Every Manchester United supporter in attendance at the Etihad Stadium or watching at home from behind their sofa would have been forgiven for expecting the worst when Chris Smalling was sent off before half-time, an event which had a huge part to play in the side’s eventual 1-0 defeat.
Flashbacks of a United defence being torn apart on the same ground just over 12months ago came flashing back as Michael Carrick took his place in the back four with right winger Antonio Valencia already having to fill in for the absent Rafael.
Things got worse when Marcos Rojo was stretchered off to be replaced by Paddy McNair and the constant pressure from the hosts finally told when Sergio Aguero swept home from close range. But supporters would have pleasantly surprised by how their team reacted after going down to ten men. More memories would have come back to possibly their most humiliating ever defeat when City stuck six past them at Old Trafford after Jonny Evans had seen red.
United reorganised themselves well and tried to pounce on the uncertainty and nervousness that swept over Manchester City’s players in the last 15 minutes of the match.
Louis van Gaal‘s men pressed and pressed and anyone tuning in to the final stages would have assumed City were the side with ten men as the home side were pressed back, relying on counter attacks as the visitors opened up towards the end.
Van Gaal said he was proud of how his side performed and given the circumstances he has every right to be. A 1-0 defeat away at the champions wouldn’t have been unexpected even with a fully fit defence and 11 men on the field, so the fact United were able to take their rivals the distance under difficult circumstances shows how the team has come a long way since their 4-1 hammering in September last year.
Under David Moyes, United at 1-0 down with ten men against City would have turned into full blown damage limitation mode but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Instead, United pushed City back and were actually the more dominant side.
The loss might be hard to take but the improvement in respect of the manner of the performance was drastic. Sure, United gained zero points from the result but the overall performance meant there were more positives than negatives to take from the game.