MANCHESTER — The way Manchester United tore through Man City, especially in the first half, proved they can close the gap to those challenging for the Premier League title.
For large spells their attacking unit was reminiscent of a scalpel slicing effortlessly through Man City’s buttery defense.
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This season they’ve now beaten four of the five teams above them in Man City, Leicester City, Chelsea and Tottenham and are the only team to take points off Liverpool, as they sit five points off the top four approaching the halfway point.
The main reason they aren’t in the top four is because they’ve dropped points against teams further down the table who sit back and don’t allow them to play the way they want to.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side rose to the big occasion to beat the reigning champions, but was it as simple as that? It’s more about Man United’s style of play and the blueprint put in place and showcased by their swaggering, speedy demolition of Man City.
United are better suited to playing against the better teams with their counter attacks a well-oiled machine and teams who leave them space on the break do so at their peril.
“We could have had more goals and seen the game out. It was a tough win and I think it will help us a lot going forward,” Rashford, the chief architect in Man City’s downfall, said. “That first 30 minutes was terrific and what we played to do, the challenge is if we can do that for 80 or 90 minutes.”
If this was a glimpse into the future for Man United, it is one which proves they can indeed close the gap on Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Tottenham ahead of them.
Pep Guardiola admitted afterwards that it is “not possible to control” United’s front four, led by the irresistible Rashford.
“You cannot deny their quality when they run, they defend deep and then James and Rashford on the break…” Guardiola added.
Liverpool’s high-press bullies team. Man City’s ball possession drains opponents. Chelsea’s young attackers dazzle. Tottenham’s power and pace often sees them through.
For Man United the way forward is clear. Launch counters and use pace and quick passing to make the most of mistakes from the opposition. The balance in midfield was also spot on, with Scott McTominay and Fred doing their best to spring counters and support the back four in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
“I was so happy with the way we started the game,” Solskjaer said. “It looked like we would score every time we went forward. We go for the goal, went for the kill if you like… Quick, attacking, flowing football with the right intent.”
Solskjaer has a plan, and that all came to fruition on Saturday at Man City. It proves that progress is being made and Man United are finally making a move in the right direction.
“We’ve worked on it ever since I came to the club because that is Man United,” Solskjaer said when asked bout counter-attacking. “When we win it there is no use on keeping it or putting it back to the goalkeeper if we can play through them, with great intent of passing forwards. I wouldn’t want James, Rashford, Martial or Lingard running at me.”
If their front three stay fit and teams continue to not pay them respect on the counter, the Red Devils will surely come very close to finishing in the top four this season.
Better than that, there’s a clear masterplan. One which works and just needs fine tuning against teams who sit back with 10 men behind the ball.
“Our player get confirmation on the direction we are going,” Solskjaer beamed. “We do look like a Man United team. That is the biggest thing for me.”