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Manchester United enter Premier League title race with stunning comeback win over Man City

Manchester United 2-1 Man City: Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford’s late goals overcame Jack Grealish’s opener as the Red Devils laid down a marker to their city rivals

Miguel Delaney
at Old Trafford
Saturday 14 January 2023 16:59 GMT
<p>Bruno Fernades scored the first goal of the turnaround before Marcus Rashford won it late on </p>

Bruno Fernades scored the first goal of the turnaround before Marcus Rashford won it late on

There will be a lot of debate about the equaliser at Old Trafford but there can be no disputing its merit, outcome or significance.

A resurgent Manchester United were full value for a 2-1 late comeback victory against Manchester City that saw Erik ten Hag’s side evoke the derby victories of old while strengthening the conviction that a new era has at last started. It may well be represented by match-winners Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho, and certainly sounded like that in the stands throughout.

While that was huge for Ten Hag and United – especially given the transformation from October’s 6-3 humiliation – it might have been even bigger for Arsenal. In the space of four late second-half minutes, the Gunners and the rest of the world witnessed their lead go from two points back out to five, with the potential to make it eight at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Perhaps the greatest significance of all was that City again looked less than the side that have won the last two Premier League titles. Erling Haaland’s presence offers goals but so many fewer touches and one man less in build-up play. It is an issue for a team that went in a few devastating moments from looking like they could grind on through for another run at the title to one repeatedly stumbling – especially in play.

Pep Guardiola may well argue about the manner of Bruno Fernandes’ equaliser as the offside Rashford seemed to blatantly be interfering with play. But the greater problem for City was how they left themselves so open to United’s attacking threat. Casemiro’s ball cut through them. Garnacho’s run devastated them.

Ten Hag's decisions were inspired, making the difference for a team that itself looks stronger than even just before the World Cup.

United have been dismissed in some quarters with critics pointing out that they have only beaten soft opposition since the Premier League returned – but no more. This was a huge win. It may turn out to be one of the most important of the season; a genuine hinge moment.

A defeated Guardiola is certainly going to have to turn things over in his mind.

United caused a seismic shock with their comeback

City had been slow and notably lacking in sharpness. And so many passes went astray or to men in red shirts. A growing contradiction in this team is that they have one fewer player to pass the ball to, since Erling Haaland is so seldom involved in build-up play. He obviously more than compensates for that with his scoring, but it is something City have to work around.

United looked to stay solid and hit all that space in behind. They could even have been ahead twice through Rashford running in there. Once, from a fine Fernandes ball, he skipped around Ederson like Mark Hughes only to see Manuel Akanji clear a low effort. Second, having again been put through on the run, he slightly miscued his touch in the wind to allow Ederson the chance to smother it.

Guardiola knew he had to change something. He introduced Jack Grealish for the second successive Premier League and he again produced.

This time it was a finish of his own rather than the pass he supplied for Riyad Mahrez against Chelsea, but both came within three minutes of coming.

Grealish had been offering all of the touches that Haaland wasn’t, and then took that goal chance off him by reacting first to Kevin De Bruyne’s superb clipped ball to offer a towering header.

It at that point felt symbolic of City’s position over United, lording it over them from above – but Ten Hag has done something different with this side. It is not just about the tactics. They are amplified and improved by a canny resolve the manager has imbued in them. It is reminiscent of the strong way in which he dealt with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Grealish looked to have set City ont he path to victory before the turnaround

United now have a series of young players ready to step into the space – not least Rashford and Garnacho.

Casemiro was clearly looking for Rashford when he played that fine through ball on 78 minutes. The forward happened to be in an offside position, though, only to leave it for the oncoming Fernandes. The playmaker offered a wonderfully flowing finish that soared into the net.

The reaction to the finish was disrupted by the linesman’s flag, only for the goald to be overturned in line with the current laws of the game. It was difficult to argue that Rashford wasn’t interfering with play given his very presence in that area influenced the thinking and decisions of City’s makeshift centre-half pairing – but it was still an easy decision for referee Stuart Attwell to give.

Those are the rules.

The Manchester derby temporarily returned to a past order - United denying City with late comebacks and goals.

The Old Trafford crowd didn’t have to wait long for the next strike. The effervescent Garnacho turned Nathan Ake this way and that before playing the cross for Rashford to turn in.

The result, however, was so much more than a turning point. It was also about more than an offside decision, even if that will dominate discussion.

United have made their own statement, on a day that could have quite the say.

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