Man Utd 0-3 Man City: 16 Conclusions on Ten Hag, Silva, Haaland, Hojlund

Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes had contrasting derbies
Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes had contrasting derbies

Manchester City obliterated Manchester United to end any talk of a Red resurgence. Bernardo Silva was as brilliant as Bruno Fernandes was rotten.


1) That was a beasting but it looked at least partly like a self-inflicted beasting, with Erik ten Hag making a series of questionable decisions starting with the line-up and moving through almost every substitution.

Actually, scratch that because the bad decisions largely happened in the summer, when too much money was paid for the willing but not yet able Rasmus Hojlund and too much money was paid for Mason Mount when United desperately needed reinforcement at the base of midfield. That Mount remains on the periphery is more damning of manager than player.

This looks like an unbalanced Manchester United squad being managed badly. Again.


2) Manchester City produced their finest half-hour of football of the season in that second half but my word were they allowed. They quite rightly remain favourites for the Premier League title and will take a massive dose of confidence from this win after the low of that flat performance v Arsenal.

We suspect that Pep Guardiola cannot wait to have another pop at the Gunners with a fit John Stones and an available Rodri. They were both near-faultless against United on an afternoon when Erling Haaland and Bernardo Silva rightly take most of the plaudits.

Barring the battle between Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku (won this time by the Englishman), this feels like a City XI that could stick. And win almost everything again.


3) Only three of Manchester United’s starting XI – Marcus Rashford, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes – survived from the 2-1 win at Old Trafford as recently as January, and the only possible upgrade felt like Hojlund for Anthony Martial, though when Hojlund fouled Rodri to gift City the opener, minds might have changed; there is no way Martial would have given enough of a sh*t to haul down anybody in his own box.

Erik ten Hag was forthcoming in the usually dull pre-match interview when he said that the choice of Jonny Evans over Rafael Varane and Victor Lindelof over Sergio Reguilon was down to “tactics” rather than hiding behind talk of fitness. Did we ever think that we would see Harry Maguire, Evans and Lindelof picked ahead of World Cup winner Varane? It does funny things to your brain. And to your football team, it seems.


4) Having already mentioned the penalty, let’s talk about it. Is it possible for the decision to be both harsh and essentially right? Of course it is. So many penalty decisions fall into this category. The argument that ‘this always goes on at set-pieces’ is a moot one because the on-pitch and off-pitch officials were dealing with this particular incident and there is zero doubt that Hojlund fouled Rodri, who was heading for exactly the same place as the incoming ball. Right, let’s move on.


5) Let’s face it, Erling Haaland scuffed the penalty but that’s still his 10th Premier League goal of the season that came in a half in which he otherwise looked curiously hesitant. Quite why he did not throw his body at the loose ball oddly knocked into the air by Andre Onana only he knows, while he definitely gave Onana the chance of making that phenomenal save in injury-time  with a header that you would have expected him to power into the corner.

When presented with the carbon copy of that chance early in the second half, there was no such hesitation. That made it 11 goals in a Premier League season in which we are led to believe he has been below par. He has now scored the same number of Premier League goals this season as Manchester United. Oh to be so far below par.

Man City striker Erling Haaland celebrates a goal against Man Utd
Man City striker Erling Haaland celebrates a goal against Man Utd


6) Bernardo Silva was the glorious architect of both those Haaland headers and he was at the heart of everything brilliant about Manchester City at Old Trafford. Overloading that left side along with Grealish – chosen ahead of Doku – they gave Diogo Dalot a torrid time throughout. It looked tremendous fun for just about everybody but the Portuguese right-back.

Crowbarring Bruno Fernandes into that right side always looks like a massive mistake but never more so than when you see the space gifted to Josko Gvardiol as Fernandes inevitably comes inside to look for the ball. He does not want to be on the right (and makes that very, very cleat) and Dalot absolutely does not want him to be on the right ‘ahead’ of him. City smelled blood on that side and again and again they targeted the isolated Dalot.


7) Ten Hag saw Silva and Grealish dominate that left side and took action at half-time. But it was a curious kind of action – bringing on Mason Mount but not to harry and diligently track back on that right-hand side as he has done many times for Chelsea, but to play as a No. 10, leaving Fernandes nominally on the right and bringing back Scott McTominay to cover Silva’s runs beyond Grealish on the left.

As Haaland powered home that Silva cross, McTominay was conspicuous by his absence and it looked like a mistake from Ten Hag to trust him with that job. Penny for the thoughts of Sofyan Amrabat, brought in to toughen up that Manchester United midfield but not trusted to complete the job in the derby. The truth is that he has only actually looked Premier League-standard at left-back. Add him to a lengthy list of underwhelming signings under Ten Hag.


