They’ve been threatening it for years but now, thanks to some questionable decisions by referee Stuart Attwell, it seems Manchester United are truly back. Manchester City were denied victory at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon, one which, in all honesty, wouldn’t have been deserved after an abject first-half performance.
But performances don’t win matches, goals do. So, when Jack Grealish gave the blues the lead in the 60th minute, just three minutes after replacing Phil Foden, it looked like a smash-and-grab raid from the blues.
But they were undone 18 minutes later by one of the most shocking decisions seen in Premier League football. Marcus Rashford chased a ball despite being clearly offside, only for Bruno Fernandes to sweep the ball home.
Minutes later, Rashford put United in front, taking advantage of City’s clearly rattled status, to win the derby for United and avenge the 6-3 hammering City dished out to them earlier in the season.
Before the match at Southampton, manager Pep Guardiola said he had some ‘crazy ideas’ on how to play United. One of those, it appears, was not to pass to anyone in blue. For once, City were sloppy in possession and barely able to string passes together. And when they did, there was no real penetration up front. Erling Haaland, who hit a hat-trick in the last meeting, dropped deep to improve the link-up play, but to no effect. By comparison, United seemed happy to let City play their game and hit them on the break.
How the game changed in dramatic style
The introduction of Grealish gave City a renewed impetus, and the blues improved to a point where he must surely be a starter for Thursday’s home match with Spurs. Hi header from Kevin de Bruyne’s cutback sent the travelling supporters wild, and there was almost an expectation that City would go on to win.
However, in the 78th minute, it all changed in controversial circumstances. Although clearly offside, Rashford still chased a through ball before Fernandes beat Ederson with a shot to the keeper’s left. The goal was initially disallowed due to Rashford’s offside, however, after a discussion with his assistant, Attwell overturned the decision without any intervention from VAR.
United manager Eric Ten hag admitted after the match that he wouldn’t be happy if that sort of goal had been given against his team, and rightly so. Although he didn’t touch it, Rashford effectively shielded the ball from Akanji and obstructed the defender until it reached Fernandes. But it was Attwell’s decision not to consult VAR that was perhaps more shocking. Instead, a quick chat with the assistant led to him overturn the decision and award a goal.
City protested and were clearly rattled when Rashford took advantage and scored United’s second and condemn City to a second defeat of 2023 and their first back-to-back defeat since 2021.
The blues have struggled since returning from the World Cup, and City now sit five points behind leaders Arsenal, who can extend that lead to eight points with a win at Spurs on Sunday. City have a few problems and they need to get their heads back in the game and soon. They need to start playing like a team again and not like they can just turn up and win. Anything less could not only hand the title to Mikel Arteta and the Gunners, but see United overtake them in the league.
And the way City have dominated the football scene in Manchester in recent years, the latter is quite simply unthinkable.