Apparently there was nothing about Manchester United. Dean Henderson, the goalkeeper, had the ball in his hands and Manchester City were in their defensive form. City felt their rivals were wasting time as they led the opening exchanges of the second half with a Bruno Fernandes penalty in the second minute. “Keep going,” he yelled from the ranks of the City.
So did United. Or, more precisely, Luke Shaw did. Henderson, starting a mini-career on the team with David de Gea on paternity leave, dived down the left flank and Shaw had only one thought: rumble upfield. A touch on the chest took him away from Joâo Cancelo and he had too much rhythm for Kevin De Bruyne. To the edge of the City penalty area, Shaw traded passes with Marcus Rashford before kicking the ball off his feet and directing a low shot into the far corner.
It was somehow that the left-back scored his first goal since March last year and it was the moment that turned this derby decisively in United’s favor, extending their unbeaten club record away from home in the Premier League to 22 games and torpedoing City’s sequence of 21 consecutive victories in all competitions. It was City’s first loss in 29 games.
It certainly won’t alter the fate of the league title that still seems destined for City, which retains an eleven-point cushion at the top. Probably the most important thing is that United have hopes of finishing in the Champions League, but will still enjoy beating their neighbors; proving that when they get their game plan right, they can take them down.
Shaw’s goal recorded his last man-of-the-match performance and came in front of assistant Gareth Southgate, although the England manager has surely decided to call him back. The test suite is extensive. Shaw is the best left back in the division in his current form.
The city had brought arrogance. “Are you ready?” Sergio Agüero asked the journalists in the press box as he sat across from them before kick-off. There was an easy smile from the understudy. But his team was not prepared. It was extraordinary to see their slack in the opening minutes, so out of place, and United took advantage.
The penalty came when Anthony Martial lunged from left to right, along the edge of the area, and Gabriel Jesús pounced to catch him. It was an extreme awkwardness and, when Fernandes scored, it meant City lagged behind for the first time in 20 league games. Fernandes’s kick was off the bottom corner and Ederson, who had been on the right track, reached into the shot. It was not enough.
Moments later, it could have been 2-0. City had survived a wobble after giving away the ball down the left, John Stones commanding, but now Cancelo lingered within his six-yard box and was stolen by Fernandes. The ball broke for Shaw, who threw a low shot straight to Ederson. “Turn it on,” yelled a shout from the City substitutes.
City shook his head clear. They pressed the front foot and began to establish their patterns; I cancel the passage from the right side to the center of the field when they had the ball, Ilkay Gündogan pushed, De Bruyne wandered everywhere.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær had been two of the two at the Etihad before kick-off, although the second win in last season’s Carabao Cup semi-final added a loss on aggregate. The first win in the league was based on sharp counters and was, essentially, the template for how you want your team to operate. This victory contained more encouragement.
United blinked against it in the first half, although overall they struggled to get the men to advance, and the priority for them was to keep City at arm’s length; to prevent them from entering behind them. At 1-0, it felt like United had what they wanted.
There was a lot of threat from City in the first half, they dominated the ball and every thought was to move forward, but the final action eluded them. Oleksandr Zinchenko fired straight at Henderson as Gündogan passed two United players after a quick pass from Riyad Mahrez but, lopsided, was unable to generate power from the shot. Mahrez also crawled after a De Bruyne incision. City wanted a penalty in the 23rd minute when Raheem Sterling crossed the area and ran into Fred, who had stood his ground. There wasn’t enough in him.
City had announced the draw at the beginning of the second half. Having won the ball overhead through De Bruyne, Jesus sent Mahrez’s pass to Rodri, whose upward momentum hit the top of the crossbar.
Enter Shaw, whose speed and purpose matched the precision of the finish. When the goal came in, Solskjær’s first reaction was to salute Henderson, who had clearly followed his pre-match orders to the letter with the execution of the cast.
United were released thereafter and Martial should have increased his lead. He was unable to regain his body shape on a diving header after a Fernandes cross had deflected towards him, but the big opportunity came in the 68th minute. He was one-on-one with Ederson after a Scott McTominay blast, but he took a weak step towards the doorman.
United lost Rashford to injury, but it was a strange day for City, one in which their sights were off. Phil Foden, as a substitute, threw a whip wide while Sterling missed the ball on the half volley and also landed a late header all wrong.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism