Sergio Aguero scored just eight minutes in, and Manchester United had memories of the last four meetings dancing in their heads. Those memories would soon disappear.
The home side scored four unanswered goals and roared past their cross-town rivals behind stellar play from Juan Mata and Ashley Young, with both finishing on the scoresheet bracketed by Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling as United all but secured a return to Champions League play next season. It gave Manchester United a 4-2 win, their sixth in a row, and put a stop to City’s four match win streak in the Manchester derby.
With little to lose between these two teams thanks to the large gap between 4th and 5th place in the table, both sides went for it early. Manchester City had the early opportunities just five minutes in. A shot from Jesus Navas was saved from a tight angle by David de Gea, and then Yaya Toure seemed to have all day in the box to rip off a shot but Michael Carrick came in heroically to block the attempt.
The early pressure would pay off though, as City would go up early at Old Trafford. James Milner found David Silva at the left edge of the box, and the Spaniard delivered a low ball to Sergio Aguero all alone in the box for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead inside 10 minutes.
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It wouldn’t last long though, as a crazy sequence led to an equalizer from Ashley Young. Nearly caught out at the back on a poor back-pass, David de Gea hammered the ball into the attacking half, and it fell to Ander Herrera. The Spaniard burst forward past Pablo Zabaleta who fell down, and he delivered a quick cross and caught Young making a run. The English international nearly flubbed the chance under pressure, but he stuck with it and poked the ball home while falling down to level the score inside 15 minutes.
City went right back down and pressured the United back line, but it would be the home side to take control. Just as things looked to be settling down, United roared again just before the half-hour mark. A fabulous cross from Young at the top corner of the box went across the face of goal and fell to Marouane Fellaini at the far post who headed home under the arm of Joe Hart for a 2-1 lead.
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There was a scary moment for Vincent Kompany and City just before halftime, as the Belgian defender went rashly into Daley Blind, but after a long conference between referee Mark Clattenburg and his assistant, Kompany got off with just a yellow card. Kompany appeared to be injured just before or during the tackle, and was substituted off after the break.
City had plenty of defending to do early on, in a furious spell on 52 minutes where Joe Hart made a save on a Wayne Rooney free-kick and Carrick’s follow-up, and then another pair of shots were blocked before the chance came to an end. The Red Devils continued to be a threat, though, and they’d get a third to seal the victory.
Rooney found a streaking Juan Mata through on goal past the back line, and the Spaniard finished on a tight angle past Hart one-on-one. Replays showed Mata was a healthy bit offsides on the pass, but the flag stayed down and United went 3-1 up with just under a half-hour to play.
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A fourth would come from Chris Smalling on an Ashley Young free-kick minutes later as Old Trafford exploded. Eliaquim Mangala, Kompany’s replacement, played three Red Devils onside as Young sent in the ball, allowing United in on net. Aguero would get a second goal late, his 100th Manchester City goal but nothing more than a consolation. It came partly thanks to an injury for Carrick that sent him straight off the pitch and down the tunnel, leaving United with just 10 men for the final three minutes.
The win gives Manchester United a four point cushion above City in third place, just a point back of Arsenal in second. The defending champions, meanwhile, have work to do to secure their own Champions League spot, but do have a five point gap above Southampton in fifth.
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones (Rojo 75′), Blind, Carrick, Fellaini (Falcao 83′), Herrera, Mata (Di Maria 81′), Young, Rooney.
Goals – Young 14′, Fellaini 27′, Mata 67′, Smalling 73′
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (Mangala 46′), Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas (Lampard 74′), Milner (Nasri 62′), Silva, Aguero.
Goals – Aguero 8′, 89′