Marcos Rojo

Three things we learned from the Manchester Derby

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MANCHESTER — The Manchester Derby delivered drama in wintry conditions and it also underlined that this is Manchester City’s Premier League title to lose.

[ MORE: Mourinho calls City “lucky” ]

City beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford at a snowy Old Trafford on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola‘s men setting a new Premier League record for the most consecutive wins in a single season with 14 victories on the spin.

Guardiola leads Mourinho all-time with eight wins, seven draws and just four defeats from their 19 encounters, as United suffered their first defeat at home in 41 games in all competitions.

[ MORE: Pep delighted with derby win ]

This was also the first time they’d lost at home in the Premier League in 24 games, since they lost to Man City (who else!?) last September.

Here’s what we learned from an intense encounter in the Manchester Derby.


CONTRASTING STYLES CLEARER THAN EVER

“Park the bus, park the bus Man United! Playing football the Mourinho way!” sang the Manchester City fans from the away end at Old Trafford.

United did just that with two holding midfielders and long balls up to Romelu Lukaku, while City turned on the style and dominated possession and the tempo of the game.

United will point to Paul Pogba‘s absence through suspension as the main reason for their midfield failing to stake any claim whatsoever on the game, but the gulf in class between the teams during the run of play was incredibly vast. Just as we expected.

The 3-1 win at Arsenal last weekend somewhat papered over the cracks for United who lacked the dynamism in the final third they showed last Saturday, with Lukaku isolated up top without Pogba’s supporting runs.

As for City, their juggernaut continues. Guardiola’s men are the champions elect with a record 14 Premier League wins on the spin and they show no signs of slowing down. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva may not have been at their fluid best, but they threatened to unlock a stubborn United defense on multiple occasions with Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane constant pests.

To add to their imperious form they’re taking the league by storm with style as “ole’s” rang out from the away end on multiple occasions. In the end, City eased by United in what is likely to be their toughest test of the season. That says it all.


CENTER BACK STILL AN ISSUE FOR CITY

John Stones‘ star is rising further as he sits on the sidelines.

The Man City and England center back pulled his hamstring in the victory at Leicester City last month and in his absence Nicolas Otamendi has stepped in admirably with Vincent Kompany also back full fit.

That said, Otamendi and Kompany had played against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham with City conceding in each of their last five games and Eliaquim Mangala also looking off the pace as he stepped in at times.

On Sunday a mistake from Otamendi — he was caught out of position on a long ball from Marcos Rojo and couldn’t head clear — led to Fabian Delph mis-controlling and Rashford making it 1-1 right on half time. Kompany came off at half time with Fernandinho slotting into central defense, and then Mangala came on after City went 2-1 up.

Otamendi made amends for his first half mistake with an acrobatic finish to put City 2-1 up, but it’s at the other end where City will see their biggest challenges in continuing their incredible winning run.

It’s hard to pick holes in a team which is 11 points clear atop the table but Guardiola must know he’s at least one center back away from having a truly great team. He has one in Stones, for sure, and may need to acquire another one in January if they’re going to sweep all before them not only in England but in Europe too.


LOW-POINT FOR LUKAKU

Romelu Lukaku had an absolute shocker in Manchester United’s biggest game of the season and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s shadow is looming larger than ever over the Belgian striker.

When United needed Lukaku most, especially with no Pogba, their big money summer signing faltered.

Lukaku was largely at fault for both of City’s goals as the ball hit him from a corner for the first and David Silva hooked home, then he made an absolute mess of a routine clearance from a free kick which led to Otamendi scoring the winner.

He looked short of confidence when he was set free in attack and although he had no support, the $100 million man was well off the pace and didn’t try to drop deep to get into the game. Lukaku has scored just twice in his last 13 appearances for United and just once in his last eight outings in the Premier League. It showed.

Twice in the second half he was set free but he hammered the ball over on the first break and then dribbled into a defender on his second break. On both occasions moan and groans were loud from the home fans at Old Trafford and to put the icing on the cake he was denied an equalizer late on from inside the six-yard box as Ederson saved superbly when Lukaku should’ve scored.

Zlatan, who came on to partner Lukaku late on against City, will now surely get a run in the team over the busy festive period. If the veteran striker delivers goals, how can Mourinho leave him out of the team? After a red-hot start to life at United, Lukaku has pretty much hit rock bottom.

Right now he’s not a threat in attack and he cost his team dear defensively in the derby.

Wenger slams referees after Arsenal’s defeat to Man United

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LONDON — Arsene Wenger looked a little dumbfounded as to how his Arsenal side had lost 3-1 at home to Manchester United on Saturday.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ]

The Gunners had 75 percent of the possession and 33 shots (15 of which were on target) but they came up against an inspired display from David De Gea who equaled a Premier League record for single saves in a game with 14.

Yet three catastrophic defensive errors saw his side lose for the first time in 18 home games in all competitions and end a winning-streak of 12 league games at the Emirates.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams Arsenal, Koscielny ]

Speaking to reporters after the game, Wenger criticized the referees after Arsenal were denied penalty kick appeals in either half with Alexandre Lacazette hauled down by Marcos Rojo in the first half, then Danny Welbeck felled by Matteo Darmian late on.

Was he upset about not being awarded at least two penalty kicks?

“I am,” Wenger said, before giving his opinion on if they were penalties and then intimating that United would have been awarded penalty kicks had they been playing at home. “I don’t know, I have to watch it again, but I thought it was. Yes. We will see. I hope that at Old Trafford it will be the same…”

Wenger wasn’t finished though. Oh no.

