Manchester United were flattered by the scoreline when Manchester City visited Old Trafford in the Premier League back in November.
It was a 2-0 home defeat, bad enough for a club with United’s ambitions and status, but it could have been far more such was the disparity between the sides on the day.
That performance, which came soon after a collapse against Leicester and an utterly abysmal showing against Liverpool at Old Trafford, proved to be one of the final nails in the coffin for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A 3-0 win over a Tottenham side in similarly abject disarray in between facing Liverpool and City did little to secure his future.
Two weeks after the derby, when Premier League football resumed following the November international break, another collapse against Watford saw Solskjaer axed.
Interim replacement Ralf Rangnick hasn’t had things all his own way in the four months since. United have still struggled to rack up wins like they would have been expected to in the context of what has been a very favourable fixture list during that time.
That being said, Rangnick’s United have been harder to beat than Solskjaer’s were. A single narrow Premier League defeat to Wolves in early January remains the only time that the German coach has ended up on the losing side during his tenure to date – the FA Cup fourth round tie against Middlesbrough technically ended in a draw after 120 minutes.
United haven’t been ironclad at the back and have continued to give up chances, which suggests the visit to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday will be the real acid test of how much impact he has had on this squad and their ability to step up and perform.
The biggest recent problem in Rangnick’s reign has been scoring goals. Three of United’s last five Premier League games have finished in draws precisely for that reason, with the team managing only two goals across those outings. An inability to take chances also contributed to the aforementioned early FA Cup elimination at the hands of Boro in late January.
From Rangnick’s perspective, the issue has not been with his coaching or tactical instructions. Perhaps fairly, he sees the fact that United are creating chances as evidence that things are working and the team is improving under his tutelage. The onus, instead, lies on the players to actually finish those chances having already got themselves into the position to score.
Pep Guardiola’s City won’t easily give anything up, but there is at least a chink in the armour that wasn’t there in November and December. They have lost their edge in recent weeks and have dropped enough points in the last six weeks to at least let Liverpool back into the title race.
There is an opportunity for United to take some confidence from that on Sunday and make a statement of their own – that they are far from dead and that the methods are working. If it ends up being another comfortable defeat, then what has actually changed?
Source : 90min