MANCHESTER — Following Manchester United’s 4-2 win against Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday, the Red Devils took a huge step to securing a place in the top three in the Premier League and humbled their “noisy neighbors” in the process.
[ RECAP: United 4-2 City ]
United’s derby day success was their first in five attempts with the red half of Manchester rejoicing. Two goals from Sergio Aguero did little to paper over the severe cracks in City’s display.
Here’s three things we learned from the pulsating encounter.
Fellaini’s fine form; United only needs one striker
Marouane Fellaini was the best player on the pitch on Sunday as the Belgian continues to keep the likes of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao out of the team. On this showing, it’s easy to see why. Fellaini has now scored four goals in his last four games for United and Belgium and his role in-behind Rooney and drifting out to the left flank dragged City’s midfield all over the place. Yaya Toure didn’t know whether or not to track Fellaini out wide and the Belgian striker peeled off City’s full backs time and time again to win headers easily. He headed plenty of balls back into dangerous errors and then in the 27th minute he headed in at the back post to put United 2-1 up and give them a lead they would never relinquish. Fellaini is now playing in a similar role to his days at Everton in what has become a 4-1-4-1 formation as he, Ashley Young, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera tore City apart. Fellaini, Mata and Young all scored, as Wayne Rooney lead the line superbly and had plenty of support from the aforementioned trio whenever he held the ball up. If their attacking midfielders perform like this, United only need one striker.
Pellegrini may not have long left
City’s wonderful start blew the match wide-open and it was easy to see why Manuel Pellegrini reverted to a 4-5-1 formation for this match. Pellegrini has been persevering with a 4-4-2 formation for much of the second half of the season but a return to three central midfielders allowed the likes of David Silva, James Milner and Jesus Navas to create. Taking the lead early on through Aguero was as good as it got for the Citizens as United blew them away and delivered a damaging defeat which could end Pellegrini’s reign at the Etihad. In truth, the axe has been hovering over his head for quite some time.
Yes, he delivered the Premier League trophy in his first season in England but since January tactical ineptitude coupled with an ageing team — who are on a downward spiral after four defeats in their last six matches — is enough to suggest Pellegrini’s time at City is almost up. The debate about who could replace him has suggested Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti are the leading candidates but both are in charge of European superpowers, while City demise in recent weeks has proven they are a long way off that. A massive rebuild is needed this summer at City but a woeful derby display could be one of the key factors which means someone other than Pellegrini will lead a new-look City next season.
Attack, attack, attack
Both sides aren’t blessed with wonderful defenders so all-out attack was the only real option on Sunday and six goals poured in with plenty of chances going begging too. City went for it early on and could have been 2-0 up had Navas taken a glorious chance, but then United woke up after going behind and roared forward. With neither team possessing title hopes, this was a game with little to lose. Second-place is the prize on offer for United, Arsenal and City as Chelsea runaway with the title but the Red Devils may disagree as they still have to play Chelsea away but a nine-point deficit with six games to go is too big of a gap to make up. However after a sixth-straight wins, United are building up momentum and confidence ahead of what should be a summer of heavy spending in pursuit of a first Premier League title since 2013.
This trend of all-out attack will continue in the PL between now and the end of the season as teams have nothing to lose by throwing caution to the wind. United won the battle of the attacks on Sunday.