Here we are again, picking through the bones of the latest Manchester United disappointment following their 4-1 defeat at Manchester City. A promising first half from Ralf Rangnick’s men was marred by avoidable individual errors before the team’s initial good work fell away in the second half amid wave after wave of City attacks.
The old adage ‘a game of two halves’ couldn’t be more appropriate in this situation and there was evidence of places where United have come far but also a number of moments where it hammered home just how much work they still need to do to close the gap to their rivals.
There were some positives to take away amid only a second league defeat under Rangnick but the majority of focus in the wake of the game was on the areas in need of improvement so let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly of United’s derby- day defeat:
The Good: Sancho’s ‘Homecoming’ goal
When Borussia Dortmund secured the signature of Jadon Sancho from Manchester City it was seen as a huge coup and their faith in the young forward was rewarded when he recorded double figures in goals and assists for three seasons in a row.
And increasingly he looks to be a bit of a coup for United too. Though he had started slowly at the club, he has found his feet under Rangnick and going into the derby against his old club he knew all eyes were him to perform, particularly when it became clear that Cristiano Ronaldo would be absent.
And though his equalizer will ultimately prove bittersweet due to the final result, Sancho’s goal was the result of a fantastic move involving himself, Paul Pogba, Anthony Elanga and Bruno Fernandes, who provided the run that drew Kyle Walker off the winger and gave him the space to curl one into the bottom corner against Ederson.
It was a great goal and the only clear bright spot in an otherwise saddening affair.
The Bad: What’s a progressive pass?
United could not get the ball up the field at all in the second half and this was only exacerbated when Rangnick made the baffling decision to substitute Pogba.
Rangnick speaks constantly about verticality and cutting passes through the midfield but partly due to City’s oppressive approach to the second half and a lack of on-the-ball quality from United, they were unable to execute any. But bringing Pogba off was at odds with his comments from him as he removed one of United’s most vertical passers from the ball.
Scott McTominay in the midfield is one of the biggest issues in this regard. United need a number six who is able to receive the ball under pressure and distribute it to a player in space who can drive up the pitch but, instead, the midfielder preferred to pass it back to David de Gea as City put him and United under the cosh.
And as we all know, asking and expecting De Gea to distribute consistently from the back is ambitious to say the least.
The Ugly: Defensive Nightmare
The most damaging aspect of the defeat was how porous the backline proved. Their performance was shambolic. And that’s being kind. And though you could say Harry Maguire had the most positive moments, blocking some shots and making a few good tackles, every member made mistakes that contributed to United’s downfall.
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Wan-Bissaka’s inability to pass progressively and his ‘elite’ 1-vs-1 ability deserting him led to both of City’s first-half goals with Victor Lindelof also making errors which left United in a number of vulnerable situations.
It wasn’t just one defending at fault, it was all of them and this included at times the likes of McTominay and De Gea too.
It was a complete failure which highlighted why Rangnick has been pressing the need for the team to defend as a single unit as individual errors compromised the whole backline.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.