Bernardo Silva secures derby honours for Manchester City over sorry United
How much longer? After the 5-0 humiliation against Liverpool, this was another Theatre of Screams occasion for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, another big game when the gap to the very best yawned like a chasm, when his Manchester United team were an incoherent mess.
There was no evidence of an attacking plan. The Manchester City goalkeeper, Ederson, was a virtual bystander, with United barely entering his penalty area. There were no options. There was no movement, no direction. And, at the end, after City had coasted through the second half, having done their damage before the interval, it was impossible not to wonder how the United hierarchy could continue to tolerate it, how Solskjær could remain as the manager.
Solskjær’s tenure has been a wild ride, featuring plenty of enjoyment, thrills and spills. There has been spirit and last-gasp winners. Broadly, it has been possible to get behind the glorious madness of it all. But the team looked broken here and the only relief for the United support was that it was not another heavy scoreline. That had been the fear, another massacre, which rather sums up the climate around the club.
David de Gea stood in City’s way, making a string of fine first-half saves, although even he erred for the second goal, scored by the excellent Bernardo Silva. The opener had been a comical Eric Bailly own goal, the defender enhancing his reputation for the erratic.
City put the memory of last Saturday’s shock home loss to Crystal Palace firmly behind them, their superiority in all areas total; the fluency of their approach pronounced. It was a day when Pep Guardiola comprehensively outmanoeuvred Solskjær and the travelling supporters could enjoy themselves, revelling in the pain of their neighbours.
For United, it is now four points from six games. There were some boos at the interval and full time from the Old Trafford crowd, although they were nothing like as sustained as those that greeted the half-time whistle against Liverpool at 4-0.
Apart from De Gea, it was difficult to score any United player as more than 4/10 – with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Bailly and Fred particularly dreadful. Bruno Fernandes could get nothing going while Cristiano Ronaldo, who had United’s only shot on target, was guilty of a spiteful lunge at Kevin De Bruyne in stoppage time. It reflected the bitter frustration.
Bailly’s early aberration set the tone for United. There was no sky blue shirt in his immediate vicinity when João Cancelo crossed from the left but, with his body shape all wrong, Bailly swung with his right boot and sliced with his shin past De Gea.
Guardiola had said that he knew what to expect from United – in his own words, a man-to-man press up front and deeper defence. Were United really going to press? There was no evidence of that. It was more difficult to second guess how Guardiola would play it and this was yet another occasion when it was a struggle to classify his formation.
Who was the false nine? Not Phil Foden, who worked productively off the left, or Gabriel Jesus, who played on the other side. Instead, Guardiola used De Bruyne, Silva and Ilkay Gündogan in roving central attacking midfield roles and each of them was allowed to step up, at various times, to the front of the line.
It was too much for United. In possession, City gorged on options, their movement quick and coherent, while out of it they swarmed men around the ball, suffocating their rivals. Guardiola’s players had time and space.
United’s had neither. For long spells, it looked as though City had more men on the pitch.
The first half was an ordeal for United and the wonder was that they trailed by only two at the end of it. De Gea made five saves in quick succession from the 28th minute and two of them were world class – those to tip over from Jesus at close quarters and to prevent Victor Lindelöf from scoring another United own goal. Of all the damning statistics, the one which showed United had more shots at De Gea than Ederson probably won the prize.
Ronaldo’s sole attempt was a volley on 26 minutes that needed Ederson to react smartly – the rebound came too quickly for Mason Greenwood – and the only surprise about City’s second was that De Gea was at fault. He was not alone.
Shaw was ball-watching as Cancelo shaped a cross to the far post, failing to notice Silva stealing in around the back. Silva’s prodded finish squirmed through De Gea at the near post.
Solskjær’s starting 3-5-2 system was an abject failure. Put bluntly, the players did not appear to have any idea about how to construct moves while even the fundamentals were missing such as fight in the 50-50s.
Solskjær hooked Bailly at the interval, sent on Jadon Sancho and switched to 4-2-3-1. The game already felt lost. It was a case of trying to stop the bleeding. City did not seem to have the appetite to twist the knife.
Rather, they prioritised the retention of possession, giving United a lesson in how to look after the ball and move off it. They toyed with them.
City still created chances. De Bruyne sliced when well placed; Foden struck the outside of the post; John Stones dragged wide and Jesus shouted in vain for a penalty against the substitute Alex Telles. “Ole’s at the wheel,” mocked the City fans. For how much longer?