1. Rashford fearless at the right times
Marcus Rashford certainly has a passion for the big occasion and doesn’t appear to be fazed by anything at present. The Manchester United youngster’s confidence is at such a level that the commotion around taking him to Euro 2016 with England is beginning to look a little more credible as each week passes.
POLL Marcus Rashford: a viable candidate for at Euro 2016? March 20, 2016
He gave United the lead against the run of play, when Juan Mata ran through the middle and played the ball into the forward. The 18-year-old became the youngest player to score in a Manchester derby, putting Martin Demichelis on his backside before coolly placing the ball past Joe Hart.
Although Rashford made only five passes in the final third, he completed all of them and caused problems with some intelligent running. “He is young, he is good, otherwise I don’t let him stay [in the team],” said Louis van Gaal in the post-match press conference.
2. Aguero commitment the benchmark for City players to aspire to
Sergio Aguero loves playing in this fixture and did everything he could to feature on the winning side. The Argentine talisman had scored seven goals in as many games against their fiercest competitors, and did his best to continue the run here.
Just 10 minutes into the game, Aguero held the ball with his back to Chris Smalling at the centre circle, using his incredible strength and low sense of gravity. He surprised the defender with a quick turn and his acceleration was such that all Smalling could do to halt his progress was pull his shirt back and pick up a yellow card.
The Manchester City faithful were upset at the perceived lack of fight from their team, but the accusation couldn’t be aimed at their star striker. Daley Blind had to physically wrestle him to the ground just before half-time, with Aguero drawing four fouls throughout the contest.
His best opportunity to score came in the 66th minute, when he headed against the post from Yaya Toure’s cross into the area. The forward battled until the very end, which couldn’t be said about many of his team-mates.
3. Navas shows willing
It’s not too difficult to determine which players automatically will and won’t be able to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s stringent methods next term, with the hardest part for many City supporters working out the ones who may surprise.
Jesus Navas certainly tried to prove his worth, and should have opened the scoring in the seventh minute. Raheem Sterling raced clear on the left before delivering a cross, with Blind’s attempted clearance falling to the Spanish winger who missed the target.
Then, several minutes later he forced David de Gea into action for the first time. Sterling linked up well with David Silva, with the former backheeling the ball into Navas’s path. Silva’s cross was met by Navas, and De Gea saved with his feet.
The former Sevilla wideman completed four out of a possible seven take-ons, and created six chances in the game.
4. Demichelis looks ready for retirement
At the other end of the scale was Demichelis, the centre-back having a complete nightmare as he was made to look foolish by his quicker and cleverer direct opponents. Both Anthony Martial and Rashford were able to run past the defender with ease, and United’s goal summed up his dire performance.
With both Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi missing, the 35-year-old looked completely out of his depth on such a big occasion. He caught Rashford in the box right at the end of the first half as the striker attempted to beat him on the outside, only for referee Michael Oliver to wave away City’s appeal.
Then, straight after the restart, Hart played a free-kick to Demichelis and the centre-back returned a half-hearted ball back into the goalkeeper’s direction. The England No.1 had to race off his line to beat Martial to the ball and injured himself in the process.
In the 53rd minute, Pellegrini replaced Demichelis with Wilfried Bony despite the former Malaga coach having already been forced to use two substitutions following the injuries to Sterling and Hart. “He was nervous and it was not a good day for him,” Pellegrini admitted.
The fact that even his long-term mentor felt it was better to use midfielder Fernandinho in the position for the final half-hour with no subs left illustrated how poor Demichelis had been.
5. Pellegrini and Van Gaal both struggling to get the most from their teams
El Pais reported on Sunday that Jose Mourinho has signed a pre-contract at Old Trafford, with both parties liable for financial repercussions should they break the terms of the agreement.
As City have Guardiola heading in their direction this summer, there was a sense that both managers were keeping their seats warm for more illustrious successors.
With four points separating the two clubs at kick-off, it was viewed as a vital game for the top four – and not just from the fans’ perspectives. In the end it wasn’t the greatest performance from United, but after a very disappointing fortnight it was a massive result.
“We dominated the game and we missed clear chances to score, but unfortunately we are not scoring in enough games,” Pellegrini lamented. “I’m happy with the attitude – for me it is very important for the team. All the players are very focused for this season.”
“Now it is in our own hands I think, we have to win our games,” said Van Gaal. “We have more home matches than away matches and we don’t lose so much at Old Trafford, so we have a big chance.”
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