8) In that second half, City gleefully pulled United apart. They were as brilliant as United were wretched. The best team in the world obliterated the eighth-best team in England. All talk about derbies being great levellers looked ludicrous. This looks like a very poor Manchester United side under a manager currently floundering in the job.

There are injury caveats but there is no way that this United side should be this bad. There should be a recognisable pattern of play. There should be defensive organisation. There should not be a situation in which “tactics” mean that a 35-year-old centre-half signed to help the Academy players in pre-season should be starting a Manchester derby.

The starting XI looked like an error from Ten Hag and every change he made only made them worse. It’s impossible not to wonder what Ange Postecoglou or Unai Emery would do with this set of players; we’re pretty sure it would not involve Fernandes on the right.


9) But let’s go back to the beginning and “the best six minutes” Gary Neville had seen from Manchester United at home in the Premier League this season. It was easy to laugh at that pronouncement – and we did – but it did briefly look that the United players had an idea what to do in possession. A pattern of play allied with high-level pressing when out of possession.

It was co-ordinated pressure from Fernandes and Hojlund high up the pitch that created the first chance of the game for Scott McTominay, but he hit the ball weakly.

They then broke again and Hojlund missed the chance to play in Rashford – the first of several pretty poor decisions from the Dane, who looks rather more green than red right now.


10) It’s hard not to feel sorry for Hojlund; he should not have cost that amount of money and he should not be Manchester United’s first-choice striker; he is patently not ready.

There has been some fast-pedalling PR from United and several writers have fallen for the marketing and painted Hojlund as The Chosen One for United, pretending he is delivering exactly what is expected from him, but this was a performance that proved that United paid for potential in a summer when they absolutely needed polish.

He gave away the penalty and then had the chance to redeem himself when set free by Phil Foden’s loose pass. He never looked remotely likely to score and his heavy touch took him too far wide. Could he have gone down under John Stones’ hand? Was it naive to try and stay on his feet? Yes and yes. If you cannot score by fair means, perhaps have a pop at the foul, fella.


11) Manchester United actually ended the first half with a flurry of activity that forced Ederson into a proper save to deny McTominay, before Onana pulled off his own impressive acrobatics at the other end. It briefly looked like a contest again.

But for all City’s possession and control in that first half, they were not peppering United’s goal. There were lovely passages of play but they too often broke down on the edge of the United box, with Julian Alvarez particularly and uncharacteristically sloppy. This was 7/10 stuff from City. Nothing spectacular but just enough to keep their noses in front.


12) That’s what made that half-time change from Ten Hag all the more curious. It’s not as if Amrabat had been brilliant – and there was some unnecessary nonsense with Grealish that earned him a card – but why not use half-time to make him aware of the job that needed doing on Silva as presumably this had been the plan all week?

Having worked on a pivot of Eriksen and Amrabat, why abandon after 45 minutes and pull the only man who had tested Ederson back into that pivot? McTominay clearly did not have the discipline to play that role.

Leaving United fans wishing Fred was still around to do a limited but diligent job is almost a sacking offence from Ten Hag.


13) A 7/10 City performance became a 9/10 one in that second half but they were absolutely allowed to be that good by a ragged Manchester United. There was no discipline, no idea, no sense that that there was a grand plan.

“It’s different levels. The United players are just short in every aspect. Technically and tactically. It’s a long way back for this team,” said Roy Keane and that’s exactly right – they’re not even remotely in the same stratosphere as this City side. A f*** of a lot of money has been spent to be this far behind the best team in the world.

There is so much wrong with this football club that is beyond the responsibility of Ten Hag, but there is so much wrong with this team that really should not be.

You cannot go this far backwards in a few months under the same manager and expect to escape criticism as that manager.


14) A large section of the media this season has leaned too heavily into the narrative of Onana being the major problem at Manchester United. It’s too easy. It’s a lazy but satisfying road because rival fans love to talk simplistically about goalkeepers f***ing up.

But the only Manchester United player to emerge with any credit from that sh*t-show was Onana, who pulled off several excellent saves, including one that ultimately led to Foden scoring City’s third of the game when Haaland unselfishly squared. Nothing about this United capitulation can be laid at his door.


15) The last few moments from United were pathetic. All discipline was lost. Antony should have been sent off. That was the sum total of his contribution. Of all the wasteful transfer decisions over the last 18 months, perhaps the worst is the massive pile of money spent on that absolute twunt. He has zero redeeming characteristics. Genuinely don’t even want to type his name.


16) Manchester United are now eight points off a Champions League place and that looks absolutely insurmountable even this early in the season. Liverpool had a similarly poor start to last season but had scored literally twice as many goals at the same juncture. They looked like an end-of-era side but this version of Manchester United look like any hint of an era was just an illusion. They are a mess.