Marcus Rashford the hero as Manchester United win the derby
MANCHESTER -- Three quick points from Manchester City 0-1 Manchester United in the Premier League.
United top four hopes boosted, City slump
Louis van Gaal may have awoken to headlines that Jose Mourinho has signed a pre-contract agreement to replace him, but the Manchester United manager's obstinacy is ever more pronounced. Just when it seemed his reign would end in failure, he duly defeated Manchester City, courtesy of Marcus Rashford's terrific goal.
There have been classic Manchester derbies in recent years. This was not one of them. Rather it showed signs of the decline at both clubs as they linger in limbo, the losers sure a new manager is arriving and the winners wondering what direction they will take and when.
Yet United can take solace from a scoreline that could revive their faltering campaign. After four games without a win and a rather ignominious Europa League exit to Liverpool, Van Gaal's enigmatic United side recorded a meaningful victory. Dreadful as much of their season has been, it is certainly not over yet.
Local pride was secured, but the significance could stretch further. United remain sixth, but they are only a point behind City. It is shaping up to be a three-way battle for fourth place, with West Ham in better form than either Manchester club.
These must be nervous times in Munich, meanwhile, as Pep Guardiola waits to see if he will inherit a club in the Europa League. City's decline under Manuel Pellegrini continued. They have won just one league game against a team in the top nine this season. They have a fine recent derby record but were deservedly defeated. Only Sergio Aguero played well in blue whereas United could point to excellent performances across the team, from Rashford and the electric Anthony Martial in attack, via the composed Michael Carrick in midfield to a resilient Chris Smalling at the back.
Rashford dominates Demichelis
As a snapshot of what United did right and City wrong, the only goal was perfect. Rashford turned away from Martin Demichelis, leaving the veteran prostrate on the ground, before angling a shot past Joe Hart. It was the sort of goal Thierry Henry used to score and it offered Van Gaal vindication.
This was Rashford's eighth successive start and if the sense was that he had been overworked and ought to be taken out of the firing line, the manager was rewarded for persisting with the newcomer. It made him, at 18 years and 141 days, the youngest scorer in a Premier League meeting between these neighbours. It also took his United goal tally to five which, to put it another way, is one more than Radamel Falcao managed in his inglorious stint.
He was a fitting scorer. The cast list was drawn from around the globe but this was a local and a United fan striking on his derby debut. Indeed, Rashford was the only Mancunian in either squad; with Vincent Kompany sidelined, City lost one married to a native. Minus Kompany, who has a calf injury, and Nicolas Otamendi, with a dead leg, Pellegrini fielded his third- and fourth-choice centre-backs: Eliaquim Mangala and Demichelis.
If it appeared reprieve for both when the team sheets were submitted and United's premier striker, Martial, was named on the left wing, the reality was very different. Rashford was far too quick for Demichelis. Further proof arrived on the stroke of half-time when, after an unexpectedly inventive backheel from Morgan Schneiderlin, the teenager darted into the box and was bundled over by a clumsy Demichelis. It ought to have been a penalty. It instead resulted in a melee.
Demichelis' capacity to handicap City was apparent again when Hart stretched to clear his under-hit back-pass as Martial closed in on him. The goalkeeper went off, seemingly with a calf injury, leaving the City rearguard looking still more substandard. The incident highlighted Pellegrini's poor decision to select Demichelis. Bacary Sagna is scarcely a specialist centre-back, but would have represented a more solid alternative to the sidelined regulars. In the end, Pellegrini had to put an old friend out of his misery, substituting Demichelis and sending Wilfried Bony on.
City's drought goes on
Win or lose, Pellegrini likes to console himself with the thought that City have an attacking style of play. He takes pride in the fact they finished as the division's top scorers in the past two seasons. A hat-trick is looking less likely. For the third time in eight days, they failed to find the net.
It is a rare drought, but the greater worry should be that United, like Dynamo Kiev and Norwich, kept a clean sheet too comfortably. Aguero apart, City presented too little of a threat. Smalling collected an early caution for tugging back the Argentinian. The Englishman was sent off at the Etihad last season; a later foul on the striker put him at risk of suffering the same fate. Daley Blind, too, was rattled by Aguero. The City top scorer looked sharp, a lone beacon of hope for an unimpressive team. While he hit the outside of the post with a header, a regular scourge of United is no closer to becoming City's record derby scorer. He was hindered. His colleagues provided him with too few chances.
Instead, some fell to others, often the wrong men. Jesus Navas has gone 26 months without a league goal. He twice threatened to end that drought, volleying wide and driving a low shot that David De Gea parried. Some of his crosses looked menacing, yet they rarely found teammates. Some were simply misplaced. It is a familiar tale.
Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling's first tastes of Manchester derbies have been depressing. He has started both this season and played for a total of just 80 minutes. He was unimpressive in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford earlier in the season. He began more brightly at the Etihad, but sustained an ankle problem when caught by Juan Mata. It meant that David Silva was relocated to the left, where he has been less influential of late. When Silva is subdued, City often are. This was one such occasion.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.