Man Utd 0-2 Man City: Outclassed at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team looks out of Premier League title race | Football news


Another home game, another humiliating from their rivals. The two-goal margin between these Manchester teams flatters the figures in red, beaten but not entirely battered this time. Even so, one wonders what the future of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer project will be.

Seven unanswered goals in consecutive matches against Liverpool and Manchester City at Old Trafford provided a reminder of the gap in quality punishment. And those teams aren’t even at the top. Chelsea can increase United by 11 points after 11 games.

The average number of Premier League games the future champions have lost in the eight seasons since Manchester United last won the title is exactly four. This United team have lost so many in the past six weeks. Even being in the race looks beyond them.

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It is a club in the balance between past and present. Perhaps the biggest club in the world, as Solskjaer claimed this week, but still the second best in their own city. A club so rooted in its traditions that the coach continues to be celebrated by the fans even if the results elude him.

The recent improvement, work against an insipid Tottenham team, had been achieved by taking a step back. There was an acceptance that United could not press the opposition or hold the ball. Having recognized the limits, they have returned to the counterattack.

It might work more often if there was a solid base that United could rely on, but they have only collected two goalless goals this season and one more has never seemed likely against this city side. When Eric Bailly put up his own net, they had a problem.

Without a pressing strategy, how could they have regained the ball against a Pep Guardiola team that didn’t want to give up possession so easily? Manchester City had 68% of the ball and completed more than twice as many passes.

As Guardiola said, they put United, hungry for the ball, in the fridge, taking the sting out of an opponent whose best bet was to involve the crowd and raise the temperature of the match.

Solskjaer said he “liked the attitude and attention this morning” in his pre-match interview, but more is needed. United continues to look like a team laced together by the hope, dreams and aged body of Cristiano Ronaldo.

‘Match scarf or Ronaldo’ had been the cry of the hawkers along Sir Matt Busby Way before kick-off, a precise but unconscious shortcut to the race ahead. There were two shows in town: Manchester City’s car and United’s individual rescue operation.

Ronaldo has already dragged Solskjaer’s side into the knockout stage of the Champions League, his final goals worth five points. In the Premier League, it was a little less dramatic, but the reliance on him to conjure something was still obvious.

Entering the derby, he had made six starts since his return. The games in which he had scored, United had won them. The games in which he could not find the net, United had lost. The message to Guardiola was clear: stop scoring and that’s it.

Ronaldo came close to scoring with an extremely hit volley, but was otherwise thwarted by the assistant referee’s offside flag. That one attempt – the one save Ederson had to make – came from the one possession spell United had near the City area.

They are said to play in moments, which seems like another way of saying that their good players are still capable of doing good things, through spontaneity or muscle memory rather than any coherent structure. When the time doesn’t come, United have little else.

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The frustration of the fans was evident from the first goal, Bruno Fernandes repeatedly relinquished possession too easily. But the difficulty for the United players was the speed with which they were closed, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus pressing relentlessly.

City regained the ball inside United’s defensive third on nine separate occasions during the first 45 minutes. The only other time that has happened in the Premier League this season was when Southampton did it in August, also against United.

In a short time, the anxiety was palpable, on the pitch and in the stands, the fans urging David de Gea not to play the ball short of shots from the bottom. They knew she was simply inviting pressure and the belief that their team could keep her in those situations was gone.

While the fans wanted more, this was a team trying to figure out solutions on the fly. There was a vague idea that it would be desirable to play from behind, but they didn’t seem to know any of the intricate passing patterns that could help make it happen.

Solskjaer could have hoped his full backs would provide the way out of the press, but Guardiola was wise – he ordered Phil Foden and Jesus to stay tall and wide. He left United with a five-man defense, Joao Cancelo with the freedom of Old Trafford.

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A mid-time lineup change tried to fix it, but United were two down at that point, courtesy of another incident. Luke Shaw was guilty, even De Gea, even if any guilt that was attributed to him had to be mitigated by the series of saves he had already had to make.

The second half became a damage limitation exercise. Ole’s kick vs. Ole’s kick. How beautiful is it? This rhetorical question is one that everyone at Old Trafford must ponder during the national team break, this latest awakening amounting to just one win.

What’s next? When action resumes in the Premier League, there will be more dangers in sight. Watford away precedes a trip to Stamford Bridge before Arsenal arrive at Old Trafford. A simpler-looking series of matches later may still provide some respite for Solskjaer.

Perhaps this will be an opportunity for Ronaldo to loot and collect points as United try to finish as the best of the rest and secure a top four finish which could only prolong this stasis. Too good to call for a change of course, not good enough to compete.

But with Solskjaer continuing to put out fires as he approaches three years on the job, what is now clear is that there are three teams in this Premier League title race.

Manchester United is not one of them.


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