For years, Manchester United savoured Liverpool’s inability to win the Premier League. Now they have hastened their passage to that elusive title. A derby double, and taking six points off City, means Liverpool only need six more points to be crowned champions.
If the table still suggests City are the kings of Manchester, United can point to three victories over their neighbours this season, including two in the league. Anthony Martial has scored in both, becoming the first United player since Cristiano Ronaldo 13 years ago to score in home-and-away league derbies in the same campaign. Mercurial as he can be, the Frenchman can flourish on such stages. So can United, and a famous win was sealed in spectacular style by substitute Scott McTominay, who struck from 40 yards in injury time.
For City, a run of five straight victories came to an end. They have other priorities, as Pep Guardiola’s selection indicated, but defeat at a ground where they have tasted victory seven times in a decade will still hurt. They dominated possession but United offered more penetration.
This was a reminder that they can often excel against elite opposition. United had already registered three wins against Chelsea and they have found a blueprint that works well on such stages. They were content to have less of the ball. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s counter-attacking formula worked well. If United were initially too passive, they allied a threat on the break with defensive organisation and concentration. They rendered it hard for City to break them down and they possessed in-form individuals. Aaron Wan-Bissaka again defended well against Raheem Sterling while Nemanja Matic made a brilliant interception after Sergio Aguero nutmegged Harry Maguire. Collectively, they showed great grit.
As Solskjaer often does against the top teams, United fielded three centre-backs. They brought the solidity and the attack sprang quick breaks, using the pace of Martial and Daniel James. Each drew a save from Ederson when shooting while a teammate was better positioned but their speed presented a threat, with James troubling Nicolas Otamendi.
But United have added another dimension and Bruno Fernandes marked his Manchester derby debut with an assist and evidence that he is an immediate upgrade as a set-piece specialist. He scooped a free kick forward and Martial darted away from Aguero to volley a shot that Ederson would normally save. Instead it squirmed under the Brazilian. It was a dreadful day for Ederson: his misplaced pass allowed McTominay to score the second while, normally so accomplished in possession, he almost gifted United another goal with a poor touch from Joao Cancelo's backpass allowing the sliding Martial to challenge him. Martial hit the post in person, but the ball went wide.
Once again, Fernandes had highlighted what United had lacked until his arrival, a creator who could link the defensive and attacking sections of the side. It also illustrated what City missed in the absence of the injured Kevin de Bruyne. Bernardo Silva had one of his quieter games while both David Silva and Riyad Mahrez began on the bench in a much-changed team.
City had gone 3-0 up by half time at Old Trafford in January’s Carabao Cup semi-final. Suffice to say there was no repeat as they only mustered one shot before the break, their lowest first-half tally in 17 months. Sterling had it but his wait for a first goal against United continues. David de Gea has been a scourge of the winger before and he reprised that role, palming away a curling shot after Sterling had been found by Phil Foden.
City’s possession produced little else then. They had more intensity and more hints of incision after Guardiola’s half-time talk. Immediately afterwards, Aguero had a goal chalked off, ruled fractionally offside when he raced on to Sterling’s pass. De Gea tipped over a long-range strike from Foden. At full stretch, Sterling just could not convert Mahrez’s enticing cross while De Gea then saved from Gabriel Jesus, another replacement.
It was a restorative day for the United goalkeeper, who had erred at Everton last week, and United’s margin of victory could have been bigger. Perhaps Fred was harshly treated when he was booked for diving after an Otamendi challenge in the box. It mattered not: United and for their enemies turned unlikely supporters in Liverpool got the result they wanted.