Wednesday 30 March 2022

World Cup qualifiers: International Reds round up

Cristiano Ronaldo will play in what will surely be his final World Cup after Portugal came through their qualifying play-off to reach Qatar 2022. 

When the draw was made, the world expected a heavyweight battle between the last two European champions for a place in the final tournament in November. But after Euro 2020 winners Italy were stunned by the rank outsiders from North Macedonia, it meant Portugal would instead face Blagoja Milevski's dangerous underdogs instead. 

The minnows had sensed another seismic upset, but Ronaldo and United team-mate Bruno Fernandes joined forces as the former set up the latter to put Fernando Santos's side ahead. Fernandes was at the double, this time teed up by Liverpool's Diogo Jota, to fire the impressive Portuguese team into Friday's draw, where they will be among the front runners for glory in what is likely to be Ronaldo's international swansong. 

Fernandes will play in his second World Cup showpiece, with the effervescent and evergreen CR7 appearing in his fifth. With United's string-pulling duo in tandem, Portugal will be a force to be reckoned with and will be amongst the top seeds when the group stage draw is made on Friday.

Elsewhere, Hannibal Mejbri helped Tunisia to see out a 1-0 aggregate win over Mali in the African section of qualifying as the north African nation qualified for the World Cup for an African record eighth time. Taking a slender one goal lead into the second leg of the tie, the Carthage Eagles played out a goalless draw in the capital city of Tunis with Hannibal on as a late substitute.

Victor Lindelof and Anthony Elanga suffered a complete contrast in emotions as their Sweden side, the 2018 quarter finalists, were pipped at the post by Poland. Lindelof captained the side and Elanga came off the bench but Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski scored in the second half to send the Poles to Qatar at their visitors' expense. 

United youngster Zidane Iqbal had only a watching brief from the bench as Iraq's hopes of a second appearance at the finals came to an end at the hands of Syria. Two countries more closely associated with war-torn conflict drew 1-1, which meant neither progressed to the next stage of qualifying. 

That all means the UAE will face Australia with the AFC winners to play fifth-placed CONMEBOL side Peru with a place at the finals up for grabs. 

There was also some midweek friendly action, as Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw featured in the England team which beat team mate Eric Bailly's ten-man Ivory Coast 3-0 at Wembley. Raphael Varane and substitute Paul Pogba played for a strong France side in a 5-0 friendly win against South Africa in Lille. 

Scotland let a two-goal lead slip in their draw with Austria, a match in which Scott McTominay stepped off the bench at the hour mark in Vienna. 

27 of the 32 spots in Qatar have been decided with five places still up for grabs and the final qualifying matches to be settled in the coming months. Congratulations to every United player involved. 

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Get rid of these referees and ask for an enquiry (RANT)

So there we have it. The great agenda is complete - UEFA never had any intention of allowing Manchester United to go through to the Champions League last eight. From the moment the draw was made, their plan was set.

United have now been shafted, robbed and cheated out of all three cup competitions thanks to the useless incompetence of these clowns masquerading as match officials. It's surely clear the EFL, the FA and UEFA want Manchester United out of their cup competitions and have done everything in their power to ensure that's the case. 

We knew Manchester United were never going to win the Champions League this season anyway. We simply aren't good enough. We knew that before the game and we of course know it now. It's the manner of it which stings. 

The referee on Tuesday night was quite possibly the worst referee I have ever seen - he was, to be polite, an absolute catastrophe. How he was even allowed to take charge of this game in the first place is beyond me when there's literally proof of his dodgy dealings. The guy's got links with Bosnian drug and prostitution gangs for life's sake. 

Not since the nonsense decision to send off Nani in 2013 have we seen such a diabolical performance at this level from a ref - but at least that was only one decision albeit one which still rankles to this day. 

But like Cuneyt Cakir, the name of Slovenian Slavko Vincic will live long in Champions League infamy on a night in which United can - once again - legitimately feel aggrieved at the level of decision-making involving us in a knockout cup tie. The authorities are terrified of Manchester United having success so just always make sure we never do, it's all bollocks and one big stitch-up. They just choose who they want in each round of the knockouts. 

Renan Lodi's goal should never have been allowed as there was not one but two fouls in the build up to it. Anthony Elanga was scythed down but play went on before Fred was studded in the knee by Hector Herrera. Both were ignored and Atletico broke away to score.

