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The Manchester derby: The winners and losers

The Premier League curtain has been pulled down on the Manchester derby for another season, as Ma...

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

13:17 9 Mar 2020



The Manchester derby: The winn...
Soccer

The Manchester derby: The winners and losers

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

13:17 9 Mar 2020

The Premier League curtain has been pulled down on the Manchester derby for another season, as Manchester United fans head into work with a spring in their step.

Neither United nor City fans will get too worked up about this result one way or another. But for the first time in a decade, Manchester United have completed the double over Pep Guardiola's side.

Manchester United still have a long way to go to challenge for a Premier League title, but the manner of the collective performance and individual players gives great heart that the club are steering in the right direction. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has quarantined the viral elements of the squad from last season. Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku have left, with Paul Pogba existing as some sort of philosophical quandary - can a football player be a football player without playing football?

Guardiola is left to survey a season that hinges on the likely progression through to the next Champions League stage, with qualification for next season almost certainly sealed. But there are significant questions about not only the depth of this City side, but the slight down-trend in the uptake of his undoubted coaching genius. With Liverpool so dominant, anything less than warp-speed progression leaves others breathing in their fumes.

Off The Ball has a look at the winners and losers from this weekend's derby:

Winners:

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

Let's rattle off the stats that you will have undoubtedly heard, but are worth repeating: United are ten unbeaten since the callow loss to Burnley, this is the first time since Alex Ferguson that United have won the double over City. Solskjaer has won 17 points from the top six this season, behind only Jurgen Klopp.

There is something there, even if at times it can be difficult to define exactly what that is.

The win on Sunday can be read a few ways. This is not a vintage City squad by the standards of the last three years and they missed Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte desperately. Manchester United took some chances and got somewhat lucky with some of the chances missed by their opponents.

However, Solskjaer has a knack of not only getting his players up for the important games, he deploys them in a system that seems to suit the collective to the task. The 3-4-1-2 seems like one that suits United in the bigger matches. The likes of Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka add an extra layer between defence and midfield that helped dominate a lacklustre City midfield. The defence looked a little shaky to begin, but they settled in nicely and deployed the ball well to the flanks and Bruno Fernandes.

There may still be some question marks over the coaching side of things as United often look out of ideas against difficult opponents. But the addition of Fernandes changes the make-up of this side both tactically and mentally. They know they can break others down now - and the others do too. The signing also allows Fred, Matic and McTominay to do what they do best and suddenly a squad that looked lop-sided seems a lot more knitted-together.

With the right backing in key areas of the pitch, this could be a fascinating journey for United fans and a personal vindication of what Solskjaer has been saying all along. The fact that he says it occasionally in a Moyes-esque fashion has counted against him. But with a little bit of PR-coaching as well as adding one or two behind the scenes, United fans may be in for an enjoyable ride.

Fred:

Whether or not you support a club, there is a certain human satisfaction in seeing players turn things around. It has happened to players with varying degrees of skill and with different obstacles. Jordan Henderson at Liverpool, Ismaila Sarr at Watford and Danny Ings at Southampton are proof this season that people can adapt.

Fred stands close to the top of this particular league table. Spool back to August, where Fred had very little by way of pre-season. His marriage and honeymoon had come at an inopportune time; the space was there in the Manchester United midfield if he wanted to commit, but the noises were that Solskjaer didn't fancy him. Through total dedication, the Brazilian has gone from a player that was struggling to play even rudimentary passes to being one of the first names on the team sheet.

On Sunday, there were points where this tyro of dynamism and quick-thinking was pushing passes through to the forwards and bypassing some of the most talented midfielders in the Premier League. A quick rub of the eyes, and oppositions fans realised that it was Fred conducting things.

This was one of his best performances for United; composed with and without the ball, knitting things together with little fuss and no little dedication. The development of his passing game is a credit to a combination of three probable things; personal dedication, coaching and finding the wavelength of the Premier League.

Gradually, United's transfer plans this summer have come to preclude a midfielder.

Pep Guardiola:

This loss could come to work in Guardiola's favour. For the first time in his career, he has lost seven league matches. There is enough credit in the bank for Guardiola to knock on Txiki Beguiristain's office with a list of names like a Catalan Arya Stark.

Some of those will be players that let the club down on the biggest occasions (more on that later) but also those that will kick the club on. Any manager would struggle with losing their best players for a huge portion of the season - like Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte. But City are not most clubs.

Guardiola has made all the right noises about their Champions League ban, but one might wonder whether the quid pro quo might be heavy backing in the transfer market. They are surely short at centre-back, likely short at left-back (remarkable given what has been spent) and several squad players do not look up to the task.

City are wary of their precarious position here. The new record of seven losses in no way dents suitors' interests in Guardiola. They need to back him, or he will leave.

 

Losers

Ederson:

There is something especially lonely when a goalkeeper drops a bollock. Try dropping three.

It was the point in the second half when Ederson let a backpass roll under his studs that you knew something was seriously wrong. The Brazilian is a fearless operator with his feet, but Guardiola might have just hoped for a little more of the fear factor from Ederson on Sunday.

What most goalkeepers in his elevated position require is concentration. If you are left to your own devices for much of the game, supporters start to worry when they find you composing a TikTok when you should be laser-focused The trope that 'a goalie should never be beaten at his near post' might be a little worn but it certainly applied for United's opening goal.

In Ederson's defence, it was an unusual move - Fernandes' flick meant it was difficult to gauge where Martial would likely shoot. But it wasn't the cleanest strike and Ederson's position turned out to be perfect. He fumbled.

He was at fault for United's second, even if the game was gone. Ederson is headache that City could do without.

Nicolas Otamendi:

Otamendi simply is not good enough for Manchester City. He is exposed at almost every turn. This is obvious to both fans and his team-mates.

Kevin De Bruyne lost it with Otamendi in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg, when the Argentine committed a brainless tackle on Harry Maguire that put his side under needless pressure. He struggled with the occasion on Sunday and a relatively unfamiliar back-line.

If he is at City next season, it will be due to the uncertain situation with John Stones and the dearth of options that they have at centre-half.

A penny for Eric Garcia's thoughts...

Paul Pogba:

All of this is written on the presumption that there were times when Pogba may not have committed to the cause when he may have pushed himself to do so. Regardless, United seem to have pulled together a midfield that looks both cohesive and dangerous in his absence.

Fernandes is showing what having a committed and thus-far consistent creative force can do for Manchester United. He is knitting together the side with panache and has already become a fan favourite in the process. Pogba has often done the former but struggled with the latter.

Pogba may have played his cards badly. His agent's comments in the press give the impression of someone not in any way committed to the club. Moreover, from a personal perspective, he is banking on his situation with France being untouchable. Didier Deschamps will struggle to pick him as a starter at Euro 2020 without significant minutes under his belt at club level.

It is hard to see that happening with the politics surrounding Paul Pogba.

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Fred Guardiola Man City Man Utd Manchester City Manchester United Otamendi Pogba Solskjaer

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