A dismal first-half performance consigned Manchester United to a 2-0 defeat by Manchester City at Old Trafford, their fourth defeat in six Premier League games.
After the nightmare of that 5-0 Liverpool defeat nearly a fortnight ago, it was looking ominous for United as City took the lead on seven minutes through Eric Bailly’s own goal as he stretched to intercept Joao Cancelo’s dangerous cross.
United could have gone level on points with City with a win, but the chasm between them at Old Trafford was enormous as the hosts put in another low-grade display that will put pressure back on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
David de Gea made no fewer than five excellent saves in seven first-half minutes as City peppered United’s goal, but the goalkeeper should have kept out Bernardo Silva’s poke at the most acute of angles just before the break from another Cancelo ball (45), though Luke Shaw was equally culpable for some slack defending.
United brought on Jadon Sancho at the break and at least stemmed the flow in a less eventful second half – Gary Neville said they “resembled a drunk bloke at the end of a night looking for a fight” on co-commentary – though City still missed fine chances for Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden.
After a relatively stabilising week leading up to the derby, the heat is back on United and Solskjaer as they sit nine points off leaders Chelsea with just over a quarter of the season gone. City return to form domestically after two straight defeats, and sit second, three points behind Chelsea.
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan Bissaka (3), Lindelof (5), Bailly (4), Maguire (5), Shaw (3), McTominay (5), Fred (5), Fernandes (3), Greenwood (5), Ronaldo (5)
Subs: Sancho (5) Rashford (5), Telles (5), Van De Beek (5)
Man City: Ederson (7), Walker (7), Stones (7), Dias (7), Cancelo (9), Rodri (8), Gundogan (7), De Bruyne (7), Jesus (7), Bernardo (8), Foden (8)
Man of the match: Joao Cancelo
How classy City dominated timid United
Solskjaer said before the game he’d hoped his side had learned lessons from the humiliating Liverpool defeat, but just seven minutes in it was the same old story, another individual error costing them.
After United had cleared Kyle Walker’s dangerous cross, Bruno Fernandes gave Cancelo ample room to deliver another wicked delivery from the left, forcing Bailly to stretch for the ball at the near post. In doing so, his touch inadvertently sent the ball flying past his own goalkeeper and into the net. Once again, United’s clean sheet was ruined; they haven’t kept one at home since March.
While the debate rages on as to whether Ronaldo makes Manchester United a better side overall, his individual brilliance is rarely in doubt, and he nearly brought them level with a fierce volley from Shaw’s cross, beaten away by Ederson. Otherwise, it was a quiet afternoon for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
That chance was a minor glitch in an otherwise dominant City first-half display, and they could have realistically gone into the break with half a dozen goals. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was woefully out of position – “It’s absolute madness,” said Gary Neville on commentary – allowing Phil Foden to centre for Kevin De Bruyne; his low show was blocked by Shaw, before Gabriel Jesus’ rebound on the turn was brilliantly turned over by David de Gea.
It was a one-man stand from the goalkeeper, who did well to tip over Cancelo’s long-range effort as City found their flow again with ease, before getting a vital foot to prevent another own goal as Victor Lindelof miscued his clearance. De Gea was at it again during a flurry of City chances, tipping away De Bruyne’s curling shot and then blocking low down from Cancelo once more.
The two-goal cushion did arrive just before the break with yet more rotten United defending as Cancelo’s delivery somehow found Bernardo at the far post, with Shaw acting as a mere spectator as he left the ball for the City man. His poke goalwards from near enough the byline squeezed into the net, though De Gea, punching the post in anger, should have done better.
“I give up on these players,” said Roy Keane at half-time as he analysed De Gea and Shaw’s part in the second goal, but Solskjaer tried to change things at half-time as they ditched the back three and brought Jadon Sancho on. Meanwhile, City were comfortable enough to keep their £100m summer signing Jack Grealish on the bench.
United did improve in the second half – the change of shape meant their full-backs were no longer pinned back to the same degree – but City also moved down a gear.