That was bad enough but what followed was even worse. With United on the attack, Marcos Llorente went down clutching his ankle but despite the fact it wasn't a head injury, Mr Vincic couldn't stop the game quick enough. Three minutes later Diogo Dalot was elbowed in the head and Atletico were given a free-kick. Twice the referee intercepted a United move forward and every time we built an attack he stopped the game. How did they only get two bookings when they were stamping, kicking, pushing and slamming our lads to the ground every few seconds? 

It is clear this man was given instructions to let Atletico harm our players and to allow them everything. Time after time their cynical play went unpunished but yet he couldn't wait to pull our lads up on the tiniest thing. Only four minutes of added time at the end of the game was a joke too as Atleti were time wasting from minute one and there were eight subs - that alone took up seven or eight minutes but he couldn't risk United scoring could he? He was giving goal kicks as corners, free kicks as throw ins and did nothing to stop Atletico's rough house treatment. He didn't allow us to tackle, didn't allow us to attack and was clearly just paid off by UEFA to screw us over because they didn't want us to go through. Hope he choked when he sucked off Diego Simeone in the locker room afterwards. It was all a set up for Atletico to go through. 

United are well within their rights to ask for an inquiry and for evidence of match fixing - how else do you explain what happened last night? Where do they find these corrupt wankers? This was a CHAMPIONS LEAGUE knockout game and we were cheated out of it by a blind, spasticated donkey who didn't know his arse from his elbow. You expect the best officials at this level but I've had better officials when playing for my Sunday league side down the local rec. 

In the Carabao Cup we had two clear penalties turned down and got knocked out through an offside goal. In the FA Cup Middlesbrough played basketball but the authorities didn't want us in the next round so changed the laws to suit their agenda and allowed the goal. Then in the Champions League they give us the worst referee I've ever seen to ensure we get shafted again. I want a full explanation from UEFA into how this has been allowed to happen to us and to say the referee is being looked into for bribery, corruption, collusion and match fixing. He must never be allowed on a football pitch again. I have had enough of these referees - they are hell bent on screwing us over week in week out. Even on Saturday the clown did his best to ensure we didn't win with the two identical penalty incidents - one given to Tottenham but ignored completely when its us. He was simply inept, useless and didn't have a clue what he was doing. 

UEFA want us in the Conference League to boost its profile and make them money. It's obviously what they're trying to achieve and they will cheat us out of top four too to get their wish. We have had some absolutely criminal decisions go against us this season and it's time to ask why. Get rid of all of them. 

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Match report: Man Utd 0-1 Atletico Madrid (Agg: 1-2)

 Manchester United were cheated out of a place in the Champions League quarter final by corrupt donkey Slavko Vincic at Old Trafford.
Renan Lodi's first half goal proved the difference but the Slovenian referee failed to spot two fouls in the build up the goal, with Anthony Elanga slammed to the turf and Fred almost decapitated by Hector Herrera before Lodi headed home. But of course the goal was allowed to stand and this official then did everything in his power to ensure the result remained because its all bollocks and a rigged stitch up. 

He got in the way of two United attacks, stopped the game when Marcos Llorente went down with an ankle injury and then gave the visitors a free kick when Diogo Dalot got elbowed in the head. 
He only booked two Atletico players despite their agricultural approach to the game, yet couldn't wait to pull the yellow card out for the slightest thing by our lads. Only four minutes were added on despite Atletico's time wasting, eight subs and at least two minutes for the shenanigans of stopping the game. 

United genuinely have grounds to ask for an enquiry into corruption and match fixing here. It was the worst performance by a referee I have ever seen and that's saying something. 

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick made three changes from Saturday's win over Spurs as Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Elanga came in for Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford. 
Old Trafford was rocking and it galvanised United as we started strongly. Elanga headed over having been picked out by Dalot with the young Swede harshly penalised as the donkey set the tone for his horrific showing.

Elanga came close again after 13 minutes when he was found by Bruno Fernandes and fired on goal only for Atleti keeper Jan Oblak to make the unorthodox save with his face. 

For all the Spaniards expert defensive guile, they're no mugs when it comes to attacking either and served notice of their intention through Rodrigo de Paul, who was denied by an excellent save from David de Gea. 

United had claims for a penalty turned down when Fernandes tangled with Jose Gimenez, but nothing - of course - was given before Diego Simeone's side had the ball in the net but Joao Felix was flagged offside.

