Manchester City 0 – 1 Manchester United. Marcus Rashford’s unforgettable debut season hits new heights as his early goal ensures all 3-points go to the red half of Manchester.
Martin Demichelis is United’s best player
Much has been made of City’s defensive record with and without captain Vincent Kompany. While injuries have plagued his City career of late, there is no doubt that City are a far more resolute side whenever he is in the team. As such, the writing was on the wall when first Kompany then Nicholas Otamendi both limped off during City’s midweek draw with Dynamo Kiev.
In came Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala to replace the injured duo, much to the chargin of the City faithful. Faced with United players nearly half his age, 35-year-old Demichelis, in particular, had a chastising afternoon. Defending the quicksilver Marcus Rashford in the 15th min, Demichelis was left on his backside as the United youngster showed his turn of pace before placing his shot past the diving Joe Hart in his first ever Manchester derby.
Given the chance to make immediate amends, Demichelis would pass up the opportunity, heading wide in the 22nd minute after a delicious free kick from David Silva had found him in space.
As half time neared, Demichelis rolled out the red carpet and invited United to double their lead. As Rashford once against sped past him near the byline, the Argentine defender could count himself very lucky not to have given away a penalty for his clumsy challenge that saw none of the ball. The fact that both fans and pundits universally agree that Michael Oliver bottled the decision when he waved appeals away means that Demichelis had dodged a bullet.
The worst was yet to come though. To complete his afternoon horror show, he criminally underhit his backpass to Joe Hart minutes after the restart, forcing Hart to hurtle out of the box to clear the ball and injuring himself in the process. It was no surprise that Manuel Pellegrini hauled him off mere minutes later in an act of mercy to prevent further embarrassment.
If these 3 points eventually mean that United sneak into the Champions League next season, the United faithful will soon be singing songs about the generosity of one Martin Demichelis.
Van Gaal rolls the Dice and Wins
While rumours abound about Jose Mourinho’s imminent appoitment as the new Manchester United manager, the existing one was busy plotting a victory over local rivals Manchester City.
To say that Van Gaal’s 2 year reign has not exactly set pulses racing would be the understatement of the decade yet it was genuinely refreshing to see Van Gaal gamble on attacking City’s weak defensive underbelly.
A selection of Rashford, Martial and Lingard upfront suggested that Van Gaal felt that City were there for the taking and his young guns duly delivered. The City defence looked like a deer caught in the headlights as time and time again the trio ran at them with pace and purpose. And while the control of game eventually slipped away from United, the presence of Martial and Rashford ensure that City could not throw the kitchen sink at United over fears of a quick break. Indeed, first Martial then Rashford supplied late lung-bursting surges in the final moments of the game to help relieve pressure on the United backline as well as run down the clock.
Van Gaal’s injury crisis might have forced his hand in playing these youngesters as often as he has but if these young players can keep developing at pace, Van Gaal just might be overseeing a new crop of United superstars in the making.
The race for 4th is back on
In a season of twists and turns, United’s victory over City, coupled by West Ham’s earlier draw with Chelsea on Saturday mean that a solitary point separate the 4th to 6th with 8 games to go.
While City have a point advantage and a superior goal difference, they are the only English team left in the UEFA Champions League and face French champions PSG next month. Indeed, City look like a side in free fall and are a touch soft without the leadership of talismanic captain Vincent Kompany. Apart from matches against Chelsea and Arsenal, their final 8 games look relatively straightforward. With the form they are in though, the unthinkable could happen as City welcome Guardiola next season with the chance to win the one European title he has yet to win – the Europa League.
With a new stadium to look forward to, Slaven Bilic’s men might be hoping they will be able to bring Champions League football to the Olympic Stadium next season. Matches against Arsenal and Leicester City in April will go some way towards determining their fate and the penultimate match against Mancheter United might just be a decider to see who qualifies for the Champions League next season.
Of the three it is United who have it all to do if they are going to steal 4th spot. Upcoming games against Everton and Tottenham will be tricky and they still have to face both leaders Leicester City as well as fellow contenders West Ham in May. With a FA Cup quarter final replay against West Ham representing their best chance at silverware this season, Van Gaal’s side will definitely find the going tough between now and the end of the season.
On paper at least, Manchester City seems best poised to snatch the last Champions League spot. Yet with the season we have had so far, it will not be a surprise if there are a few more twists in this truly memorable season.