Two giants of English football met last week, as Manchester United and Manchester City went toe-to-toe in another classic Manchester Derby. With a top four finish the primary concern, both teams were driven to victory and claims of superiority for the 2015 season. City have been wavering in recent weeks, defeated at Anfield by Liverpool, eliminated from Champions League play at Camp Nou by Barcelona. United won their last five Barclays Premiere League matches.
Louis Van Gaal stuck to his previous formation and team selection. Chris Smalling reprised his starting role as centerback, returning from an injury. De Gea started yet another match this campaign; Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, and Daley Blind rounded out the back four alongside Smalling. In midfield, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Ashley Young took up their accustomed positions. Wayne Rooney appeared at lone striker.
Manchester City started the match with a ravenous hunger for the ball and heavy upbeat pace. Their efforts were rewarded early with the opening goal of the match. James Milner played David Silva through into the penalty area. Silva dribbled to the touchline and played a cross into Sergio Agüero, who tapped the pass into the wide-open net.
United conceded first, but they responded swiftly and confidently. After David De Gea cleared a back pass, it was won by Marouane Fellaini and fell to the feet of Ander Herrera. Herrera played a delightful cross into the penalty area onto the run of Ashley Young, whose first attempt was blocked by a City defender, but a second opportunity arose as the rebound kindly settled near enough for Young to send it past Joe Hart.
With the equalizing goal in hand, United set about dominating the game and taking the attack to the City defense. With the size advantage of Fellaini over City's wingbacks, United staged an aerial bombardment, spraying balls to the towering Belgian. Eventually their efforts paid dividends, as they were able to score the next goal. Ashley Young played a cross curling towards Fellaini at the far post, who headed the ball past City's goalkeeper.
As the first half drew to close, a sense of confidence pervaded Old Trafford and the United fans. With the score at 2:1, City out of sorts, and United all but running rampant, it seemed it would be a red Manchester day. The second half began with the same momentum, United overbearing City and imposing their will on the game. Joe Hart made a series of spectacular saves. After stopping the initial threat, a Wayne Rooney free kick, the ball bounced around the penalty area, falling to Michael Carrick at one point for driven shot that Hart defended well.
Manchester United would breakthrough again. After United moved the ball quickly to the front, Wayne Rooney held up play remarkably well, allowing Juan Mata to make dangerous run in on goal. Rooney sprung him free on the breakaway with a through ball, which Mata finished cheekily by slipping it between Hart's legs. If Mata's goal wasn't the knockout, Chris Smalling's surely must have been. On a free kick taken by Ashley Young, Chris Smalling ran into the ball's path behind the City defensive line and headed it into the net, barely out of the reach of Joe Hart.
United conceded a second goal to City in the 89th minute, Agüero's second of the match. The goal did little to change the outcome of the game as United saw out their two-goal lead to reclaim victory in the Manchester Derby after a four match winless run. With the Derby win, United maintain their pace with Arsenal and Chelsea, both victorious at their weekend matches, in the league table.
United's focus must remain vigilant, however, as they prepare for this week's important match against Chelsea. The match will surely make evident the success of the Van Gaal system and philosophy in the United side. Manchester can cement their position at the top of the table with a victory. Even more, a defeat does not harm their title chances in the slightest. United are eight points behind Chelsea, who will need to collapse as well as United win out in order to upset the current flow at the top of the table. The Red Devils play the Blues away at Stamford Bridge. The match will air on NBC Sports Network, Saturday at 12:30pm ET.
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