Four minutes before the interval, and Atleti did go ahead in very contentious circumstances. A clear foul on Elanga by Gimenez went unpunished and Fred was also clattered by Herrera as the visitors broke upfield. 
Antoine Griezmann crossed for Lodi to head in at the back post beyond De Gea but despite United's vociferous protestations the goal stood.

Oblak saved well to keep out Fernandes and Elanga flashed a shot wide shortly after the restart.

Atleti showed why they're the masters of the dark arts as they disrupted, stifled and strangled the life out of Rangnick's Reds with keep ball and time wasting at every opportunity. 

Jadon Sancho fizzed a volley over the top having been picked out by Dalot and the Spanish champions went close at the other end when a Gimenez header narrowly cleared the bar from a De Paul corner. 

Fernandes whipped in a free-kick which narrowly evaded the onrushing Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire, before a triple change from Rangnick saw Rashford, Pogba and Matic come on for Elanga, Scott McTominay and Fernandes. 

United were caught between a rock and a hard place - we had to attack and take the game to Atleti but, in so doing, left the back door open on the counter. Felix had an audacious effort from range but United continued to press and came close to a leveller when Oblak saved superbly to keep out Raphael Varane's header. 

Dalot fired wide from distance with Edinson Cavani and even Juan Mata thrown on in a valiant attempt to force extra-time. 
Technical director Darren Fletcher was yellow carded but the referee continued to ignore Atletico's blatant attempts to disrupt United's rhythm. 

Rashford's deflected cross gave the Reds one final set piece for which de Gea was sent up, but Oblak plucked it out the sky and United's Champions League dreams were over.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Slavko Vincic. What an incredible performance from a magnificent ref. 

Monday 14 March 2022

Man Utd v Atletico predicted XI: Shaw, Fernandes and McTominay to return for Reds

Ralf Rangnick's Reds return to European action as we welcome Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid to Old Trafford for the second leg of our last 16 tie.

The contest is poised on a knife edge after Anthony Elanga's second half leveller in the Spanish capital but, with no away goal rule, this tie could go the distance through extra-time and penalties if required. 

Rangnick shuffled his pack again for the visit of Spurs but the interim boss is unlikely to make wholesale changes again for this one. Bruno Fernandes is expected to recover from Covid and should return, so Paul Pogba could play on the left. There's big decisions for Rangnick to make and so, without further ado, here is how we think the Reds will line up tomorrow evening. Come on United!

GK - David de Gea

Had a Covid scare against Spurs but a false positive enabled him to play and he will keep his place against his former side. De Gea had little to do on Saturday and will hope for another quiet evening here. 

RB - Diogo Dalot

Victor Lindelof started at right-back in the Wanda Metropolitano - an inexplicable decision which backfired badly. Rangnick is unlikely to take such liberties here with Dalot - recalled against Tottenham - to keep his place. The unheralded member of United's Portuguese triumvirate has been impressive under the German so we expect him to play

CB - Harry Maguire&Raphael Varane

Despite his unfortunate own goal, I thought Maguire played well against Tottenham and you're not dropping your 80m captain for a Champions League knockout match. Rangnick has dropped Maguire before but I just can't see it here.
Alongside him, it simply has to be Champions League Varane. The World Cup and four-time winner of this competition was born for nights like this. What a player this guy is - a Rolls Royce of a defender, a class act and a man whom holds the defence together. United have never lost a match when these two have started together. 

LB - Luke Shaw

Shaw has missed the last two games after a positive Covid test, which has allowed Alex Telles to turn in two contrasting performances at left-back. Shaw has recovered from the virus and is available again, so we think he will come back into the side at the expense of the Brazilian, however harsh that may seem on Telles. 

CDM - Fred

Excellent in the win over Tottenham and crucial to United in games like this one. Fred is always a shoo-in to start in the big games due to his work rate and energy and he will have a tough job to keep Hector Herrera and the returning Koke in check. Another player to have improved hugely under Rangnick, we expect Fred to start at the base of midfield.

CDM - Scott McTominay 

Nemanja Matic was excellent on Saturday but struggles to play two games in a row, particularly in such quick succession, so I can't see him starting this one. The return of McTominay will see the veteran Serb drop to the bench and could mean Paul Pogba also misses out on a place in the XI. McTominay may not be fit enough to get through a full 90 minutes but that's where the experience of Matic comes in. Alternatively, Rangnick could decide to play Pogba alongside Fred so this is undoubtedly a big call to make in a key area of the team. 

