Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United fans demanded an improved, passionate performance after the embarrassment of Everton, and they got it initially. United attacked at will and peppered Ederson’s goal, with City’s defence looking creaky. But they could not find an opener and the Premier League champions weathered the initial storm before taking charge after the break.
They took the lead nine minutes into the second half when Bernardo Silva wasn’t shut down and dragged his shot inside David De Gea’s near post. While the United goalkeeper didn’t really deserve much blame for that one, he was severely culpable for the second.
City broke and Raheem Sterling fed Leroy Sane, who fired in via De Gea’s shin, again at his near post.
After that, City slipped into cruise control and saw out the game comfortably.
Here are our United ratings:
MANCHESTER UNITED (5-3-2)
David De Gea 4: Two good stops early on, especially from Sterling. Should he have kept out Silva’s opener? Possibly. How about Sane’s strike? Definitely. Bereft of confidence.
Ashley Young 5: Crunching early tackle set tone. Commitment can’t be questioned but growing ineffectiveness can. Crossing, for which he is supposedly renowned, continues to underwhelm.
Matteo Darmian 7: First start since Jose Mourinho’s final game. A solid outing, looking calm and composed. Hardly put a foot wrong, but shouldn’t be around next season.
Chris Smalling 7: In quickly to pressure City’s attackers. Dependable and stoic but his lack of elitism means he’s always fighting an uphill battle to stand out. Three tackles led side.
Victor Lindelof 6: Remained focused amidst a predictable City assault. Vital clearance prevented visitors going 2-0 up. Led United with five clearances.
Luke Shaw 6: Solskjaer would be relieved to have him back. Pretty solid and got involved going forward. Could have done more to prevent Silva’s shot for the opener though.
Andreas Pereira 6: Very bright start, with short, sharp movements causing problems. Found pockets of space constantly, yet faded. Dispossessed team-high fives times.
Fred 4: Fired up. Distribution initially crisp and tenacity welcome. But still thinks he’s playing in Ukraine, far too ponderous on the ball and distribution far too erratic. Faded badly.
Paul Pogba 7: When he’s good, he’s so good, ball for Lingard was class. Is he a show pony who tries too much or is he simply starved of talent around him? The latter looked truer here.
Marcus Rashford 6: Solskjaer’s prophecy of City fouls rang true. Tormented Kompany early on and only Ederson prevented a chance for opener. Worked tirelessly but just not enough guile to hurt City.
Jesse Lingard 6: Almost scored a stunning opener, before sending Rashford clear. Incisive. Committed working backwards, a crunching tackle on Gundogan indicative of that. Jointly led team with three interceptions. Wasteful with finishing.
Romelu Lukaku 5: Increasingly clear his clunky, un-coordinated technique doesn’t belong at Old Trafford, nor does he look like he wants to be there.
Alexis Sanchez N/A: Thrown on too late to make an impact and with City in command.
Anthony Martial N/A: Fell to ground under a Sterling challenge before promptly passing straight to a City player when United were near their box.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing, certainly chief among the perils of a rich and successful history.
Nothing is permanent and in football success is cyclical. The greatest empires struggle to grasp the concept though, developing a false sense of entitlement, and few were greater than the one Sir Alex Ferguson built at Manchester United.
For some, their ongoing fall from grace spanning seven long years was inconceivable. Glory days of the past haunt the current Old Trafford contingent because everything is measured against what was. But United aren’t what they were and these players pale in comparison to their predecessors.
That’s something Paul Pogba has struggled with. His boundless talent comes at a price – no, not the record sum of £89 million paid to Juventus for him just four years after he was lured away for free as a teenager, though that does complicate matters.
His tremendous ability comes with massive expectations. He’s burdened with being the catalyst of United’s great revival and leading them out of the doldrums. As a World Cup winner and one of the best midfielders in the game, he’s expected to take a game by the scruff of its neck.
Perhaps that stems from comparisons to compatriot Eric Cantona who was the catalyst for United’s new and successful era 27 years ago.
Pogba is certainly capable, he proved as much in last season’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium when he scored a brace in a terrific second-half display which saw the visitors recover from 2-0 down at the break to claim a thrilling 3-2 win.
"We let the manager speak, he told us the truth" @paulpogba reflects on how the #MUFC dressing room reacted to Sunday's humiliation at Everton.— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) April 23, 2019
Watch full exclusive interview with Pogba: https://t.co/QUgYqCU8ny pic.twitter.com/H90m6kNhsh
But does he have the temperament to perform such heroics repeatedly? The evidence suggests not.
