Marcus Rashford’s first-half strike was enough to sink the struggling Citizens, in an afternoon where the hosts dominated for large periods but ultimately failed to take their chances.
Rashford’s first-half strike enough to sink Citizens
Manchester United have prevailed with a hard-fought derby victory away at the Ethiad, thus boosting their top-four hopes in the process. All of the plaudits and media attention, will undoubtedly be diverted in the direction of young Marcus Rashford – who became the youngest goalscorer in the Manchester Derby (18 years, 141 days) with a cool, composed finish in the first-half.
Having been slipped through on-goal by Juan Mata, the 18-year-old had it all to do, but skipped past Martin Demichelis within a flash and his effort from close-range nestled into the back of the net within seconds afterward.
Despite an energetic start to the first-half’s action in Manchester, City found themselves behind and didn’t particularly respond with much urgency afterwards. Raheem Sterling and Jesús Navas were dangerous on either flank as they looked to create something in the final third, before the former was replaced by Fernando after 25 minutes with a groin strain following a late sliding tackle by Mata.
United go into break with slender lead intact
Efforts from Yaya Touré and a half-chance header flashed wide from Demichelis weren’t enough to trouble the United backline, who were keen to play the game at their own tempo and had an eye on the clock as it continued to tick down with half-time fast approaching. There was an intriguing battle brewing between Sergio Agüero and Daley Blind, with the Dutchman luckily not to be booked for a succession of cynical fouls in an attempt to stop the ebb-and-flow of the match.
Louis van Gaal would certainly have been pleased with what he had seen: his side were soaking up pressure effectively and looked a real handful on the counter-attack, combining pace with purpose as Anthony Martial and Rashford both got themselves in promising goalscoring positions, dragging the unstable combination of Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala on a ride in the hosts’ half for the most part.
As for Manuel Pellegrini, he would’ve been frustrated with his side’s first-half display. They were encouraging for the most part, but Rashford’s opener seemed to suck the life out of his players – most of which lacked real urgency and struggled to string more than four or five passes together without going backward, or losing possession altogether.
An unpredictable second 45
The start of the second-half was even more forgettable than the end of the first for City supporters, as first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart went down with a calf injury after overstretching in an attempt to ensure Martial didn’t get to the ball before he did – after a slack backpass from Demichelis moments beforehand. The hosts were forced into their second alteration of the day and Hart was stretchered off, with Capital One Cup final hero Willy Caballero coming on in his place.
Soon afterward, Demichelis was put out of his misery and eventually substituted. It was a disappointing display for the experienced centre-back, whose lack of pace was exploited to good effect by the United frontline – making him look silly and vulnerable on the counter-attack. Wilfried Bony, a man with a point to prove, replaced the Argentinian, but didn’t have much impact on the game itself.
Agüero’s header from an improbable angle, cannoned back off the post before Michael Carrick made an important last-ditch intervention to deny Bony a scoring opportunity from close-range. Chris Smalling was fortunate to still be on the pitch after a late tackle on Aguero, before City’s talisman was unlucky not to equalise with a brave solo effort of his own in stoppage time.
In the end though, United defended well and managed to prevail with all three points – in what could be a pivotal victory come the end of the season, with their Champions League qualification hopes still alive and well.