RW - Jadon Sancho

A certain starter, Sancho has been scintillating recently with his pace and trickery. Equally adept on the left as he is the right, Sancho had a slow start at Old Trafford but has been simply magnificent since Christmas. This is what we paid the money for. Atletico will likely deploy a three at the back system and will set out to shackle Sancho as they know to do so will be key to victory. He has very much arrived as a United player. 

CAM - Bruno Fernandes

Missed the win over Spurs through Covid and - to be fair - we did alright without him. But you need your big players for the big games and he is certainly still one of them. Pogba on the left won't work against Simeone's streetwise Spaniards and despite his tendency to lose the ball, Fernandes still has that string-pulling magic in his boots. When he's fit and available, he has to start. Simple. 

LW - Anthony Elanga

Elanga should start on the left after another fitful performance from Marcus Rashford against Spurs. He simply isn't doing enough to justify inclusion at present and Elanga has been the brightest spark since Rangnick's arrival. Got the goal in Madrid, hasn't netted since but has still looked lively. In line for only his second ever Champions League start, the young Swede is set to be given the nod in this one.

CF - Cristiano Ronaldo

Could it be anyone else? United's man of the moment, our hat-trick hero and the reason why United have even made it this far in Europe. Don't EVER tell me this guy is the problem at Old Trafford. The leading goalscorer of all time in the history of football, Ronaldo loves scoring against Atletico and - although he was snuffed out in the away leg - United will again look to him to fire us past his old nemesis and into the last eight.


This has all the makings of a fascinating, enthralling ding-dong at Old Trafford. We're expecting a match with plenty of twists and turns - Atletico will fancy their chances and I can't see them not scoring in Manchester. But I've just got a feeling, somewhere inside, this will be our night. It will be tight, tense and tactical, but I'm backing United - just - to go through to the quarter-finals by a whisker. 

Manchester United 2-1 Atletico Madrid 

Sunday 13 March 2022

Ronaldo heads up as Manchester United earn their spurs

After a week in which Manchester United's troubled season reached its nadir, it was perhaps inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo would have the final say.

Even in absentia, Ronaldo continued to dominate the headlines. Despite playing no part in the derby debacle, he was not immune to the wave of criticism that followed - his conveniently timed trip to Portugal led to accusations of Ronaldo shirking responsibility, refusing to play, 'bottling it' and letting his team-mates cop the flak whilst he took a back-seat, safe in the knowledge the result could not be pinned upon him in any way whatsoever. 

The fact he had picked up a hip flexor problem in training pre-City seemed to be forgotten as a footnote. It seemed many did not believe that particular party line. Ronaldo responded to the critics in a way only he knows - with a stunning display of poise, power and perfection to inspire United to a crucial victory over top four rivals Tottenham. 

As a riposte to the doubts and rumours of last week, it was simply magnificent. But yet - as so often when it comes to Ronaldo - there are other issues at play. There is no reason not to believe he was genuinely suffering with injury last week, but the furore around his withdrawal told its own story. Ronaldo has become so big, whichever club he plies his trade for becomes Ronaldo FC.  That in itself presents issues, with modern football about more than simply the impact of individuals. Ralf Rangnick's philosophy is a case in point - for gegenpressing to work, the whole team needs to be able to do it. He will grab the headlines after United's win, but it's important to remember the impact of others too - Fred and Nemanja Matic played well, Jadon Sancho was good again and Raphael Varane ensured it was a much better defensive performance from the team. 

Whatever this remarkable footballer says and does, he is never far from the spotlight. It epitomises the career of this simply stunning, once-in-a-lifetime player he continues, even now, to hold the footballing world in thrall. Whilst his rival for the title of the greatest player ever toils in the one-team league of France's Ligue 1, Cristiano's out here scoring hat-tricks in the most difficult, unpredictable and harum scarum league in the world. Lionel Messi has done next to nothing in Paris, but Ronaldo has continued to show he remains the finest exponent of his craft. 59 hat-tricks - only two of which have come for us - sees him become the leading goalscorer of all time and also bears testament to how he has changed and adapted his game as a player. 

His three goals against Tottenham were a showreel - a highlights package, a compilation, of Ronaldo at his brilliant and bludgeoning best. His hat-trick was like a greatest hits of the man's career: finishes from all three phases of his career rolled into one to show exactly why he still has so much to offer. 

