Manchester United had three unsung icons in their comeback victory over Manchester City.
Manchester United came from behind to overcome Manchester City in the Premier League, and here are the key takeaways.
The gamble on selection pays off.
In the build-up to the game, much was made of Pep Guardiola’s potential tactical shocks, but it was Erik ten Hag who surprisingly threw things off.
Fred was introduced into the midfield because of his work rate and intensity, with Bruno Fernandes repositioned into the attack to help with the transition and Christian Eriksen taking the offensive midfield role.
While the tactical change caused Manchester United to lose control of the game, it also allowed them to do what they do best: relentless counter-attacking.
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Anthony Martial was deemed surplus to requirements and loaned out to Sevilla a year ago this month. He was rushed back following an injury scare on Saturday and was expected to lead the line in the Manchester derby.
The Frenchman was only on the field until halftime before being replaced, forcing United to rely on Antony in a makeshift center striking role.
It was another timely reminder of United’s need for a fresh approach up front, and with Wout Weghorst watching from the stands, the issue had never been more pertinent.
Weghorst was bought to supplement United’s attacking options, but he could end up being crucial to them.
There is still work to be done.
The city asserted Their domination was evident from the start, with United nearly assuming the position of underdogs playing on the break.
Given United’s pace on the break, it’s reasonable that Ten Hag preferred to play to their strengths as a counter-attacking team, but it was also instructive that they didn’t believe they could equal City directly.
Even with Casemiro and Eriksen in midfield, the emphasis was on work rate and energy, which resulted in United taking a fast and loose approach rather than a calm and controlled one.
It was a gameplan that didn’t yield anything until the introduction of Alejandro Garnacho 20 minutes from time, when United finally got the pace and power they needed.
This was the case of the work that remains to be done if Ten Hag’s side is to play with the same authority as their neighbors.
Ten Hag needs to reconsider his position on the championship race.
Ten Hag declined to discuss a title challenge in the run-up to the match, but he may not be able to do so much longer. United have developed a habit of defeating the Premier League’s smaller teams, and they have now demonstrated that they have what it takes to compete with the best.
They are doing everything they can to become legitimate rivals in the next years, and while there is still much work to be done, They are definitely much closer than Ten Hag would care to accept.
Unknown duo performed essential contribution
The team sheet raised a few eyebrows, but by the final whistle, Ten Hag’s team pick had been amply vindicated.
The sacrifice of Fred and Tyrell Malacia, two players who may lack technical talent but more than make up for it with their work rate and selflessness, was at the heart of their victory.
On derby day, emotion and pride can be just as important as skill, as evidenced by the passionate displays of United’s unsung heroes, who put everything on the line for the emblem on the front of their shirts.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka deserves special attention for his outstanding overall performance in leading his team back into the game. Though he wasn’t always at his best defensively, he played an important part with his attacking contribution and demonstrated that he still has much to offer.