Even in their form, City coming to United was always going to be difficult for the home side. So it proved. Bailly inadvertently diverted into his own net from a Joao Cancelo cross that put United on the road to ruin. It was compounded by Bernardo Silva on the half time whistle with shocking defending and goalkeeping from Luke Shaw and David De Gea, respectively. In truth, it probably should have been 5 and even with City’s impotency, it still could have been. If the defeat from the Merseysiders was a shock to the system, the one from the neighbours was more of a resignation.
The more you saw of the performance today, the more you began to see that last week was probably more to do with it being the nadir of Nuno Espírito Santo’s tenure at Tottenham than a new dawn for Ole’s Man Utd. It is becoming increasingly difficult to describe the repetitiveness of poor performances that has characterised the season. The first half was a continuation of that. The back three continued and the flat midfield three did too. What that done, with Guardiola’s utilisation of his wingers to pin that wing backs so that his full backs would have all the time in the world to pick passes and if there is any set of full backs you don’t want on the ball with time, it’s the Citizens’. With the double false 9 in a 4-4-2 that the Catalan regularly wheels out in big games, the three centre backs were regularly without any one to mark. The underactivity in duels probably contributed heavily to their poor play. Bailly and Lindelof were culpable in particular. They didn’t know whether to stay or go, protect the near post or worry about the cut back, run out with the ball or feed it through the lines. Bailly’s cumbersome feet meant he diverted into his own net and Lindelof would have done the same if not for De Gea’s intervention.
The flatness of the three in front of them was a huge issue and probably the main reason why the system was switched in the second half. On commentary, Gary Neville spoke about Bruno needing to settle down with his passing accuracy but he has never been one to do that and is one of the biggest contributors to his lack of influence in big games. But I could see why. Himself and Fred, the outer central midfielders, were being worked like they couldn’t believe. They had to worry about not only their counterparts in the midfield but the false 9s dropping deep and the full backs offering themselves as other options. 3 sets of partnerships against 1 so there would only be one winner. While the Sancho sub for Bailly helped stemmed that flow, it didn’t add anything in an offensive capacity. Ronaldo had another anonymous game, a fault not of his own, while Greenwood was an unknown until he trudged off for Rashford.
Being lead by the blind
It’s impossible to watch this season, and more recently with the last 5 games, without wondering how the manager is staying in his job. It’s weird to say as they are such a brilliant team but it was lucky that this rendition of City plays less with verve and more control than they used to. If it were the Sky Blues from 2017-2019, it would have been as embarrassing as it was two Sundays ago. And by the second half, it resembled the last 30 minutes of the Liverpool game where the visitors passed it around to save the home team from even more embarrassment than they had already inflicted. At least that was with 10 men. This was with 11 and it looked like we were a man down. The pressure on the ball was so non-existent that it might as well have been a sea of red ghosts out there. It says something to the situation that United are currently in that the loudest cheer of the day came when Donny van de Beek’s entrance into the field was the loudest cheer of the day.