Manchester United turned in a brilliant defensive performance to defeat champions-elect Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium in Sunday’s Premier League encounter. An early opener from Bruno Fernandes was capped by a superb solo second by Luke Shaw in the second half, as United recovered at least some bragging rights from their closest rivals.
There were barely 30 seconds on the clock by the time Gabriel Jesus sent Anthony Martial sprawling in the City box. Referee Anthony Taylor saw enough in the challenge to award United a penalty, which Fernandes stepped up to convert with characteristic conviction. Ederson guessed the right way, but the shot’s sheer power saw it home.
Buoyed by their early opener, United initially gave City as good as they got. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side pushed high up the pitch, preventing their opponents from playing out from the back. Inevitably, however, City steadily wrested control of possession, and United sunk ever deeper towards their own goal.
By halftime, the hosts were utterly dominant, but a disciplined—if rather last-gasp—rearguard action preserved United’s slender advantage. To their credit, United had barely afforded City a single shot on goal, save for a couple of speculative İlkay Gündoğan efforts, and a dangerous Riyad Mahrez cross-shot seconds before the interval.
City made a strong start to the second half, with goalscoring right-back João Cancelo rattling the crossbar within a couple of minutes of the restart. But moments later, United delivered the ultimate sucker-punch, surging up the other end of the pitch to double their lead.
It was a move started and finished by Luke Shaw, whose driving run from left-back culminated in a quick one-two with Rashford, and a brilliantly delicate left-footed stab inside Ederson’s far post. Pep Guardiola looked on with a sanctimonious incredulity as Solskjær’s latest tactical homage to José Mourinho drizzled on his title parade.
Martial might have added a third just short of the hour, though the Frenchman couldn’t make a clean contact on a deflected Fernandes cross from the right, and the ball was comfortably smothered by Ederson. As they committed men forward in pursuit of a goal, City looked increasingly exposed on the counter.
With 20 minutes left, Martial squandered an even more glaring opportunity. Scott McTominay won a tussle with Rúben Dias on the edge of the City area, leaving Martial with only the keeper to beat. Alas, from point-blank range he was denied by a diving Ederson save, as City just about kept the game alive.
Still, United managed to keep City at bay, holding out for a vital win both in terms of local bragging rights, and United’s hopes of securing Champions League football. Their afternoon’s work was marred only by an injury to Rashford, who hobbled off the pitch with the physio midway through the second half. Let’s hope he’s not on the sidelines for too long.