The argument that Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City was the most impressive and significant in the permanent tenure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a compelling one. United kept City at bay for long periods, with the visitors only having one real significant chance from a cross into Sterling that he failed to poke in. It was another clean sheet, the eighth in ten games for an increasingly robust and efficient defensive unit. Saying all this, I am going to have a look at the three standout players from a fantastic team performance, something that is not an easy task!
Anthony Martial has come under significant criticism in the past weeks and months. Some of this can be categorised as fair, but many have been quite unreasonable in their critique of the French forward. On Sunday, he led the line with a dominant display. Something that has undisputedly improved in his game has been his hold-up play and ability to link with the players around him. A big part of Solskjaer’s game plan was to sit deep in the shape and be resolute. Consequently, Martial ensuring the ball stuck would help relieve pressure on the Norwegian’s side.
His goal has ensured much praise for Bruno and rightly so. But the movement of Martial was important in beating the offside trap and finishing off the move. Many, including Solskjaer himself, have criticised Martial for his movement in and around the box. In recent weeks, this seems to have improved a notch, perhaps because more players are getting in and around him and a more penetrative attacking style being developed in recent weeks. Before this, he was often isolated.
He is scoring goals, despite an inconsistent few weeks. He has now scored at City home and away, and managed to score a crucial goal on the way to a pivotal result at Stamford Bridge with a rare headed finish. He is working hard despite the criticism that he is lazy and has a poor attitude.
Sunday’s game was a sign that the Frenchman is adding to his natural talent and is becoming a more rounded number nine. Frustrating things like not squaring for Bruno in the first time will still happen, but there are genuine signs that he is improving and he had a stellar game against United’s bitter rivals on Sunday.
Bruno by my count would be among the three best performers for every game he has started in so far for the club. He has been a revelation and has arguably been a significant factor in the rapid transformation of United’s attack into a more dynamic and penetrative one. Every time he receives the ball, he is trying to make something happen. He has no fear of messing up. At times before he joined, our players seemed to treat the ball like a hot potato. They didn’t want it. Bruno has brought an arrogance not only through himself but the players in and around him too.
He was remarkable again on Sunday. His technique for the free kick was absolutely remarkable. It is not easy to chip it into the space between the defensive line and territory in which the keeper can sweep the ball up. Weighted to perfection, it was a move off the training ground. He again was calm and comfortable on the ball every time he received it.
It was not just his technique and passing that caught the eye on Sunday, he showed that he had the ability to be disciplined within the defensive structure carved by Solskjaer. It wasn’t just defending in our territory that was impressive. His infectious energy in trying to win the ball high and harass City’s fragile back line was also brilliant.
He set the tone with and without the ball for United. Not for the first time.
Jamie Carragher summed up the fullbacks performance perfectly on Sunday in saying that managers should look to move their attacking assets well away from the former Palace man. He put in a dominant display, Sterling never managing to even get a sniff in the game. He has at times looked a bit leggy recently but games like Sunday prove his worth.
Attacking wise, he still needs to contribute more. Saying that, he managed a couple of times to break through the City lines, with his final ball the only thing lacking. He is definitely working on things. He looks more comfortable in trying to provide more of a threat attacking wise.
There will be notable mentions for Nemanja Matic and Fred who controlled the midfield to perfection. David De Gea for bouncing back after a tough game at Goodison the week before. And Scott McTominay for his peach of a long range effort in the last few minutes of the game. And even then, I haven’t mentioned them all. Let’s hope we can take this momentum that we have building recently into our Austrian trip and away against our old boss Jose next weekend.