MANCHESTER — Manchester United beat Manchester City 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, with the Red Devils securing a huge three points in their quest to finish in the top four.
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Their bitter rivals lost players through injury, missed a glut of chances and are now just one point ahead of a host of teams as the race for the final UEFA Champions League spot intensifies.
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Here’s three things we learned from United’s win at City.
LOCAL LAD LEADS THE WAY
After scoring four goals in his first two appearances for Manchester United, the English media were clambering for national team manager Roy Hodgson to name him in his next squad. Rashford failed to score in his next five outings and Hodgson resisted the urge to call him up. However, if the 18-year-old continues with performances like the one he put in during his first Manchester derby, it will be hard to ignore the hype.
City dominated the early proceedings but United broke with rapid pace and Juan Mata fed the ball into Rashford 35-yards out. In three touches the youngster had managed to control the ball, flick it past a mangled Martin Demichlis and slot home coolly under Joe Hart. It was a marvelous finish befitting of an experienced striker of international caliber. However, he’s a teenager from United’s academy who wouldn’t have be anywhere near the first team if it wasn’t for wholesale injuries. Rashford has plenty to learn but the way he led the line in a must-win derby for United on Sunday was admirable. He skinned Demichelis in the box right on half time and although he was looking for the contact, he was clattered into and it was a valid penalty shout. Rashford certainly didn’t shy away from the action and used his body well late in the game to win free kicks and stretch the game for his team.
The kid clearly has a penchant for the big occasion as his goals have come in a big home win against Arsenal, a Europa League knockout match and now a pivotal derby clash in United’s quest for a top four finish. Following the win they are now just one point behind City and Louis Van Gaal‘s side are hunting City down with a young Mancunian leading the way.
CITY SQUANDER CHANCES; INJURIES MOUNT
It wasn’t like City didn’t have their chances on Sunday. Early on they were rampant as Raheem Sterling ran clear and clipped a ball to Jesus Navas who chested and volleyed just wide. The Spanish winger then forced David De Gea into a smart stop down low, plus the much-maligned Martin Demichelis headed wide at the back post and Yaya Toure curled one wide and scuffed a shot wide at the back post under pressure from Michael Carrick at the end of the first half. Like I said, they had chances.
In the second half it continued. The oft-isolated Aguero hammered over the bar, hit the post with a near-post header, plus Wilfried Bony was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Morgan Schneiderlin and try as they might City couldn’t find a way through a stubborn United rearguard. To rub salt into the wounds City lost two star players. Sterling was clipped by Juan Mata in the first half and hobbled off, plus Demichelis — who was outfoxed by Rashford, nearly gave away a penalty kick and was hooked after 50 minutes to save him doing more damage — sent a poor back pass to Joe Hart who was injured as he tried to clear under pressure from Anthony Martial. Hart’s injury looked more serious as the England international goalkeeper was stretchered off and his season could well be over. All in all, a day to forget for Manuel Pellegrini‘s men who are finishing his final season in charge with a whimper.
TOP FOUR PICTURE A MESS
After this game we were meant to have a better idea of which side would finish in the top four with seven games of the season to go. After United’s narrow win, it’s tough to see who is going to finish in fourth place. City are in freefall and have lost four of their last seven Premier League games to sit in fourth place on 51 points. United sit in sixth place on 50 points, while West Ham sit in fifth on 50 points and Southampton have 47 points in seventh. Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal looks to have the top three locked up and City’s shocking end of season form is jeopardizing their position in the top four.
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Pellegrini won’t want to have finishing outside the top four on his City resume but as he enters the final few months of his reign at the Etihad, the Chilean boss will prioritize winning the UEFA Champions League and trying to get past Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals. When Pep Guardiola was lauded as the new messiah in January following the announcement he will arrive at City this summer, it was all about how he could take City to the next level.
What if Guardiola’s men aren’t in the UCL next season? Did anybody factor that into the masterplan? I’m guessing not. On current form and with injuries mounting up and others surging around them, City are in real danger of dropping out of the top four.