MANCHESTER – It took only seven minutes of the Manchester derby to be in no doubt about the parlous state of United.
When Eric Bailly clumsily intercepted João Cancelo’s cross to divert the ball into his own net, it was the start of another agonizing Old Trafford encounter with a now far superior rival.
The only surprise from Saturday’s derby was United escaping with a 2-0 loss to Manchester City after Bernardo Silva met another delivery into the box from Cancelo, got ahead of Luke Shaw and beat goalkeeper David De Gea at his near post in stoppage time
Humiliation was avoided, two weeks after being routed 5-0 by Liverpool here, but it was another encounter to reinforce just how far United has slipped behind the Premier League’s elite.
“We had the game of our lives," City attacking midfielder Phil Foden said. “Everything just went right. A lot of possession. A lot of chances. We dominated from start to finish.”
It was so serene that Pep Guardiola didn't even make a single substitution.
“The game was 2-0," the City manager said, “and it was so comfortable.”
This was City’s first Premier League win over United since March 2019 but in that time Guardiola’s side has won the title twice, while the trophy hasn't been on the red half of Manchester since 2013.
City and United do boast the world’s most expensive football squads — each assembled for more than $1 billion — but that wouldn’t be obvious watching in the lashing northern English rain.
On paper, six points now separate defending champion City in second from United in fifth. The gulf in quality, tactics and style looks greater, with City effortlessly cruising to victory.
“It’s a big step backwards,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “It’s a way of losing that we don’t like. When you lose a game against a good team, you want to see a better Man United team than that.”
It wasn’t Guardiola’s name City fans were singing at Old Trafford. They were mercilessly mocking Solskjaer.
“Ole’s at the wheel,” they serenaded the United manager, sarcastically adopting the United fan song.
Solskjaer limps on in the job, with just one win from six league games. The only success came last Saturday against Tottenham, which acted swiftly to decide managerial change was required. And in firing Nuno Espirito Santo and hiring Antonio Conte, the north London club snapped up a potential replacement for Solskjaer.
“We started the game badly, passive, and when they got the first goal it was hard,” Solskjaer said. "David kept us in the game with some good stops and then they score a goal at the back stick which shouldn’t happen.
“They played well and some praise has got to go to them, but we were not at our level and the standard has to be raised. We don’t pass the ball as well as I know we can and we don’t find the angles. Sometimes we made the wrong solution, sometimes the right solution but not the right execution.”
The Norwegian couldn’t rely on being bailed out again by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose double salvaged a Champions League draw at Atalanta on Tuesday.
Instead Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure as the lack of intensity and pressing left him isolated up front. Only once did he come close to scoring what would have been an equalizer in the 26th minute, with a first-time volley from Ronaldo pushed wide by Ederson.
It electrified the crowd with the type of roar not heard again until the rarely used Donny van der Beek was brought on in the second half.
Boos, though, were once again the soundtrack of the home crowd at Old Trafford. What could spare Solskjaer from losing his job during the international break is that the fans are yet to chant against the United striker-turned-underwhelming manager — yet.
“I have a good communication all the time with the club," Solskjaer said. "That’s very up front and honest about the situation. I work for Man United and I want the best for Man United. As long as I’m here, I want to do what I can to improve this, and that’s going back to what we looked like.”
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