It was far better than Sunday, but it couldn’t have been any worse. This time it came down to a lack of quality rather than a lack of desire or heart.
Manchester United went down to a seventh defeat in nine games with a 2-0 derby loss to Manchester City on Wednesday, as the reigning champions and favourites for this season’s crown helped to underline just what is missing from the ranks at Old Trafford these days.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his side needed no greater incentive to bounce back from their Everton horror-show at the weekend than the chance to take three points off the local rivals, but after an encouraging first 30 minutes, they offered little real quality and would ultimately pay the price.
United started with a decent tempo. They pressed City well and looked to do what they could on the break. Their probing running down the left engaged Vincent Kompany plenty in the early moments and it wasn’t long before the City captain was in the book for a foul on Marcus Rashford.
The United striker was then denied with a great challenge by Ederson in the home side’s best moment, with Jesse Lingard firing across goal from a Paul Pogba pass soon after.
It took City a good 30 minutes before they truly looked capable of picking holes in United’s defence, Raheem Sterling shooting straight at David de Gea with their best opening following neat interplay, while Sergio Aguero sent another effort wide after United had surrendered possession in midfield.
United would have been pleased with their efforts at the break but once the second half began they could hardly get a foot on the ball as City began to dominate.
It didn’t take long for Bernardo Silva to cut inside Luke Shaw and lash home at the near post to change the whole complexion of both the title race and the tussle for Champions League football.
While Lingard waved his foot around a chance at the far post from a Rashford cross, City looked primed to pick United off the break and, when Fred played a loose pass nowhere near Pogba, Sterling led a four-on-three counter and fed Sane. The German’s low drive beat the outstretched boot of De Gea and the game was gone.
There are 25 points now separating these two sides in the Premier League table and every bit of that gap had been evident in the key moments at Old Trafford.
United had a game plan which depended on making the most of their chances, but they didn’t. City played with the confidence that their goals would come, and they did.
Solskjaer knew the job he had taken on in December, but there’s no escaping the size of the task right now. United lack the class to challenge City or Liverpool any time soon, and anybody who cares to dispute that can take a look at the 90 minutes which played out here.
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There were positives and negatives in almost every individual’s performance from a United point of view but that isn’t good enough when you’re taking on a side who could will make it 198 points in two seasons if they win their final three games of this Premier League campaign.
Somehow, United still have a shot at grabbing fourth spot. They remain outsiders, though, and it is a lowered bar compared to targets of old.
City are where United can only dream of being these days.