Manchester City went back to the top of the Premier League by beating their cross-city rivals on Wednesday evening.
City’s 11th league win in a row leaves them one point ahead of Liverpool, who are in action against Huddersfield Town on Friday night.
The hope for the legions of Fantasy managers who have representation from both clubs is surely that the title race goes to the wire, avoiding any “dead rubber” scenario and possible end-of-season rotation in Gameweek 38.
That looks increasingly likely after City’s two victories in Gameweek 35, with the matches against Spurs and United having been widely viewed as the biggest obstacles in their bid to defend their Premier League crown.
Given that they are in such good form, still have a title to play for and, unlike four of the “big six”, are now not competing in Europe, the Citizens’ players will likely be immovable in many Fantasy squads between now and the end of 2018/19.
We dissect last night’s Manchester derby in our Scout Notes article below.
Manchester United 0-2 Manchester City
- Goals: Bernardo Silva (£7.6m), Leroy Sane (£9.3m)
- Assists: Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5m), Raheem Sterling (£11.6m)
Three days after Liverpool secured a hard-earned 2-0 away win in South Wales, Manchester City did likewise at Old Trafford.
The two title rivals had to endure tense, goalless first halves in their respective victories but class ultimately told in both situations.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer summed up City’s latest win perfectly after full-time:
We got a reaction [from the defeat to Everton] and in the end, we were beaten by a better team.
But we got a reaction from the fans, from the players, we had a go. You can see the work-rate and everything was there, it just wasn’t good enough.
There is a difference in quality, definitely. That is why they are at the top of the league and we are where we are. They have set the standard.
City were ultimately just better than their hosts on Wednesday night but nerves would have been jangling until Bernardo Silva‘s (£7.6m) 53rd-minute opener.
Manchester United’s 3-5-2/5-3-2 line-up had suggested that they would set out to frustrate their cross-city rivals and that was indeed the case, with Solskjaer’s troops largely successful in containing City in the first half.
There was very little goalmouth action of note in the opening 45 minutes, with Raheem Sterling (£11.6m) coming the closest to breaking the deadlock when he tiptoed into the United box and fired straight at David de Gea (£5.7m) just before the break.
Chris Smalling (£5.6m) almost deflected another tame Sterling effort past his own goalkeeper before Bernardo stung de Gea’s hands with a fierce strike but City went into the interval with nothing to show for their dominance in possession.
The Red Devils had their moments, too, with Jesse Lingard (£6.7m) volleying an excellent Paul Pogba (£8.6m) pass narrowly wide before Ederson (£5.6m) had to rush out to deny Marcus Rashford (£7.4m).
The enforced 50th-minute substitution of arguably the game’s best player in the first half, Fernandinho (£5.3m), indirectly swung the game in City’s favour.
The Brazilian’s departure led to Bernardo moving from the right wing to the right of a central midfield three, with Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5m) shifting across to become the anchor.
Leroy Sane (£9.3m) was introduced on the left flank and all three of those players were involved in City’s two goals.
Gundogan’s pass was fired low past de Gea by Bernardo to put City 1-0 up and the United goalkeeper’s unconvincing form continued when he failed to stop Sane’s savable shot 12 minutes later – both goals beating de Gea at his near post.
Sterling grabbed a fine assist with a run and pass for Sane’s goal to emerge from Gameweek 35 with a consolation attacking return.
The England winger was not at his absolute best but it is a reflection of just how dangerous a Fantasy asset he can be that he still tested de Gea twice in the first half and would have had another excellent opportunity had he manage to control a dinked pass over the top from Fernandinho on 35 minutes.
Sergio Aguero (£11.8m) was another premium City asset who was not operating at his usual stratospheric levels but who could easily have left Old Trafford with a goal to his name: the Argentinean striker whistled an effort wide just before half-time and later clipped the upright with a curling shot just after Bernardo’s opener.
We can’t learn much new about Sterling or Aguero from a tight game such as this, with not just local “bragging rights” on the line but a Premier League title too.
