For the highly anticipated match against their inter-city rivals, United tried something new by playing well in the first half. The Reds were disciplined in maintaining their shape, and the likes of Scott McTominay and Fred meant more energy in the midfield with Fred shadowing Kevin de Bruyne in an attempt to completely neutralize the Belgian maestro.
Paul Pogba was a surprise start to some — including former United goalkeeper and current NBC Sports bad take machine Tim Howard — but the mercurial midfielder was engaged from the first whistle. Between participating in the press and lacing vintage passes across the pitch, it was clear the embattled talisman was ready to showcase his talents in the derby.
The first half would end with both teams earning half chances with United slightly holding the edge simply because City did not look like it had the rhythm it needed in the build-up.
VAR came to City’s rescue early in the second half as Marcus Rashford earned a penalty after Kyle Walker kicked the forward’s foot. However, a quick check would show that Rashford was a step offside in the build-up.
Despite a solid and organized defensive setup in the first half, the stress of defending City began to wear on the United defense as the game entered its final third of play. The introduction of Ferran Torres on the right side for City gave fresh legs and an outlet for City to play wider to neutralize the likes of Fred who was playing well in the middle and Shaw who was playing more isolated out wide.
Fortunately, United would adjust as Harry Maguire and co. rounded out a very resolute 90 minutes bending but not breaking for a full-90 — earning its first streak of three clean sheets in a row since April/May 2019. The performance was encouraging enough that it is a wonder that this performance wasn’t available on Tuesday against RB Leipzig.
The offense did not add much to comment on, other than it was incredibly tame. Opting for more midfielders on the pitch, the front three of Rashford, Fernandes, and Mason Greenwood did not offer much danger against a City defense that can be had. But, ultimately, after the week United experienced, they might see a clean sheet against a potent City offense as important for morale as a shoot out.
The hellscape of December continues when Manchester United face Sheffield United on Thursday, December 17 before playing Leeds United three days later. In the meantime, United will learn its next European foe when the Europa League draw happens on Monday, December 14.