MANCHESTER: The colour dynamic in Manchester is shifting back from sky blue to red. United’s 2-0 defeat of champions City at Old Trafford underlined the power of their challenge for a Champions League slot.
Indeed, fifth place would be good enough if City fail with their appeal against UEFA’s two-year ban for breaching financial fair play regulations.
City’s performance brought more headaches for manager Pep Guardiola. They were slick in possession but sloppy in defence. Liverpool could win the Premier title before playing again if City also lose to Arsenal on Wednesday and Burnley on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are not back in EPL action until next Monday’s Mersey derby.
The two teams knew each other well. This was their fourth meeting of the season. City had won the two-leg League Cup semi-final 3-2 on aggregate but United won the Premier clash 2:1 at the Etihad Stadium on goals from Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. Since then City have won the League Cup while both have progressed to the last eight of the FA Cup.
United went into the derby hoping to achieve a rare double with hope renewed by the brilliance of January signing Bruno Fernandes.
The former Sporting Lisbon captain had changed their fortunes by contributing two goals and two assists in the league. His prospects of maintaining that form were raised by the absence of Kevin de Bruyne from the champions’ midfield.
City manager Pep Guardiola thus called again on the services of Phil Foden in pursuit of a victory to secure second place well clear of a fading Leicester who host relegation-threaten Aston Villa on Monday.
The players did not shake hands before kickoff. This was unconnected with local rivalry. The pre-match protocol had been banned by the Premier League for all matches out of concern over coronavirus. The value of the prohibition appeared minimal ahead of 90 minutes of ferocious bodily contact.
City seized the initiative in the opening stages. City dominated possession and David de Gea dived left to save well from Raheem Sterling. However United created more half-chances on the counter-attack and took the lead through Martial on the halfhour. Ederson was slow to read Fernandes’s chipped free kick and the shot squeezed through his grasp at his right-hand post.
This was Martial’s 11th league goal of the season, equalling his total in his first Old Trafford season in 2015-16.
City have paid a heavy penalty this season for having failed to strengthen defence in the transfer window last summer. In the continuing absence of injured Aymeric Laporte they relied on the emergency partnership of Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi. The pair of them were caught out badly by the free kick and then again, minutes later, when Fernandes headed wide from a left-wing cross.
City were probably happy to be trailing by only one goal at halftime. United should have had a penalty when Fred was fouled by Otamendi. Referee Mike Dean, wrongly as TV replays proved, showed Fred a yellow card for diving. Doubly unlucky.
The second half saw City denied a goal for offside on VAR advice against Sergio Aguero. Then Ederson’s poor judgment nearly cost them a second goal. The keeper lost control of a back pass and was almost caught out by the onrushing Martial. Ederson hacked the ball clear just in time.
That incident was a wake-up call for City.
Guardiola sent on Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez for Aguero and Bernardo Silva and the balance of the game changed in City’s favour. Raheem Sterling was just too late to reach a cross from Mahrez then no-one was around to pounce on the loose ball after De Gea pushed out a follow-up from Gabriel Jesus.
City were killed off in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Again Ederson was to blame for a poor throw-out which was hammered back into his net by Scott McTominay.
The last time United had achieved the league double over their “noisy neighbours” was under Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2009-10.
Chelsea kept a firm hold on the all-important fourth place in the Premier League with a 4-0 crushing of an Everton side whose initial improvement under Carlo Ancelotti is starting to fade.
First-half goals from Mason Mount and Pedro provided the foundation for the Blues to double their lead through Willian and Olivier Giroud. Antonio Rudiger and his defensive colleagues had managed only four previous clean sheets in the league.
Victory completed an excellent week from Frank Lampard’s young team who have recovered quickly from the morale-sapping home defeat by FC Bayern in the first leg of their Champions League second round tie. Last Tuesday they defeated Liverpool 2:0 to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Outstanding in both games was 18-year-old Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmour – another player to benefit from Chelsea’s transfer ban last year.
Gilmour joined Chelsea from the Rangers academy in 2017. Lampard said: “I’m very happy with him. His age means nothing to us. As soon as he started training with the senior players it was clear he had everything: quality, intelligence and work ethic.”