AUGUST : EARLY MANCHESTER DERBY
Premier League (A) : Crystal Palace 1 - Manchester United 3
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have a very winnable game to open the Premier League, but two injuries would spoil the positive atmosphere he was trying to develop. The day before the game Fred would twist his ankle in practice, knocking him out for 3-4 weeks. Worse news would be David De Gea pulling an abdominal muscle, which would knock him out for 6-9 days and open up the possibility of missing the Manchester Derby.
Victor Lindelöf would score United’s opening goal of the season on a corner, sending a ball at the back post back in the opposite direction to find the side netting just 8’ into the game. United firmly controlled possession but failed to convert that into shots for much of the game, it took another corner for them to put the ball in the net with Scott McTominay doing the honors this time. A corner would be headed back to the side of the box with Anthony Martial pouncing on it before passing to the top of the box to find an unmarked McTominay who had ages to fire the ball past Vicente Guaita to make it 2-0.
Martial made it 3-0 thanks to a nightmare back pass by Andre Townsend that gave him a free shot on goal that Guaita wasn’t ready to face. This put an exclamation point on a solid game by the Frenchman who looks to have revived his fortunes under Solskjaer. He would narrowly miss out on the PoM award to Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic, a real diamond in the rough during the game, who would give Solskjaer something to fret over. Up 3-0 and looking a bit complacent, Guaita would boot the ball across the half way line into midfield for Milivojevic to run through the middle of United’s defense and score. Lindelöf and Harry Maguire could only point at each other on that one, with Manchester City looming it wasn’t a good look for the pair.
“I’m happy for the lads, they were ready for this and played with passion” said Solskjaer after the game “we just need to remain focused and take this into the derby.”
Premier League (H) : Manchester United 2 - Manchester City 2
Heading into the Manchester Derby this early was not an ideal situation, especially with De Gea appearing to be unavailable, but Solskjaer got some good news with De Gea being able to start. The media coverage around this game was so odd, it was hard to tell United were facing off against a hated rival favored to win the league. Just two games in it’s hard to tell how good either team really is, but one is clearly headed for bigger things.
“We expect them to play their best, to defend well” said Pep Guardiola, looking bored to be addressing the media “the pressure to win will come from the fans, not from me.”
“There are expectations, the fans are very excited for this one” said Solskjaer calmly “we will do our best, play to the best of our abilities.”
Far from the José Mourinho mind games of last season, both coaches seemed to be trying to manage expectations so early in the season. It may have been a wise move by both managers as the flow of the game challenged everyone’s expectations until the scoreless draw was broken. United dominated possession, similar to the Crystal Palace game, but this time they managed to convert that possession to shots which kept Claudio Bravo occupied. Unfortunately all of those shots came to nothing and made things worse when Bernardo Silva scored at 22’ to put things as they should be.
City only had a few minutes to enjoy their 1-0 lead as Marcus Rashford converted a penalty to even things up again. United continued to enjoy possession when a corner resulted in a Harry Maguire goal and a 2-1 lead. This time it was United who only managed a few minutes of joy when Aymeric Laporte scored off a City corner at 41’ and brought the score even once again.
Anyone hoping for more goals after the half were quite disappointed as both teams failed to realize the potential of the first half. United continued to enjoy possession but failed to create much beyond that and things really fell apart for Guardiola after Raheem Sterling went out injured at 72’ and both teams looked resigned to walking away with a point. A heel injury would turn out to be the cause, robbing Guardiola of his services for the next two weeks. In the end United dominated on paper, but City was able to outclass the hosts and hold steady. Perhaps round two will have more at stake aside from bragging rights.
Premier League (A) : Chelsea 0 - Manchester United 1
Solskjaer is not well known for negativity, a man who spent the peak of his career witnessing the famed Ferguson hairdryer might be expected to make use of it, but just a few weeks into the season the tension on his face would be evident. The injuries have been mounting, and in the worst place possible as his options at wing back quickly dwindle.
“Yes, he [Luke Shaw] will be missed.” said Solskjaer with a thousand-mile stare on his face. “We will need to make due, we have players ready to step up.”
Shaw would pull up lame in practice with a tight groin to miss this game, he would join Diogo Dalot on the physio’s bench during his recovery from a recent injury. Ethan Laird and Reece Devine, both from the U-23 team, would be on the bench for this game as potential subs. Ashley Young, just back from a short injury himself, would start in Shaw’s place.
Sure enough, just 18’ in Ethan Laird would get sent on as Aaron Wan-Bissake would go down with an injury and the thousand-mile stare would return to Solskjaer’s face on the sidelines. Despite the injury United would hold their own and both sides would maintain a 0-0 draw almost to halftime. Solskjaer’s stare would be broken when Bruno Fernandes would feed Anthony Martial for a goal at 44’, putting the visitors up in a game that looked like one goal might be enough.
Luckily for Solskjaer, Frank Lampard didn’t seem to have an answer at halftime as the Blues withered in the second half and couldn’t maintain their first half spirit. The one goal did turn out to be enough and United escaped their first major injury scare of the season with three points. Wan-Bissaka’s injury, a cut on his leg, would keep him out 3-7 days but still pile on the stress.