Ten Hag could be first manager to move out of Alex Ferguson's shadow

ROB DRAPER: Erik ten Hag could be the first manager to move out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow, the Dutchman will have Premier League leaders Arsenal in his sights after Man United’s extraordinary win over City

  • Manchester United completed an extraordinary turnaround to beat Man City 
  • Erik ten Hag could be the man that finally gets out Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow
  • United are still way off Manchester City but the win was a step in right direction
  • Ten Hag’s side are now six points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal 

Maybe it is for real. Maybe Erik ten Hag is the man to who can finally command the dug out opposite The Sir Alex Ferguson stand, with the list of all those trophies he won in 26 years, and not wilt in its shadow. Maybe Marcus Rashford will one day be spoken of as a legend in the breath of the some of the greats.

Lunchtime kick offs are notoriously underwhelming for atmosphere, which may or may not be linked to the amount of drinking time it is possible to squeeze in before 12.30. And yet when Rashford broke free to connect with Alejandro Garnacho’s cross on 82 minutes to complete an extraordinary turnaround, the stadium erupted and the subsequent decibel level felt akin to a 1980s game full of swaying terraces.

For this was a moment and make no mistake. United have a long way to go be considered Manchester City’s equals again. Their decline has been too steep and the executive management of the club so bad that there is no one moment, game or even a season that will put right the years of waste.

Marcus Rashford continued his superb form as he scored a late Manchester derby winner

Erik ten Hag could be the man that finally gets out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow 

But the baby steps back to parity start with comebacks such as this. It was a curious affair, as for the best part of the game United had been good, primarily in that their midfield had denied City the kind of free run they had enjoyed n thrashing their City rivals back in October.

With Luke Shaw partnering Raphael Varane at centre back, they had neutered Erling Haaland. They had fight and purpose, all the qualities that were missing in 6-3 defeat at The Etihad. And yet they didn’t seem to quite believe in themselves when in attacking positions.

In that first half Rashford had two chances a ruthless striker would convert. Given the chance to lob Edrson when through on goal, he opted to round him and struck tamely into Kyle Walker. Played in by Bruno Fernandes, he then over-hit his second touch and allowed Ederson to smother. 

Luke shaw and centre-back partner Raphael Varane managed to keep Erling Haaland quiet 

Anthony Martial, nominally the centre forward, was bearing the brunt of the Old Trafford crowd’s wrath for his perceived lack of engagement. And indeed at half time he was off, ten Hag seemingly sharing those sentiments.

Yet United retreated even after the changes. City went ahead, through Jack Grealish, who had had only been on the pitch three minutes when he headed home from a characteristically beautifully weighted dink from Kevin De Bruyne, himself freed into space by one of those classic little inside passes from Riyad Mahrez at which City specialise and which so torment defenders.

It seemed a classic City trope. Frustrated by a redoubtable defence, their possession football had at least won the day. In truth, there was little to challenge that narrative in the 18 minutes in between the first and second goals of the match. Yet ten Hag did make a crucial change, bringing on Garnacho with 72 minutes.

And his running power would expose something that has been evident in City’s season of late. All is not well. The smooth-running passing machine has a glitch. Haaland might be a monster of a player but it is as though the cogs of the machine are now slightly out of kilter.

Alejandro Garnacho’s running power exposed something that has been evident in City’s season of late

That said, United needed the most controversial of goals to galvanise the comeback. It came on 78 minutes, Casemiro looping the ball over the City back four. On rushed Rashford making a play for the ball, even shaping to shoot but vitally never actually touching it. For he was yards offside. But Bruno Fernandes, who was also running in from the left wasn’t. And he was the player who pushed Rashford aside and made the finish for 1-1.

Cue pandemonium and a committee of City players surrounding ref Stuart Atwell when the VAR eventually confirmed the goal. The discussions might have gone on long into the evening were there no cut-off point. 

It did put you in mind of Bill Shankly’s aphorism: ‘If a player’s not interfering with play, what the bloody hell is doing on the pitch!’ Still, rules have evolved since then and a more liberal view prevails. Benefit of doubt accrues to attacking teams and the goal was good.

Manchester United are now just six point behind Premier League leaders Arsenal 

It was almost better scoring after such a protracted delay than had the goal stood straightway, for the controversy lifted the crowd and the home team, whereas City seemed a little stunned their good work might go to waste.

Four minutes later would come Garnacho’s dash into the area, his strength and speed getting him past Nathan Ake to squeeze in the cross with from which Rashford connected, the player having now scored in eight successive games, match Wayne Rooney’s record.

Six points off the lead, one point off City, these would have been deemed outlandish outcomes when Brentford and Brighton were taking ten Hag’s team apart. And yet here we are: Rashford is equalling records, United have coherence and cojones. And ten Hag will be eying up the leaders Arsenal.

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