Man City proved far too good for United
The end result was not as bad as Liverpool, but so much of the performance was arguably worse.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had actually set out to set up defensively and make it hard for Manchester City, but it was one of the easiest games Pep Guardiola could have hoped for this season. It was a 2-0 that could have been a 5-0 pretty much whenever the champions wanted. This was a derby, and yet all of Crystal Palace, Brighton, Burnley and Southampton gave City a much tougher game.
That should give the Old Trafford hierarchy an easy decision now, but this is the modern Manchester United. Some may even make the argument that it was only 2-0 and wasn’t too bad.
How anyone who knows anything about football could watch this and think there is any suggestion of a significant turn-around, especially at three years into the job, is beyond belief. This should be beyond acceptance.
It was worse than the 6-1. That at least involved a 10-man United pushing to try and save the game.
This current United, one of the two most expensive squads in modern football along with their neighbours, now look set for a fight for top four if they even get that far. It’s getting that bad. Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur are surely likely to make it difficult for them if United are even involved.
That will only increase the focus on the board’s refusal to act last week, especially as it could show what might have been. It will also increase the pressure this week, as we enter into the vacuum of an international break.
If United don’t act now, the form of these players for their countries will only make it look even worse for Solskjaer. But how much worse can it really get?
This was another game against another of United’s main rivals when the opposition were joyously singing about their manager. It was also the third horror show in the space of a month, where United have only won one game.
It was all why the story was very much about United and why it is difficult to read too much into this regarding City. By the end, the benched Jack Grealish was left to enjoy the show. City eased their way past one of the most expensive mid-table sides ever assembled.
The question persists over whether a manager with even moderate ability could do with this team. One of the most incredible things was that it was evidently Solskjaer’s intention to start “defensive”.
Eric Bailly’s own goal gave Man City the early lead
There is of course a logic to that when you’re playing any Guardiola team, but the problem for United is that affairs at Old Trafford are reaching a logical conclusion. The manager isn’t up to it, so the team isn’t up to it.
It was damning enough that the starting line-up wasn’t about just being compact and countering against City, as in Solskjaer’s better days. It was about pure damage limitation, keeping the score down to keep his job.
If you’re going to set up like that, and base everything on frustrating the opposition, there are two basic building blocks.
One is not conceding early, undercutting your entire approach, and forcing you to step out. The other is being well drilled. United were neither, the inability to keep any kind of defensive shape leading to a goal after a mere six minutes.
Bruno Fernandes watched Cancelo go, leaving him plenty of space to pick out a cross that the hapless Eric Bailly diverted into his own net.
Solskjaer indirectly made Bailly the scapegoat by taking him off at half-time, but it of course went way beyond a centre-half recently thrown into the team. It’s the same with pretty much all these individual errors. The sheer mass of them shows it is a collective failing.
Consider that starting line-up. Solskjaer evidently went with it because it worked against a rabble of Tottenham Hotspur team, but it made so little sense here. The Norwegian went with three centre-halves against a team with no strikers, meaning none of them knew where to go, just creating bigger gaps in a side that already lacked any kind of coherence.
Some of it was obviously to do with mentality, too, but probably not in the sense Roy Keane means.
United are simply a fragile team right now. They are so low on confidence that it was like they could do little other than sit deep, for fear of offering up any kind of space near goal. That simply meant that Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan were left with the freedom of the United half to direct the game, and setting up the wide players to wreak havoc. This was the situation time and again.
That led to the first goal, as well as so many saves that De Gea had to make. By the second, it was so easy for Cancelo that he had the time to turn inside and just pick out Bernardo. The Portuguese naturally had little resistance there, either. He turned the ball in, Luke Shaw barely able to turn inside to challenge him.
Bernardo Silva made it two before the break
So much for the left-back’s renaissance under Solskjaer. He looks a mere imitation of the player he was a few months ago for England, and eventually had to go off injured.
There is then Cristiano Ronaldo. He must have been looking across the pitch wondering what might have been, but then so might Solskjaer.
The forward obviously remains a devastating influence when put in position near goal but that precisely was the problem here. It again went way beyond United’s supine inability to get into the City half, let alone near their box. It was that Solskjaer’s best results against City have come from having a forward always ready to rampage against them on the counter. It is why even his three-man defence might have been more effective with such a player on, since it would have just pegged Guardiola’s side back a bit.
As it was, City simply played as if there was no threat whatsoever. It was all so casual for them. The one moment of danger came from an Ederson save from Ronaldo but that was it.
That ensured United actually had more shots on target against their own goalkeeper. De Gea just about prevented another own goal from Maguire.
The goalkeeper also prevented the score from being much worse, but it doesn’t really need those numbers on the scoreboard. The writing is on the wall, and anywhere else you care to look.
It is obvious for everyone expect those who make the decisions at Old Trafford. It meant, on Saturday afternoon, we barely saw a football match at Old Trafford.
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