There was nothing on, seemingly, for Manchester United. Dean Henderson, the goalkeeper, had the ball in his hands and Manchester City were in their defensive shape. City felt that their rivals were time-wasting as they led in the early exchanges of the second half through Bruno Fernandes’s second-minute penalty. “Get on with it,” came the cry from the City ranks.
So United did. Or, more precisely, Luke Shaw did. Henderson, beginning a mini-run in the team with David de Gea on paternity leave, threw out to the left flank and Shaw had only one thought – to rumble upfield. A touch on his chest took him away from Joâo Cancelo and he had too much pace for Kevin De Bruyne. Up to the edge of the City penalty area, Shaw swapped passes with Marcus Rashford before getting the ball out of his feet and directing a low shot into the far corner.
It was some way for the left-back to score his first goal since March of last year and it was the moment that swung this derby decisively in United’s favor, extending their club-record unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League to 22 games and torpedoing City’s sequence of 21 straight wins in all competitions. It was City’s first defeat in 29 games.
It will surely not alter the destination of the league title which still seems bound for City, who retain an eleven-point cushion at the top. The greater significance probably lay in United firing their hopes of a Champions League finish but they will still enjoy getting the better of their neighbors; proving that when they get their gameplan correct, they can topple them.
Shaw’s goal embossed his latest man-of-the-match performance and came in front of the attendant Gareth Southgate, although the England manager has surely decided already to recall him. The body of evidence is extensive. Shaw is the best left-back in the division on current form.
City had brought the swagger. “You ready?” Sergio Agüero asked journalists in the press box as he took his seat in front of them before kick-off. There was an easy smile from the substitute. But his team was not ready. It was extraordinary to see the looseness from them in the opening minutes, so out of character, and United took advantage.
The penalty came when Anthony Martial darted from left to right, along the edge of the area, and Gabriel Jesus lunged in to catch him. It was clumsy in the extreme and, when Fernandes scored, it meant that City were behind for the first time in 20 league games. Fernandes’s kick was not tight to the bottom corner and Ederson, who had gone the right way, got his hand to the shot. It was not enough.
Moments later, it could have been 2-0. City had survived a wobble after giving the ball away on the left – John Stones tidying up – but now Cancelo dallied inside his six yard box and was robbed by Fernandes. The ball broke for Shaw who lashed a low shot straight at Ederson. “Switch on,” bellowed a cry from the City substitutes.
City shook their heads clear. They pressed onto the front foot and started to establish their patterns; Cancelo stepping from right-back into midfield when they had the ball, Ilkay Gündogan pushing, De Bruyne wandering all over.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær had been two out of the two at the Etihad before kick-off, although the second win in last season’s Carabao Cup semi-final still added up to an aggregate defeat. The first win in the league was built on razor sharp counters and was, essentially, the template for how he wants his team to operate. This win contained more encouragement.
United flickered on the counter in the first half, although they struggled in general to get men forward, and the priority for them was to keep City at arm’s length; to stop them getting in behind them. At 1-0, it felt as though United had what they wanted.
There was plenty of menace from City in the first-half – they dominated the ball and every thought was to get forward – but the final action eluded them. Oleksandr Zinchenko shot straight at Henderson while Gündogan sliced past two United players after quick feet from Riyad Mahrez but, off-balance, could not generate power in the shot. Mahrez also dragged wide after a De Bruyne incision. City had wanted a penalty on 23 minutes when Raheem Sterling surged across the area and ran into Fred, who had stood his ground. There was not enough in it.
City had advertised the equaliser at the start of the second-half. Having won the ball high up through De Bruyne, Jesus laid a Mahrez pass off to Rodri, whose rising drive clipped the top of the crossbar.
Enter Shaw, whose speed and purpose was matched by the precision of the finish. When the goal went in, Solskjær’s first reaction was to salute Henderson, who had clearly followed his pre-match orders to the letter with the execution of the distribution.
United were liberated thereafter and Martial should have added to their advantage. He could not get his body shape right on a diving header after a Fernandes cross had deflected up to him but the big chance came on 68 minutes. He was one-on-one with Ederson after a burst from Scott McTominay but side-footed weakly at the goalkeeper.
United lost Rashford to an injury but it was a strange day for City, one when their sights were awry. Phil Foden, on as a substitute, lashed wide while Sterling missed the ball on the half-volley and also got a late header all wrong.