Asked if his own player, Laurent Koscielny, should have been sent off for hauling down Romelu Lukaku as the last man late on, the Frenchman was far from complimentary about referee Andre Marriner and his officiating crew.

“Maybe I don’t know every situation in the game. Last night I watched Napoli v Juventus on television. You have seen a top class referees. You want to analyze well? Watch that and the difference between them and us and then you see,” Wenger added.

Arsenal were the better team for vast swathes of this game but failed to covert their dominance and chances into goals and were hit three times on the counter by a ruthless United attacking unit.

The defeat leaves Arsenal possibly 15 points behind PL leaders Manchester City (if they beat West Ham tomorrow) and the Gunners’ title hopes are all but over before the festive period has even begun.

Wenger rued their wasteful nature.

“When you have 33 shots on goal in a game of that stature, it means our dominance was top class but I am angry and disappointed because at the end you have nothing to show for it,” Wenger said. “Even at 2-1 you make another mistake at that back that made the game even more difficult… I felt that at the back our concentration at the back was not sharp enough from the start and not dominant enough.

“We have produced an excellent performance but we have conceded three goals. We had at least 10 chances and we were not efficient enough in the box. That is the reality. I feel sorry for the players because our spirit was outstanding, the quality of the performance was outstanding but we were not efficient enough in areas where it mattered.”

Young’s beautiful brace leads Man Utd

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  • Young scores pretty pair (video)
  • Martial makes it 3-0
  • Rojo concedes PK
  • Lingard solo dribble ends it

Ashley Young scored two goals and Anthony Martial also netted as Manchester United used a huge first half to beat Watford 4-2 at Vicarage Road on Tuesday.

Jesse Lingard put the match to bed after Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucore scored second half goals to pull Watford within one.

United is now five points back of Man City, which plays Wednesday versus Southampton.

Watford fails to reach the Top Four, and remains eighth with 22 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Victor Lindelof bodied Richarlison off the ball before a cross could reach him in the seventh minute as Manchester United dodged the first threat of the match.

And Watford was largely on the front foot for the first quarter hour, as Will Hughes continued his prominent role in the team and Richarlison remained a challenge for the opposition.

Young gave United a second goal in as many matches, this one credited to him, as he hit a shot from the left that beat Heurelho Gomes to the near post.

Paul Pogba won a 24th minute free kick during a 50-yard dribble through the heart of the midfield. Abdoulaye Doucore saw yellow, and Young stepped to the plate with a fantastic, swerving free kick goal.

Martial added a third in the 32nd minute, running to the top of the 18 to hit a low shot to the left of a diving Gomes.

Romelu Lukaku‘s 45th minute rip was stopped by a Gomes dive, and the keeper popped up to stop Jesse Lingard’s rebound.

Richarlison missed a header just before the halftime whistle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Lukaku had a sadly funny miss in the 75th minute. Cued up alone with an empty net, he dribbled out of a chance to make it 4-0 to compound his struggles and confound his supporters.

Roberto Pereyra won a penalty in the 77th minute, dribbling past Marcos Rojo. The back’s rescue tackle was quite poor, and Deeney didn’t miss from the spot.

Deeney then got higher than Chris Smalling to head on goal.

Watford continued to control play, and Marco Silva‘s men pulled within one when Doucoure connected with a cross. The Hornets would have seven minutes to find an equalizer.

Mourinho slams critics, reveals team news; Fellaini update

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are almost back to full strength but he has a few concerns.

The Red Devils host Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Mourinho now having just a handful of injury concerns.

Long-term absentees Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo have all returned to action over the past week, while Mourinho has a small defensive problem with Eric Bailly and Phil Jones out for the visit of the newly-promoted Seagulls.

“They are out. But we are okay because we have [Chris] Smalling, [Marcos] Rojo and [Victor] Lindelof,” Mourinho said.

He also said that Pogba isn’t yet able to play a full 90 minutes as he continue his recovery from a hamstring injury, while Zlatan is improving all the time after jumping off the bench in the victory over Newcastle United last weekend and the midweek defeat at Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

“I prefer him [Ibrahimovic] on the pitch than off the pitch,” Mourinho said. “On the pitch, he’s another option for us and he’s an option of quality. His physicality and his intelligence, the way he moves, the way he plays. But he needs time. We managed to give him 15/20 minutes in both matches, he needs more of that, so hopefully, tomorrow, we play him again.”

Mourinho also took exception to a question about the criticism his team receives about their defensive style of play, with the Portuguese coach pointing towards United’s superb home record this season.

“I don’t know who is more ambitious than us,” Mourinho said. “We played against Newcastle with Pogba, Rashford, Martial, Mata, Lukaku, the full backs are not full backs, everybody knows they are wingers, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. So, I don’t know what you want.”

United have won all six PL home games this season and have scored 19 goals, conceding just once. So, yeah, he has a point but the only real test they’ve had so far at home was against Tottenham Hotspur.

Aside from an injury update and hitting back at critics, Mourinho also gave an update on Fellaini’s contract situation and revealed he is concerned the Belgian midfielder may leave.

Fellaini, 30, is out of contract at the end of the season and Mourinho has praised the lanky midfielder on numerous occasions over the past few months. Is he worried Fellaini will leave for nothing?

“Yeah,” Mourinho said. “This is a discussion between the player and the board. I’m not involved in contracts, in deals, and I respect both – I respect the player because he has the right to decide his future. So I just wait wishing they will have an understanding, but it’s out of my control.”

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle