A night to remember for the red half of Manchester.
But the question remains under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is it one to cherish?
Saturday’s 2-1 victory against – surely now certain to be deposed – champions Manchester City was celebrated with requisite gusto. It was also hard earned, with a young team coming of age at the Etihad Stadium cauldron despite deficits in possession off 72/28 per cent, attempts on goal of 21/11 and passes 659/268.
Right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka produced an expert smothering job on Raheem Sterling. There is no surprise about the fact he led the way with five tackles.
Fred – one suspect handball aside at the end of the first half– was a ball of energy and purveyor of incisive passing in the middle, while this is why a world-record fee was lavished on England centre-back Harry Maguire.
An exhibition of character and grit that followed substitute Nicolas Otamendi’s 85th-minute header acted as an echo of time, back to the all-conquering, indefatigable days of the watching Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot, of course, allowed himself a wry smile at a venue in which he’ll eternally be cast as public enemy number one.
United played with confidence and defended with vigour. To become the first away side at City in the Premier League to lead 2-0 before the half-hour mark since November 2015 is commendable.
Parochial matters meant everything to the Mancunians tuned in at home or sat in the ground. Yet, a club with pretensions to be the planet’s premier outfit must look at results with a wider angle.
This week has been a glorious, potentially job-saving, one for Solskjaer. Especially with Mauricio Pochettino no longer gainfully employed.
Defeating Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur and Pep Guardiola’s City within the space of four days is a laudable achievement. But they proved nothing we did not know already about Solskjaer’s tenure.
It is the shadow of another deflating slip versus 14th-placed and managerless Everton next Sunday that lurks in the background, despite all the glee.
The Norwegian has repeatedly demonstrated his proficiency at the counter-punch.
United remain the only team to date to deny runaway leaders Liverpool all three points this term. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea were blitzed 4-0 on the opening weekend and they were a slack Axel Tuanzebe pass away from edging Arsenal 1-0 in September.
A run of results and performances that would satiate any manager – or board. There is, though, a significant caveat.
When United come up against the defensive block they utilised so efficaciously at City, they struggle to force a way through. That they sit an alarming third bottom of the Premier League rankings, according to Wyscout, for key passes throughout 2019/20 exemplifies this.
They are also just eighth for touches in the opposition penalty box.
Saturday’s victory propelled United, only, to the heady heights of fifth. Chelsea, dismissed so thoroughly in August, still retain a five-point advantage in December, even after their setback at Duncan Ferguson’s Everton.
A 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, disheartening 2-1 home defeat by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace and a limp 1-1 draw at 10-man Southampton followed the beating of the Blues.
Wallowing Bournemouth’s last Premier League triumph came against them on November 2. Amid the hoopla around twin successes versus Tottenham and City it should not be forgotten that 3-3 and 2-2 draws preceded against new boys Sheffield United and Aston Villa.
United’s win percentage in 2019/20 games against teams who currently reside in the bottom half is 28.9 per cent. Merciless Liverpool and Leicester City boast 100-per-cent records, with Chelsea (77.8 per cent) and City (80 per cent) close behind.
Until this points drain is blocked, United aren’t even getting back into the top four. Never mind challenging Liverpool and City during a complete campaign.
A bleak appraisal of Saturday’s result, indeed, would say it has aided the reviled Reds’ pursuit of a first league title in 30 years, while doing nothing, in the grand scheme, to return United to the Champions League after a season away.
Caustic ex-Red Devils talisman Roy Keane – a contemporary, of course, of Solskjaer’s – provided an apposite summation post-match.
“I really enjoyed watching them – it’s what Manchester United is all about,” he told Sky Sports. “But the key is to be consistent, week-in, week-out.
“Hopefully these young players will pick up on that.”
Solskjaer must ensure his side’s enervating cycle of boom and bust has come to an end. Or the famous raiding of the Etihad will, ultimately, have counted for little.
Know more about Sport360 Application