In fact, they were comfortable enough not to make a single substitution at Old Trafford, and still looked more likely to score the third goal.
Ilkay Gundogan hit the side-netting from an angle, De Bruyne sliced wide as the ball fell kindly to him at the far post, and Phil Foden came closest as he grazed the far post with a low shot from inside the box.
Man Utd made three changes; Victor Lindelof returned from a knock to replace the injured Raphael Varane in a back three, with Fred playing instead of the suspended Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood coming in for Marcus Rashford. Edinson Cavani was missing with an injury.
Kyle Walker was passed fit for Man City, who named record signing Jack Grealish on the bench. Kevin De Bruyne returned to the starting line-up after being among the substitutes for the midweek win over Club Brugge. Ruben Dias replaced the suspended Aymeric Laporte and Gabriel Jesus started up front.
United ended the game with only one shot on target and 32 per cent possession, another sub-standard showing in a season that had promised so much. The fact they had just four touches in the opposition box – City registered 32 – said it all.
The jeers that met the full-time whistle are becoming commonplace at Old Trafford, but City were lapping it up as they reminded the Premier League why they are still favourites to retain their title despite a testing fortnight.
Keane: This felt worse than Liverpool defeat
Roy Keane on Sky Sports
“It felt worse [ than the defeat to Liverpool]. The goal just before half-time meant it was game all over. It was so poor. The difference in class, quality and decision making, basically everything. I know the old saying is men vs boys, but United are so off it, it’s unbelievable.
“Phil Foden mentioned it is a tough place to come, it’s not. Ask Everton, ask Aston Villa and Liverpool. Teams have come to Old Trafford and are getting a bit of joy now.
“I know United’s away record has been fantastic over the last couple of seasons but ultimately it’s what you do at home that gives you that foundation to try and compete and go on and win trophies because United still always have the quality, even away from home. But their home form – the performance, and the defending…
“The goal at half-time killed it. They needed to go in at half-time 1-0 down, re-group and try and do something. The second goal is game over and United… I don’t know what I want to say. It’s just so poor.”
What the managers said:
Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sky Sports: “We need to get back to what we started to look like for a while, and we’ve got the players to do that.
“We’ve been in this situation a few times of course, since the last game we played here it has been a very difficult period. We need to be on the front foot more, I can’t look at myself and say this is the way I want Manchester United to play.”
Asked if he is starting to think he’s on borrowed time: “No, I don’t’ start to do that. I have good communications all the time with the club, we’re very upfront and honest about the situation. I work for Man Utd and want the best for Man Utd and while I’m here I’ll do what I can to improve this, and that’s going back to what we started to look like.”
Man City manager Pep Guardiola on Sky Sports: “Solid performance, good game, we deserved victory and three more points.”
Disappointed not to get more goals? “No, it’s OK. I am so demanding, we are so demanding, I know our standards. But I am very pleased. This is the game we needed. In the second half, if you attack quick, and you don’t complete the action, they will attack quicker, and they are so dangerous. In Old Trafford if you let them run, it’s a little bit like Anfield, no chance, they are better (at counter-attacking), they are built for that.”
On not making any subs: “I am so sorry, I don’t like to not use them, but the game was 2-0, it was very comfortable, and I felt I didn’t need to change anything today.”
United’s woe in numbers
- Manchester City have won more away Premier League games at Old Trafford against Manchester United than any other team (eight).
- United have lost eight home matches in all competitions in 2021, their most in a calendar year since losing eight in 1989.
- United have conceded 11 home Premier League goals in six matches at Old Trafford this season, their most in their first six home league matches of a season since 1976-77 (also 11).
- United had just four touches in the opposition box in this match, their fewest in a Premier League match since the 2008-09 season (when Opta began recording the data). It was the fewest by a home team in a Premier League game since Fulham against Arsenal in September 2020 (three).
After the international break, Man Utd travel to Watford in the Premier League on Saturday November 20; kick-off 3pm.
Meanwhile, Man City are back in action on Sunday November 21 when they host Everton, live on Super Sunday on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.