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There was nothing on, seemingly, for Manchester United. Dean Henderson had the ball in his hands and Manchester City were in their defensive shape. City felt their rivals were time-wasting as they led in the early exchanges of the second half through Bruno Fernandes’s second-minute penalty. “Get on with it,” came the cry from the City ranks.
So United did. Or, more precisely, Luke Shaw did. Henderson, beginning a mini-run in the team with David de Gea on paternity leave, threw out to the left flank and Shaw had only one thought – to rumble upfield. A touch on his chest took him away from João Cancelo and he had too much pace for Kevin De Bruyne. Up to the edge of the City penalty area, Shaw swapped passes with Marcus Rashford before getting the ball out of his feet and directing a low shot into the far corner.
The left-back had been a selection concern because of an injury niggle but his first goal since last March swung this derby decisively in United’s favour, extending their club record unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League to 22 games and torpedoing City’s sequence of 21 straight wins in all competitions. It was City’s first defeat in 29 games.
It will most likely not alter the destination of the league title, which still seems bound for City, who retain an 11-point cushion at the top; the greater significance probably lay in United firing their hopes of a Champions League finish. But they will still enjoy getting the better of their neighbours and proving that, when they can execute Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s gameplan, there are reasons for optimism.
Shaw’s goal embossed his latest man-of-the-match performance and it came in front of Gareth Southgate, although the England manager has surely decided already to recall him for the internationals at the end of the month. The body of evidence is extensive. Shaw is the best left-back in the division on current form.
City had brought the swagger. “You ready?” Sergio Agüero asked journalists in the press box as he took his seat in front of them before kick-off. There was an easy smile from the substitute, who would remain unused. But his team were not ready at the start and, more broadly, it was a game when they flattered to deceive as an attacking force.
Pep Guardiola was a snap-shot in frustration and he clashed with Solskjær in the 72nd minute after United had lost Rashford to an injury and wanted to bring on Mason Greenwood. City managed to play on, delaying the substitution and leaving United, briefly, with 10 men. The managers appeared to make up 15 minutes after the final whistle, having a conversation on the touchline in between their media duties.
It was extraordinary to see how sloppy City were in the opening minutes and United took advantage. The penalty came when Anthony Martial moved from left to right, along the edge of the area and, as he shaped to shoot, Gabriel Jesus lunged in to catch him. Martial, who had been an injury doubt, led the line with strength and positivity. Although Ederson got a hand to Fernandes’s spot-kick, he could not keep it out.
Moments later, it could have been 2-0. City had survived a wobble after giving the ball away on the left – John Stones tidying up – but now Cancelo dallied inside his six-yard box and was robbed by Fernandes. The ball broke for Shaw, who shot straight at Ederson. “Switch on,” bellowed a cry from the City substitutes.
City shook their heads clear. They pressed on to the front foot and came to dominate the ball. United struggled to get much going on the counter in the first half and it was City that threatened. However, the final action eluded them.
Oleksandr Zinchenko shot straight at Henderson while an Ilkay Gündogan shot after a darting run lacked power. Riyad Mahrez also dragged wide after a De Bruyne incision. City had wanted a penalty on 23 minutes when Raheem Sterling surged across the area and ran into Fred, who had stood his ground. There was not enough in it.
City advertised the equaliser at the start of the second half. Having won the ball high up through De Bruyne, Jesus laid a Mahrez pass off to Rodri, whose rising drive clipped the top of the crossbar.
Enter Shaw, whose speed and purpose were matched by the precision of the finish. When the goal went in, Solskjær’s first reaction was to salute Henderson, who had clearly followed his pre-match orders to the letter with the execution of the throw.
United were liberated thereafter and Martial ought to have added to the lead. He could not get his body shape right on a diving header after a Fernandes cross had deflected up to him but the big chance came on 68 minutes. He was one-on-one with Ederson after a burst from the impressive Scott McTominay but side-footed weakly at the goalkeeper.
City pushed towards the end and Sterling, who endured a difficult game, air-kicked an attempted half-volley when well placed before getting a late header all wrong. For United, it was a first victory of the league season against an opponent from the so-called big six, while Solskjær could revel in a more eye-catching statistic. In three visits to the Etihad, he has won all three.