He could do little to steady the ship at Goodison Park. In such an insipid team performance however, Pogba was far from the worst player. Some of his stats during the 4-0 humiliation at Everton were even impressive as he created four big chances.
In fact, there was one moment in the first half while trailing 1-0 when Pogba produced the kind of quality that didn’t belong in that United display.
The Frenchman dropped deep in a hurry, yelling frantically to receive possession while his side tentatively inched the ball away from their own area. Chris Smalling eventually obliged and in one swift motion, Pogba turned with the ball and pinged a long-raking pass forward which was inch-perfect for Marcus Rashford.
He created a big chance out of nothing and a world class striker or certainly one further along in his development would’ve drawn the visitors level and changed the game.
Think Ryan Giggs’ pass for Robin van Persie to score a stoppage-time equaliser during an FA Cup third round fixture at Upton Park back in 2013.
The Dutchman’s sublime first touch cushioned the ball into his path perfectly before slotting his finish into the far corner with his weaker foot – ice running through his veins.
In contrast, Rashford showed little faith in his ability to bring the ball under his spell with blue shirts bearing down on him. A great opportunity turned into a half-chance the moment he decided to let it bounce. He didn’t have the confidence to strike it with his left foot either, awkwardly prodding it over the bar with his right.
It’s a harsh criticism to make of a budding 21-year-old who may one day scale the heights of world football but such are the margins at the highest level.
And that brings us to what hinders Pogba the most, more than tactics or the position in which he is deployed. He doesn’t have the support cast around him to flourish. Love him or hate him, there’s no escaping the fact that he’s the most talented player at Old Trafford right now.
What he is not is the strong character his team-mates look to when the chips are down. He is not Eric Cantona and United must accept that. Maybe he doesn’t have to be Cantona though, maybe he’s Dimitar Berbatov instead and simply needs fighters around him.
Pogba requires the likes of Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-Sung, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic. He needs fierce competitors around him to run and fight so he can thrive and create.
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is serious about wanting to build a team around Pogba, then those are the kind of players and characters he should be pursuing to do so.
The frustrations over the mercurial Frenchman from United fans is understandable but they’re also misguided. Demands of him to be something he’s not are unreasonable and his potential departure in the summer would only be to the detriment of a team sorely lacking star quality as it is.
Stop comparing him to Cantona or players of that ilk. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing.
The Red Devils are reeling from their spineless 4-0 thrashing at Everton on the weekend and will be keen to put in a much better performance in order to derail their neighbours’ title bid – even if it might well hand fierce rivals Liverpool the initiative in the battle for Premier League glory.
If City, meanwhile, can earn victory, it will put them in the driving seat to retain their trophy.
Here are some key tactical issues for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to consider:
LEGS IN MIDFIELD
Fitness and energy are key components this United side lack under Solskjaer. The Norwegian boss has bemoaned the fact his reign has been bereft of the benefits of a pre-season schedule.
With a need to ring the changes and reinstall pride, Solskjaer would be wise to reintroduce a fit-again Ander Herrera. For all the furore over his future, the Spaniard’s bite and drive has been sorely missing in recent weeks.
Nemanja Matic was well below par on Sunday and United need pace and athleticism in the engine room against a marauding City. Herrera, in a midfield three alongside Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, would provide United with a junkyard dog figure they sorely need.
His energy and sniping can help overwhelm Fernandinho and cut out City’s creativity when defending. And when United have the ball, he can then shift across to help cover Pogba and allow the Frenchman to create.
ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
Solskjaer could decide to fight fire with fire at Old Trafford and that could mean springing a few shocks – with the reintroduction of Alexis Sanchez from the cold, or even a start for Mason Greenwood.
Sanchez looked bright in a cameo at the Camp Nou and could come in for either Anthony Martial or Romelu Lukaku, who are likely to be casualties from Sunday.
Solskjaer has talked of wanting United players to show their passion and that could lead to someone like local lad Greenwood getting the nod, while Jesse Lingard is also sure to start.
Say what you want about Lingard’s ability, he’s the sort of player who can drag players out of position and poke holes in a City defence which has looked ramshackle recently.
In playing the likes of Greenwood, Lingard, Sanchez and Diogo Dalot, Solskjaer would be mirroring City’s use of small, sharp and incisive players who, while lacking in stature, have the surgical skills to pierce City’s softness.