The hope now for Fantasy owners is that the pair’s professional, hard-working displays against “big six” opposition in Double Gameweek 35 can be rewarded with points hauls in what should be relatively more straightforward matches in the season run-in – although Burnley and Leicester have themselves been in decent form of late.
David Silva (£8.5m) blanked but produced a much-improved performance in midfield, registering more penalty box touches and key passes than anyone on show.
With Kevin De Bruyne (£9.7m) out and Gundogan and Fernandinho potentially sidelined as a result of the injuries they picked up in the derby, Silva’s place in the City starting XI could well be nailed for Gameweek 36 at least.
Guardiola said of City’s two new additions to the injury list:
In the half-time, there was a little problem in both [of Fernandinho’s] legs. Muscular, he was not comfortable. Gundo has a big kick in the first half. We’ll see tomorrow.
Bernardo scored only his second league goal of 2019 and drew praise from his manager afterwards:
Bernardo has had an incredible season, the second half he played like a holding midfielder. It’s not just today, all the season was a masterclass – a masterpiece, every single game.
He finished good last season and, this season, his pre-season was incredible. I said to the guys, I spoke with Leroy and the others, I cannot leave out Bernardo with his performances.
He’s one of the best players in Europe.
Pogba’s tenth-minute shot from distance turned out to be the only save that Ederson had to make as City banked their 18th clean sheet of the season – ten of which have come in the last 14 Gameweeks.
Aymeric Laporte (£6.1m) recorded three bonus points to go with his shut-out, taking his total in the three Double Gameweeks to 53 points – over a third of his overall score in 2018/19.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between for United (as the below graphic shows), although Lingard ought to have done better in the second half when he failed to make meaningful contact with a Marcus Rashford (£7.4m) cross with the goal gaping.
Reflecting on United’s lack of goals from open play of late, Solksjaer said:
I’m not reflecting on the statistic but I’m reflecting that we don’t score goals or make efforts. We created chances today but didn’t take them. Of course, that’s something we need to improve on. It’s not a lack of effort but the quality, in the end, today wasn’t good enough.
Rashford’s only shot was a Cristiano Ronaldo-esque toe-punt from 35 yards out but he was praised by his manager after the game.
Rashy had a terrific first half. He’s always threatening, he’s running in behind. That attitude of wanting to create something was great to see. Of course, they stopped him a few times. He was close today and Rashy will be important for us and he’s got the right attitude. We’ve just got to keep working on it.
Rashford, however, was critical of himself and his team-mates, saying:
Today we didn’t play like Manchester United. The bare minimum is to work hard and give all for the badge, the supporters, the club and yourself.
It has been a tough road to get to where we are, to get there and not be putting up the same performances as we were in January is disappointing.
We know what’s been going wrong, it’s mentality and willingness to run for your team.
We never call each other out but we have to be real with each other. It’s a matter of trying to improve each other.
Pogba may well have been one of the players that Rashford was referring to, with moments of class from the Frenchman (that aforementioned pass for Lingard) all too fleeting in a fairly ineffective display.
Playing against the champions-elect and having inferior players alongside him in midfield – Fred (£5.3m) and Andreas Pereira (£4.5m) this time – doesn’t help, of course, but other than favourable opposition in Gameweeks 37 and 38, there is little to further Pogba’s cause as a premium midfield option for the run-in.
De Gea’s decline in form has mirrored Pogba’s and United’s in general but Solksjaer backed his under-fire goalkeeper after full-time, saying:
I think David made some terrific saves today. It’s everyday work for everyone and David’s got high standards he’s set himself. He’s working really hard to improve, so when we are now having a time like this, we have just got to stick together, batten the hatches down and make sure we don’t do anything rash, anything stupid and keep working and stick together as a team.
Manchester United XI (5-3-2): De Gea; Young, Darmian (Sanchez 83′), Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Andreas Pereira (Lukaku 72′), Fred, Pogba; Lingard (Martial 83′), Rashford.
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Zinchenko; Gundogan (Danilo 89′), Fernandinho (Sane 51′), Silva; Bernardo Silva, Aguero (Gabriel Jesus 89′), Sterling.