Changing of the guard
Dean Henderson has had to wait for a run of games at Manchester United this season but now his chance has arrived he’s making the most of it.
The goalkeeper was one of the few to emerge from the dour draw at Crystal Palace with any credit and he was rock solid at the Etihad.
Henderson did what was asked of him with consummate ease, making goalkeeping look easy, which is what you want a goalkeeper to do. He pushed an Oleksandr Zinchenko shot away from danger in the first half and showed good handling to keep hold of an early Ilkay Gundogan effort.
The academy graduate also played a vital role in United’s second goal. Henderson contributed to a goal in the win at West Ham in December with his distribution and he did so again at the Etihad. Rather than sending the ball long and inviting pressure back onto the defence, Henderson took his time and sent an accurate throw out to Luke Shaw, who seconds later had the ball in the back of the net.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s trust in David de Gea has looked unbreakable this season, but Henderson could well be the man for today as well as tomorrow. Right now he’s making a very convincing case that he deserves to be United’s next No. 1. He now has nine clean sheets in 14 starts this season.
Henderson has played under pressure in these games, realising it might be his only chance to fulfil his dream, and that he’s done so well speaks for his character.
Fernandes proves his point
Bruno Fernandes wasn’t going to let a chance to respond to his critics pass during his pre-match interview with Sky Sports, hitting out at people who judge him solely on his stats rather than performances and earning a rebuke from Roy Keane in the process.
But generally, Fernandes has done his talking on the pitch and having been below par in some big games this season, he stepped up against City.
Fernandes also made the point in that interview that he’s scored against teams that are in the top six and that he scored a penalty against Tottenham, before dropping in the sarcastic “but some people say penalties don’t count”.
The one after two minutes at the Etihad certainly counted for United fans and although Ederson got a hand to it it was another firmly struck penalty.
Anthony Martial’s powers have been diminished for United recently, his two goals in 15 games, both against a beleaguered Southampton, a poor return and his contribution aside from that almost non-existent.
Rather than rising to the challenge of Edinson Cavani’s arrival, Martial looked to have shrunk in the heat of competition for his role as United’s No. 9.
But after a couple of games on the sidelines, and with Cavani’s own injury opening the door to an unexpected start, he bounced back to form impressively at the Etihad.
Martial is undoubtedly a confidence player and maybe his contribution to United’s opening goal, winning a penalty inside the first 40 seconds, sparked him into life.
He was impressive after that and one moment in the second half summed it up, showing superb strength on the ball to hold off challenges from Rodri and John Stones to drive United forward.
Martial didn’t get the goal he deserved, and he did miss a big chance to make it 3-0 with just over 20 minutes remaining, but his all-round performance was a reminder of the quality he possesses and a timely one at that.
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Manchester United secured a memorable 2-0 derby victory over Man City at the Etihad Stadium.
Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw scored the goals to clinch an unexpected, but empathic, victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops against the league leaders.
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When Solskjaer was asked about the five goalless draws in games against United’s big six rivals on Friday and answered explaining United have been more aggressive in those fixtures this season there were a few raised eyebrows, but what he was saying made sense.
Solskjaer said United had pressed more aggressively against the big teams, a tactic that can be both offensive and defensive. It can stop teams from building attacks and if you win the ball high up the pitch it can create promising positions, but United hadn’t really taken advantage so far.
To press as a unit you need a defence comfortably playing a high line and there hadn’t been much evidence of that for United, but against Chelsea last week and at the Etihad Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were happier to push up much further than they generally do.
It felt a safe tactic against a Chelsea side with Olivier Giroud as the spearhead, but more of a risk against Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.
The idea of a good press is that teams don’t get into a position to thread through balls behind your defence, however, and that’s something United did well on Sunday.
Ending City’s streak
This win for United closed the gap at at the top of the Premier League to 11 points and it will be frustrating for United that their poor run of form since going top in January means the title is still almost certainly beyond them this season.
But the win had more than just bragging rights for United. It took them back into second in the table and made their top-four credentials watertight after that poor run.
It also ended City’s chances of claiming a world record. They’d won 21 successive games in all competitions and were closing in on the record of 27, held by TNS in Wales. But a derby day defeat has ended that possibility and that will be some comfort as well for United fans.