Ralf Rangnick is under no illusion about the chasm between Manchester United and Manchester City after a derby defeat that led former captain Roy Keane to accuse players of throwing in the towel.
There was a party atmosphere around the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions ran amok against their neighbours, regaining their six-point advantage over second-placed Liverpool.
Kevin De Bruyne scored either side of a fine Jadon Sancho leveler in a frantic opening period that made way for a second-half cakewalk as City put their foot on the gas and United retreated into their shell.
Riyad Mahrez scored twice to wrap up a 4-1 win that led Gary Neville to call his former club a “disgrace”, with Sky Sports pundit Keane accusing the players of giving up in a cutting take down.
Asked what he thought of the character and attitude of his players in the second half, interim United boss Rangnick said: “To be honest, I didn’t have the impression that they didn’t try.
“But it’s difficult against a team like Man City once you are 3-1 down (against) the best team in possession of the ball on the planet it’s difficult.
“I cannot blame anyone for not having tried and put effort into that game, but it was difficult after the third goal.”
Rangnick said “after 28 games you’re as far apart from each team as the table shows” when questioned about the gap in quality to City after this embarrassing defeat.
Pushed on how far the interim boss thinks United are behind City, the German said: “22 points.
“The second half showed that if they are in their momentum and if they are 3-1 up then it is almost impossible to keep them away from your own goal.
“Look, I am still the manager for another 10 games in the Premier League and for hopefully a few more games in the Champions League and it doesn’t make sense now to start some speculations about how many players would we need, on which positions would we need them.
“This is not my issue. Right now it’s about preparing the team for the Tottenham game and after that for a very important game against Atletico in the Champions League.
“Right now, we have to be – and I am – happy with the players that we have. This is clear.
“We lost two, if not three strikers since Christmas, everybody knows (that).
“Again, this is a fact and we have to deal with it. I am not complaining about that so for us it’s important to look ahead and make sure we develop the team, we have in the last couple of weeks and months.
“We do not always play against Manchester City. We have other teams and we showed that against West Ham and against other teams, like Leeds, that we are capable of winning those games and this is my best job in the next two-and-a-half months.”
Rangnick’s frustration was clear in the post-match press conference and extended beyond those on display, with Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo unavailable through injury.
But it is hard to say how much difference the veterans would have made at the Etihad Stadium, where even demanding Guardiola was sated by the second-half display.
“Well, if the second half is not our best I don’t know what we have to do, honestly,” the City boss said. “I’m such a demanding man, but I know my limits and I know the players’ limits and the second half in all terms (was excellent).
“United were eight games without defeat, we had I don’t know how many shots in the second half, so the display was excellent.
“I think everything is difficult, everything is complicated. The opponents are so good and today, especially in the second half, we make an excellent performance.
“I’m the biggest critic to my team, but when we play good, we play good and today we played really good.”