His first, a 25-yard screamer as Eric Dier sat off him, conjured up images of his goal against Porto in the Champions League quarter-final of 2009. Then we saw the predatory instincts that have been Ronaldo's trademark in his latter years, as he loitered with intent to time his run and stroke home a Jadon Sancho cross beyond Hugo Lloris. The third was a classic denouement, the epitome of Cristiano circa 2015, as he rose majestically to thump in a header with the ball behind him, all bulging neck muscles ala Tommy Lawton to cap his best performance of the season. From the way he read the flight and weight of the cross, to the way he attacked it and timed the jump to meet the ball with accuracy and power - it was the perfect textbook header.

Such finishes have become the stuff of legend, with theses written, lectures given and studio hours given over to the science behind the archetypal Ronaldo raison d'etre. When CR7 was substituted in the closing moments of Saturday's exciting 3-2 win over Spurs, Old Trafford rose as one in appreciation of one of our greatest ever. Ronaldo held 76,000 people in the palm of his hand after a vintage display, rolling back the years in a performance for the ages. 

His once seminal impact at United has been questioned as our season has unravelled, but only Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has scored more league goals than him this season and no else has reached double figures in the Red of United. 

At times, there's no doubt a man who appeared to defy Father Time has finally started to look his 37 years. He has created tactical problems, particularly for Rangnick and his preference for gegenpressing. He is not the player he once was, but did we really expect him to be? He's not the flying winger he was when he left us in 2009 as a wide forward occasionally deployed up the middle. But although much has been taken, much still abides. 
But goodness only knows where we would be without him - out of the Champions League already and nowhere near the top four, for a start. There are plenty of problems at our club (how long have you all got) - no one can deny that - but don't you dare ever tell me Ronaldo is one of them. 

Match report: Man Utd 3-2 Tottenham

Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning hat-trick inspired United to a vital late win over top four rivals Tottenham in a thrilling contest at Old Trafford.

Ronaldo's treble - his first since returning to the club in summer - was his second in the Red of United and was the 'perfect' hat-trick of left foot, right foot and a thumping header.

He put Ralf Rangnick's rotated Reds in front with a screamer after 12 minutes and then restored our lead seven minutes before the break after Harry Kane's controversial penalty. 
A Harry Maguire own goal pegged us back again but CR7 rose to plant home a header nine minutes from time and United held out for a superb win after last week's derby debacle.

Ronaldo was one of five changes to Rangnick's XI, with Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford all in ahead of Aaron Wan - Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Scott McTominay and Anthony Elanga with Bruno Fernandes absent from the squad.

After an opening akin to a chess match in which both sides eyed each other up and felt the opposition out, Ronaldo had an early shot smash into the arm of Eric Dier, but referee Jon Moss bafflingly waved away the claims.

Frustrations did not linger for long, though, with our Portuguese superstar at the centre of things again. Fred's exquisite reverse flick into the path of Ronaldo teed up our no.7 for a shot and he curled home a beauty from 20 yards which gave the stranded Hugo Lloris no chance.

Paul Pogba shimmied and then shot wide, but Antonio Conte's Spurs began to gain a foothold having been distinctly second best for most of the match so far.
It looked as though the north London side had levelled when Ben Davies nipped in to score, only to see his effort chalked out for offside by the linesman.

Spurs came close again on 26 minutes when Son Heung - min picked out Dier from a corner, but his header was hacked to safety off the line by the alert Diogo Dalot. This was a superbly see-sawing contest fully in keeping with its status as a key battle in the race for a Champions League position.

Yet Spurs were - quite literally - given a helping hand when their equaliser came ten minutes before the break. Having had our own penalty appeal waved away, there seemed a sense of injustice when a very similar offence - this time when Dejan Kulusevski's cross came off Alex Telles - was penalised by Moss.

Despite the protests, VAR failed to overturn the on-field call and Kane stepped up to slam home the spot-kick beyond De Gea.
But no sooner had the visitors restored parity, United were ahead again three minutes further on with another tinge of controversy.
Spurs felt Jadon Sancho was offside when he crossed to pick out Ronaldo, but Ronnie's second was rubber-stamped when VAR replays showed Sergio Reguilon had played Sancho onside and the goal stood.

Lloris saved well from Sancho on the cusp of the interval with Old Trafford rocking to the beat of a thrill-a-minute match in which United went in ahead with a more comfortable than it sounds lead.

