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Manchester United travelled to neighbours City on Sunday looking to stay in the hunt for a top 4 finish. It was far from a vintage display but what mattered was that come the final whistle, Manchester was Red.
The game started evenly with both sides conceding chances but looking a threat. Marcus Rashford then sparked into life to pass his man with relative ease and slot home what proved to be the winner mid-way through the first half.
United were dogged and rode their luck at times, but a vital 3 points was all that mattered; here are 5 things we learned from victory at the Etihad.
1) Rashford Revelling
After a blistering start to his Manchester United career Marcus Rashford had gone a few games without scoring and many were calling for the Striker to be left out. Inconsistency is common amongst young players and perhaps a bit of time on the sidelines would do the youngster some good, taking the pressure off slightly by taking him out of the spotlight.
Seemingly, though, Marcus has other ideas. The local lad on the biggest local stage delivered with his searing pace causing City problems all afternoon. A well taken individual goal and a certain penalty that wasn’t given, Rashford is revelling in his new found responsibility as United’s marksman.
2) Big Game Performance
Not for the first time under Louis van Gaal, the Reds put in a performance in a game against one of the better sides in the division. It’s a microcosm of the frustration under the Dutchman, who seems able to get results in big games and then flounder against opposition that should be dispatched with relative ease.
It was far from a demolition on Sunday, and had Aguero been more clinical things may well have been different, but United were resolute and a threat on the break when it mattered. As the season nears its end it is hoped that United’s manager can inspire similar performances against some of the lesser sides.
3) Collective Resilience
It’s been far from pretty this season, but with this side there is always the feeling that they can dig deep when it really matters. Chris Smalling showed signs that he may be returning to his early season form, Daley Blind continues to defy his critics and to a man the side looked cohesive and unified on Sunday.
It’s certainly not the free-flowing attacking football that many crave, but the side proved on Sunday that they can be resilient and grind out games if nothing else.
4) Animated Louis
Louis van Gaal has received a lot of criticism for sitting mute in matches, holding his clipboard like a new born baby and scribbling notes with the frown of a disappointed teacher. Nevertheless, in recent weeks United’s manager has become noticeably more animated on the touchline.
It’s a welcome sight, and a clear demonstration that the Dutchman remains passionate for the cause and passionate to win despite growing criticism. Perhaps discontent from the fans has murmured through, but there’s no doubt that it’s more encouraging to see an active manager on the sidelines.
5) All to Play For
With the win on Sunday United moved just a single point behind their neighbours with 8 games to play, and just 5 points behind Arsenal. With an FA Cup quarter final replay to come too it really is all to play for moving into the final weeks of the season.
Chasing a top 4 place should never be the ambitions of Manchester United, but remaining in Europe’s elite may again prove pivotal ahead of what is likely to be yet another transitional summer at the club. Whilst it is not the standards of Manchester United, given the circumstances most fans would surely be happy with the FA Cup and a place in the Champions League, and that scenario remains a possibility.