shows up when it matters
United splashed a combined £130 million for the defensive talents of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire in this year’s summer transfer window. For the most part, the pair have performed accordingly, but not to the potential of their lucrative price tags. Saturday’s derby, however, was an unforgettable performance by the two Englishmen.
Not only did Wan-Bissaka have a 100% tackle rate against the Citizens, but the 22-year-old continuously proved that he could rival the speed and form of Raheem Sterling. The former Crystal Palace star recorded seven clearances, three blocks and plenty of other noteworthy numbers.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka's game by numbers vs. Man City:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 7, 2019
61 touches (most for Utd)
13 duels contested
5 tackles made (most)
1 chance created
Spider-Wan returns. pic.twitter.com/0qwkGALTND
Maguire, who was assigned the role of captain, had a lovely performance himself. In just the first half, the former Leicester man had four clearances, two tackles one and one blocked shot.
Harry Maguire in the first half:— UtdArena. (@utdarena) December 7, 2019
100% tackle success
100% ground duel success
2 tackles won
1 blocked shot
1st in tackle success, ground duel success, recoveries and clearances.
A Captain's Performance! pic.twitter.com/VSKJPsGpFg
A fantastic showing for both Wan-Bissaka and Maguire’s first Manchester Derby and an uplifting sign that United’s defense won’t be outplayed.
United’s unstoppable counter-attack is back
When Solskjaer was named permanent manager, the 46-year-old promised to bring back the ruthless counter-attack that made United one of the scariest clubs in football. Saturday’s performance was classic United at times, consistently ripping apart Pep Guardiola’s side with fervor and ingenuity.
The finishing still needs work, but it was world-class compared to their opponents. Furthermore, it reminds critics and fans alike that despite the recent shortcomings United have faced, they have the potential to quickly turn things around when the odds are against them. Everything seemed to work for Anthony Martial, Daniel James, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford. Even when some of the aforementioned were denied by Ederson, they nevertheless persisted until the final whistle.
With six matches remaining in the year and the most difficult teams behind them, improving their counter-attacking against lower-level clubs would be in United’s best interest, before they meet the likes of Liverpool for a second time and enter the knockout stage of the Europa League.
The players have not lost faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The former United striker was reportedly close to being sacked if he couldn't improve his side’s form. On Wednesday, he defeated his predecessor and days later, stole three points from the reigning domestic champions.
The tactics shown by the Solskjaer in the last two fixtures nearly mirror the same decision-making he demonstrated last year when he was named caretaker manager after Mourinho’s firing. Even better, he received a well-earned seal of approval from Sir Alex Ferguson.
Manchester United bosses past and present!— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 7, 2019
Sir Alex Ferguson applauds Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following today's win against Manchester City: https://t.co/IVr0vifc8n pic.twitter.com/Hu2PT805CS
When the pressure mounts, Solskjaer dominates. The Norwegian may not have a complete squad of world-class players, but he inspires his men to perform at their best. From the start of this year’s campaign until now, we’ve seen dramatic improvement from Scott McTominay, Fred and a host of inspired performances from academy graduates. Unlike his predecessors, he’s careful with obvious critique of his athletes and whenever United are perceived as the underdogs, they approach the match with a relaxed attitude and an inspired performance. For the time being, the right man could very well be at the wheel for Manchester United.