OLIVER HOLT: Whether winning the title this season is a step too far or not, Man United are back

There have been false dawns before in the bleak, bleak years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. A Champions League win at Parc des Princes is remembered some time after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment.

It was hailed as a rebirth moment for Manchester United, a sign they are recovering. It wasn’t like that. They hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.

But at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon, when United beat Manchester City 2-1 with two late goals in four insane minutes to come within a point of second-place Pep Guardiola’s side, Old Trafford lost in glorious fanfare and the evidence seemed to be shining irrefutable: Whether winning the title this season is a step too far or not, United are back.

Marcus Rashford scored the winning goal as Manchester United came from behind to beat Man City

Marcus Rashford scored the winning goal as Manchester United came from behind to beat Man City

It was a magnificent win for Erik ten Hag and his side against the champions, their noisy neighbors and the team who have done more than any to underscore their decline in the decade since Ferguson’s departure ended an era.

It wasn’t a coincidence either. United deserve it. They dominated the first half, blanched a little at City’s vigorous recovery in the second half, and then hit back with a vengeance.

The match was another personal triumph for Marcus Rashford, who scored the winning goal in the 82nd minute. Four minutes earlier he had had the presence of mind to step aside when he realized he was offside to allow Bruno Fernandes to sweep United’s equalizer home after Jack put Grealish City ahead.

Rashford has now scored eight goals in seven straight games and nine home games. His form is phenomenal, his return to prominence a joy for those who have remained fans of his talent. Some might have doubted him but he has re-emerged as one of the best strikers in Europe and he has so much confidence and faith at the moment that no one in the Premier League can match him.

Erik ten Hag's side continued their brilliant run with the biggest win of the season

Erik ten Hag’s side continued their brilliant run with the biggest win of the season

United have now won nine games in a row and as Ferguson watched from the stands he knew that victory meant United had achieved their longest winning streak in all competitions since retiring.

United have lost just once in 19 games since losing 6-3 to City at the Etihad in early October. The Ten Hag team has come a long, long way since then.

United have pressed City for some early errors. Her high pressing and the relentless energy her game had been lacking for so long forced Bernardo Silva to deliver an easy pass after ten minutes that set up United’s first chance. Rashford used his bad pass and fed the ball to Christian Eriksen. Eriksen played in Bruno Fernandes but the Portuguese midfielder looped his shot over the goal.

City dominated possession but neither that nor the blustery conditions dampened United’s enthusiasm for the competition. As they lost the ball in midfield, the crowd groaned as City launched a lightning-fast counter-attack but United chased him down. Fred locked out De Bruyne and intercepted his attempt at a pass. Then, as De Bruyne tried to regain control, Fred disowned him with a sliding tackle. The crowd roared their approval.

Old Trafford rocked as United announced they are truly back

Old Trafford rocked as United announced they are truly back

Competition is the first requirement and it’s been a while since United seemed to have the guts to fight. But now they’ve got it back, and even if they haven’t caught up with City in any other way, they’re making up for it with a rebirth of a defiant attitude. There was a time when United seemed to think they didn’t have to work as hard as other teams, but that time is over.

With ten minutes remaining, United missed a golden opportunity to take the lead. Fernandes threw a ball over City’s defense and Rashford raced towards it. Ederson rushed out to try and clear it but soon realized he was hopelessly overambitious and pulled out of the challenge when Rashford smacked the ball past him. Rashford advanced on goal from the left and tried to slide the ball past Manuel Akanji on the line, but he caught it too close to the City defender, who got him to safety.

A few minutes later Rashford was through again. This time he was freed by a perfectly weighted pass from Eriksen and accelerated away from Rodri at a searing pace. Rashford fiercely touched the edge of the area, Ederson came out to meet him, and when Rashford attempted to dink the ball over him, Ederson threw up his left arm, cutting the ball’s flight. Rashford threw up his arms in frustration.

Just before half-time, Rashford was the center of attention again. He was chasing a ball down the left touchline and when Walker put him out of play, Rashford pulled up awkwardly and appeared to be clinging to his left hamstring. Rashford was flat on his back and pounding his fist on the grass. In the stands, cameras caught England manager Gareth Southgate frowning in concern.

Rashford celebrates after completing United's exciting comeback in the closing stages

Rashford celebrates after completing United’s exciting comeback in the closing stages

However, Rashford emerged in the second half and it was Anthony Martial who gave way to Antony. The change didn’t pay off immediately and City started the second half much more positively. They converted their best chance of the game so far just after the break as De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez played a nice one-two down the right touchline and De Bruyne played a precise pass to the back post. Bernardo Silva leaped for a header, but instead of going for goal himself, he tried to nod Phil Foden over the goal and the danger was over.

city ​​were transformed. Grealish was replaced by Foden and City’s strong start to the half became even stronger. As soon as United got the ball, City won it back. They besieged the United goal and took the lead after the hour. Mahrez and De Bruyne combined again. Mahrez shoved the ball in the Belgian’s path and he avoided Casemiro’s attentions, getting to the baseline and chipping a great chip at the back post where Grealish rose to emphatically put it past David de Gea. Grealish had been on the pitch for 193 seconds.

United slowly began to regain their composure and try to force their way back into the game. The introduction of Alejandro Garnacho’s pace helped stretch City and make their defense uncomfortable. It also stemmed the tide of City’s attacks and with twelve minutes left and still against the flow of play United were level.

Rashford ran for a through ball but realized as he got close that he was going to be offside. As Rashford formed to shoot and Akanji and Walker approached him, he stepped aside and allowed Fernandes to run at it instead. Fernandes hit it first and his shot curled past Ederson. As he drove away to celebrate, he saw linesman Darren Cann, who was flagged for offside against Rashford.

United angrily protested the offside flag and referee Stuart Attwell ran over to consult with Cann. Deciding that Rashford had not interfered with the game, Attwell allowed the goal to stand. United celebrated wildly and now City protested furiously. But the goal stood.

Four minutes later, United were ahead. Garnacho charged down the left flank and tried to cross, but the ball hit Akanji high in the chest. It rebounded to Garnacho, who got in the way of Nathan Ake, spinning past him on the outside and delivering another cross into the box. It was low this time, and this time City defenders had left Rashford all alone on the edge of the six-yard box. He stuck out his right boot and shot past Ederson with his shot. Old Trafford erupted with joy.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-11635259/OLIVER-HOLT-winning-title-season-step-far-not-Man-United-back.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 OLIVER HOLT: Whether winning the title this season is a step too far or not, Man United are back

Maureen Mackey

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