The derby stat that should embarrass Manchester United players – Tyrone Marshall

With 15 minutes to go at the Etihad Manchester United’s position looked perilous. They were 3-1 down and had been chasing shadows in the second half, but then they’ve pulled themselves out of equally grave positions here previously.

The comeback from 2-0 down at half-time to deny City a derby-day title success in April 2018 came from an equally unlikely position, when Pep Guardiola’s side were so dominant in the first 45 minutes they only question looked to be how many they would score.

Instead, United rallied that day and found a response that was as baffling as it was brilliant. So while there seemed to be little hope with 15 minutes to go yesterday, there is never no hope in that situation.

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It seems that memo didn’t reach the players, however. With the game in the balance at half-time they came out for the second half and made a string of simple errors in the first five minutes to set the tone for as wretched a 45 minutes as a Manchester United side has produced in years.

United’s xG was a round zero in the second half, by virtue of failing to have a shot, and in the final 15 minutes, when they should have been on the front foot and trying to up the tempo, they contrived to manage just eight per cent possession. Yes, eight per cent.

It’s hard to see that stat and then disagree with the assessment of Gary Neville and Roy Keane that this is a group of players who simply gave up on derby day, even when they were only two goals behind. As one Old Trafford regular said on Sunday night, ‘you can almost accept them being rubbish (even though we shouldn’t be), but the lack of effort in the last half hour was disgusting’.

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That the away end was still probably two thirds full at the final whistle and returned the appreciation of the players with applause says more about those away dayers than it does the players.

The away end had to listen to the crowd of the Etihad crowd once again. This was only the second time City have done the double over United since the Abu Dhabi takeover and it’s undoubtedly the most damning and draining 180 minutes United have faced in that period.

They were humiliated at Old Trafford when City declared at half-time with a 2-0 lead and have now been embarrassed at the Etihad. It is grim fare.

In his post-match interview with Sky Sports, Scott McTominay said “it hurts” to have people believe that United threw in the towel on Sunday and the academy graduate is certainly the type who would keep going until the end, but the evidence is damning and it’s hard to disagree with Neville and Keane.

You can only imagine what this season has taken out of United’s players. They had high hopes of a title challenge in September but since then anything that can go wrong has gone wrong, right down to the absence of their two best defenders for the derby as a result of positive Covid tests.

It’s been a demoralizing and bruising campaign, but how it finishes will define it. United have to find a way of either finishing fourth or – somehow – winning the Champions League.

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If they fail to reach next season’s European showpiece then this will probably have been the worst season yet since 2013, given the expectations at the beginning. Now is no time to be waving the white flag, even if you’re desperate for it all to be over.

There is any number of stats over the last nine years that will embarrass United. The £1billion spent for an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League. The average of 20 points they finish behind City every season. But none is quite as hard to digest as having just eight per cent of the ball for the final quarter of an hour on Sunday.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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