Manchester is red, once again. Here’s three talking points from Man United’s emphatic 4-2 victory over their bitter rivals at Old Trafford…
Louis Van Gaal’s dreams became a reality as his side recorded their sixth straight Premier League victory to take a huge step towards securing Champions League football for next season.
United are now four points clear of their near neighbours on the back of their first derby win since 2012 as the balance of power tilts towards Old Trafford once again. City’s season has rapidly unravelled as six defeats in eight outings has heaped the pressure on Manuel Pellegrini with his side now clinging onto fourth with Southampton and Liverpool breathing down their neck.
While City’s slump, less than twelve months after lifting the Premier League has been startling, United’s renewal has been equally breathtaking. With Sunday’s 4-2 win, the Red Devils surpassed the total they achieved in the whole of last season during David Moyes’ ill-fated tenure.
In the Sky Sports studio after the game, Niall Quinn and Graeme Souness touched on the atmosphere at Old Trafford and both admitted they hadn’t seen an United performance like this since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson nearly two years ago.
“I’m very happy for the fans because I have seen what it has meant for them. The fans are always supporting us also when the results were not so good so I’m very happy for them,” Van Gaal said.
Indeed, it’s been far from plain sailing this season but the manner in which United recovered from Sergio Aguero’s early goal suggests they have finally turned a corner. Last year, United folded in the face of City’s purposeful start but not today.
Van Gaal has restored the sides’ confidence and character, their intensity on home soil and potency in attack. There are still areas to be addressed – most notably at the back – but United’s swagger is well and truly back.
Time running out for Pellegrini?
As Chris Smalling added further gloss to the scoreline on front of a buoyant Stretford End, Manuel Pellegrini stood forlorn in his technical area. Inevitably, the taunts followed, reverberating around Old Trafford, but on the short journey back across Manchester, the Chilean will no doubt ponder why, and where, it has gone rapidly downhill for his side.
On New Years’ Day, City were level on points with Chelsea but in their 12 league fixtures in 2015, they have picked up just fifteen points. They are now 12 points off the pace while defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League and Middlesbrough in the FA Cup mean their season is set to end without any silverware.
It had started so brightly for the visitors today but everything fell apart thereafter. David Silva and James Milner were finding pockets of space between the lines and picking holes in a vulnerable United defence – it was City at their best.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of their recent slump has been the manner in which the senior players have performed so limply. Where United were hungry and showed tenacity, City looked disinterested and were ruthlessly exposed on a day they were blown away by their bitter rivals.
“I don’t understand why a team only plays so well in the first 20 minutes,” Pellegrini told Sky Sports.
“We dominated, created chances, we had the ball. At 1-1 United started growing and their third goal gave them the confidence they did not have before.
“It is not just one problem. The same team played well for 20 minutes. Maybe it’s a lack of class at this moment. I don’t know.”
The sight of Yaya Toure aimlessly wandering around Old Trafford’s vast pitch was indicative of City’s disintegration while Vincent Kompany’s fast-tracked return was a move made in desperation. The performance of Eliaquim Mangala proved why.
Asked if he was worried about his future at the Ethiad Stadium, Pellegrini replied: “I’m not talking about my position.” His fate may have already been sealed.
Fellaini and Young to the fore
As the fourth official edged towards the touchline to lift the substitutions board, Old Trafford rose in unison to show their appreciation for Marouane Fellaini – had Ashley Young been replaced he would have received the same reception.
It was another stand-out performance from the once-maligned Fellaini as he bullied City into submission, proving too much of a handful for Kompany or Demichelis. The Belgian is not a player that fits directly into the United mould but he has been central to the club’s upturn in fortunes.
It wasn’t so long ago that he was on the verge of being shipped out on loan to Napoli but the deal fell through at the eleventh hour. Then, he got his chance at the Hawthorns in October. With the visitors trailing at the interval, Fellaini changed the complexion of the game, scoring his first competitive goal for the club, a performance which provided the spark he desperately craved.
Fast-forward seven months and the former Everton midfielder is one of the first names on Van Gaal’s team-sheet as the spearhead of the 4-3-3 formation.
His industry offers United a couple of different avenues of attack and his authority in the air means United have returned to attacking with width and stretching opposition defences – three of United’s goals came from crosses.
But it was Young who scooped the man of the match award. The England international looked destined to follow David Moyes out the Old Trafford door during the summer after an injury-plagued year but he is fast becoming one of United’s most influential players.
Young combined with Daley Blind down United’s left with devastating effect, scoring the equaliser and then supplying Fellaini for the second.
“I think Ashley Young was man of the match,” Van Gaal said. “He was very good. He was involved with the first three goals – very important goals. “And he did his job as a left winger.”
Next-up, the Red Devils travel to Stamford Bridge for a meeting with the Champions elect. The late injury to Michael Carrick will be of concern to Van Gaal given the wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and now City have all been orchestrated from the engine room with Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera controlling the game in midfield.
As Robin van Persie watched on from the stands on Sunday, he must have wondered how he was going to get back into the team. It’s a nice problem for Van Gaal to have.