Manchester City’s seemingly inevitable march towards the Premier League title hit a road bump on Sunday as Pep Guardiola’s men surrendered their 28-game unbeaten streak to city rivals Manchester United at the Etihad.
An early penalty from Bruno Fernandes and a second-half strike from Luke Shaw was enough to hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charges a hard-fought three points, ending the unbeaten run which had propelled City to the top of the division – with United now being unbeaten in an impressive 22 away games.
Fernandes’ early strike set the tone for the remainder of the game, with Guardiola’s free-scoring side unable to break down Man United’s stoic rearguard.
In truth, City never really secured a foothold in the game. Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan, so often Manchester City’s talismen this season, struggled to make an impact. So too did Kevin de Bruyne who cut a forlorn figure on the pitch for much of the 90 minutes on the occasion of his 250th appearance for the team.
“It’s always difficult to play against Manchester City,” Fernandes told Sky Sports after the game. “They are difficult on the ball and tough to play against. Today we did almost everything perfect.
“It’s not about winning against City, it’s about winning every game.
“Scoring in the first minute was perfect, we had more space to counter. We remained focused until the end of the game. When we defend well we know we’ll have chances to score. The league is not a sprint. It’s is a marathon. We have to do our best and not think about others.”
Great win and superb performance from @ManUtd. Excellent defensively and always dangerous on the counter-attack. Perfectly steered by Ole.
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) March 7, 2021
Organisation and energy.Excellent from Manchester United. First time I’ve watched them win without thinking the only reason they did was because of Bruno.#MCIMUN
— Adam Catterall (@AdamCatterall) March 7, 2021
1 – Among the 67 managers Pep Guardiola has faced more than three times across all competitions as a top-flight boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the only one to have beaten the Spaniard (4) more often that he has lost to Guardiola (3). Devil. pic.twitter.com/RKl7lhGLJq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 7, 2021
The win will be a particularly satisfying one for United’s occasionally under-fire boss Solskjaer who now – incredibly – is the only manager to hold a winning record against Guardiola, and more than the other 66 top-flight managers that the Spaniard has faced (three times or more) in his career.
Much like they did in the previous campaign, it was a tactical masterclass from the Norwegian whose team so successfully neutered the in-form City.
Today also another ringing endorsement for the United academy: Henderson, McTominay and Rashford – all in the same youth team in 2014 – started and there were four more academy graduates on the bench. Foden City’s only academy representative and on the bench. #mufc
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) March 7, 2021
“Obviously I don’t think we started very well,” De Bruyne said of his team’s performance. “We knew it would be hard. We played into their hands with the first goal and we needed about 15 minutes to settle a bit. Then we played pretty good but we didn’t score and that made a difference and made a mistake with the pressing for the second goal.
“It is not the best if you go behind after one minute but you still have 90 minutes after that. The second was a little worse but I think the mentality of the players was the same as always.
“Sometimes it is necessary to lose games and have bad spells. Even in the winning run we had some bad spells but overcame then, we didn’t today. Sometimes it can be a positive.”
The manner of United’s win, though, may well be bittersweet to some sections of their supporters after a recent run which saw them drop points in games with Crystal Palace, Chelsea and West Brom – results which almost certainly ended any realistic ambitions they might have held of closing even further ground on the runaway league leaders – something which Solksjaer emphasized in his post-match comments.
“No, we just take one game time,” he said to Sky Sports. “They are too far ahead to think we can catch them. They have been excellent. Even today they put you under so much pressure.”