United kept their probing opponents at arm's length, with only Son's snapshot wide on the turn to show for their renewed intensity. 
A hat-trick hunting Ronaldo stung the palms of Lloris from distance and the excellent Fred flashed narrowly off target as Rangnick's side looked to put the game beyond Tottenham's reach.

Victor Lindelof was waiting to come on to help us do that, but before the Swede could be introduced, Spurs had equalised for a second time. If their opener had been contentious, this one was purely fortuitous when Reguilon's cross was turned beyond De Gea by the unfortunate Maguire, on the stretch as he attempted to divert the ball away. In fairness, Maguire had to try and play it with two Spurs players waiting behind him for a tap in.

Lloris saved superbly twice in quick succession as he tipped away Ronaldo's half volley and substitute Edinson Cavani's header. 
Time was against the Reds but it was that man again whom came to his side's aid when he completed a stunning hat-trick on 81 minutes. Telles whipped in a flag-kick and Ronnie rose highest to power home a header despite the attentions of Cristian Romero - Old Trafford erupted to greet a goal which makes the superstar the all time world record for goals scored, just the 807. 

Lindelof did come on in place of Ronaldo - whom left the field to a loud standing ovation -   to tighten the Reds defence in the face of late Spurs pressing as they looked to recover the deficit for a third time.
This time, though, United's game management was good enough to see the game through and, indeed, we could even have had a fourth when Sancho ran through in the final minute only to be snuffed out.

The result moved us back up to fourth, two points ahead of Arsenal (albeit with four games in hand!) and our vanquished capital opponents Spurs, who are three points further back but again with games in hand over us.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo. Who else.. 

Sunday 6 March 2022

United gave it a decent go but were simply outclassed

In reality, Ralf Rangnick and his Manchester United side never had a chance when they crossed the city to face Pep Guardiola's all conquering sky blue juggernaut. 

United had won on their last three visits into enemy territory but never looked like making it four on the spin this time, in the 187th all-Manchester meeting. 

With Cristiano Ronaldo injured and the half-arsed Edinson Cavani again conspicious by absence, United had no striker and so shoehorned Bruno Fernandes into an alien position as a false nine. Even had Ronaldo been available, logic dictated United would need to sit in and hit on the break with pace - a tactical plan not conducive to the talents of the Reds ageing centre-forward. 

Throw in the presence of two second string full-backs, a third choice centre-back, an understrength midfield and a teenage winger and United were beaten before they had even started. Depleted and down to the bare bones with a bench akin to a wasteland with a few scraps thrown on to it, United kicked off at 4.30pm more in anodyne hope than genuine expectation. Recent history gave us reason to be confident as those hat-trick of wins suggested but I was not expecting a result - City's superior quality, intensity and strength in depth would surely prove too great for United's makeshift, hastily assembled side. Not for the first time coming here, United's underdogs would need to defy the odds again. This time, there was to be no upset.

In last term's corresponding fixture, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had turned the tactical tables on his illustrious counterpart with a fluid, high energy, high pressing blueprint which took City by surprise and laid the foundations for an improbable victory.
For all his faults, Solskjaer didn't often err when it came to the big occasion and interim boss Rangnick - at least for a while - looked to have replicated his predecessor.
United were good for the first half hour: we committed men forward on the counter attack, tried to press, won the ball high up the pitch and moved it through the lines quickly. Rangnick took a risk, it was exciting to watch and a brave approach. 
We caused them problems, created chances and despite trailing to a de Bruyne double, Jadon Sancho's stunner encapsulated United at their best. The Reds were 2-1 down at half time but still carried a threat and were well in the game.

Sancho showed flashes, Paul Pogba drifted from powerhouse to periphery, Fernandes fluctuated and Scott McTominay - at times a one man band against City's slickers - tried, but toiled in vain. Anthony Elanga looked lively but also showed naivety in his passing and decision making on his debut in the derby. 

What happened in the second half, we'll never quite know. United's threat simply evaporated - possibly because of fatigue, maybe a lack of fitness or perhaps even the sheer size of the task against one of the finest opposition sides on the planet.

The threadbare Reds battled gamely but City put the game beyond doubt 22 minutes from time through Riyad Mahrez. By then, Marcus Rashford had been introduced as Rangnick looked to inject fresh pace and purpose into his flagging side. It has been a recurring theme throughout the German's interim time in charge - spells of very good play and possession from the Reds at times but only in short bursts rather than anything sustainable across 90 minutes.

In the end, the Reds were simply outclassed and outmanoeuvred by this finest of football teams in the finest of fettles. Manchester City can do this to any team in the world when they're in the mood. Unfortunately this time it was us on the receiving end. City won 7-0 the other week so it shows you just how utterly ruthless and relentless they are. It would've hard enough with a full strength team but with the team we had, it was nigh on impossible. Expectations must be kept in check. 

 Sometimes you might strike lucky and nick it, but nine times out of ten you should expect to come out on the losing side. 4-1 flattered City, United gave it a go and it was a decent effort considering the XI we had - an XI which has never played together before -  but we were beaten by the better side. No shame there, it happens. It was always going to be a question of what City's final winning margin was going to be. The post mortem will be long and damning but context is important here: look at the circumstances, look at the team we had and look at the opposition. Kudos to Pep Guardiola and his magnificent winning machine. 

I'm proud of the performance, which might sound odd after a 4-1 defeat, but we hung in there, heads didn't drop and we kept going. In no way were City three goals better than us: a deflected third and a very tight offside tight in Mahrez's favour added flattering gloss to the scoreline and didn't tell the story of the game as a whole. I won't have it that we gave up - it was more fatigue than anything else. 

A chastening day for Rangnick and his Reds but its important to remember this is only our second defeat under the German and we won't play a team as good as this for the rest of the season. 

Match report: Man City 4-1 Man Utd

Manchester City showed exactly why they are English football's dominant force with an impressive win over Ralf Rangnick's reshuffled Reds in the Etihad derby.
A stunning Jadon Sancho goal had pulled the Reds level after Kevin de Bruyne had put Pep Guardiola's men ahead inside five minutes. De Bruyne struck again before Riyad Mahrez's double put a late and flattering gloss on the final scoreline.

The understrength Reds - depleted by injury - put up a fight and can be proud of their efforts but ultimately had no answer to the intensity and relentless quality of their title chasing neighbours. 
United were forced into a raft of changes after Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw tested positive for Covid, so Victor Lindelof and Alex Telles came in to the defence with second string right-back Aaron Wan - Bissaka included ahead of Diogo Dalot. 

Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani were both sidelined, so Rangnick was forced to line up without a recognised centre-forward with Bruno Fernandes as a false nine - at times Paul Pogba pushed up alongside the Portuguese in a 4-4-2. Marcus Rashford was on the bench. 

United had won on their last three visits here, but it took only five minutes for the sky blue of City to go in front. Bernardo Silva cut the ball back for the onrushing De Bruyne to rifle in his 50th Premier League goal beyond David de Gea.
Ederson denied compatriot Fred, before the impressive De Bruyne went close twice in quick succession only to be denied on both occasions by United's Spanish stopper. First, he had a shot blocked from close range and was then thwarted by De Gea having burst clear.

On 22 minutes, United were level out of nothing in fine style as Pogba picked out Sancho and he curled home a stunner against his former side at the culmination of a superb sweeping counter attack.

But parity lasted only six minutes as City quickly replenished their advantage. Phil Foden had a shot saved, the rebound was also blocked before De Bruyne gobbled up the third loose ball to slam in from ten yards.

De Gea kept out Mahrez and the hat-trick hunting De Bruyne was snuffed out by Maguire as United went in at the interval a goal down but still very much in the tie.

Anthony Elanga had a shot deflected over the bar and Fred flashed wide with the obligatory sighter, but City still carried a threat and Silva almost added a third, only for Lindelof to block. 

Ederson did well under pressure from Fernandes and skipper Harry Maguire was cautioned by referee Michael Oliver after a hefty challenge on opposite number De Bruyne.

United's attacking threat had evaporated and a third goal now seemed only a matter of time. It came on 68 minutes and ended the tie as a contest. De Bruyne added an assist to his showreel as he picked out Mahrez from a corner and the Algerian cracked a sumptuous volley beyond the keeper via a deflection off the unfortunate Maguire.

Substitute Marcus Rashford was crowded out at the end of a solo run and Sancho tested Ederson with a drive but City were relentless and went close again, this time through left-back Joao Cancelo - with the Portuguese's spectacular effort met by an equally impressive stop from De Gea.

But still City were not done as Guardiola's side undeservedly added salt into the wounds with the fourth late on as a tight offside call allowed Mahrez to steal in and score in stoppage time.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Jadon Sancho