Manchester United were condemned to another derby humiliation, as they conceded three goals to Manchester City without any real fight at the opposite end. The visitors yet again underlined the sheer gulf in class between the two sides, but Erik ten Hag’s post-match comment suggests a single moment changed the game in Pep Guardiola’s side’s favor.
With the scoreline still goalless, VAR officials decided to step in, without much noticeable complaints on the pitch, to instruct referee Paul Tierney to stop the game and check the touchline monitor for a potential foul from Rasmus Hojlund on Rodri.
After re-watching the incident that involved Hojlund wrapping his arm around Rodri – a pretty common occurrence during set-piece situations – the referee deemed the incident to be enough for a decision in City’s favor. Erling Haaland made no mistake from the spot and put his side ahead in the 26th minute.
“The penalty changed the game,” was Ten Hag’s reaction to the moment. “I don’t have a comment on it. I don’t have a comment.”
Now, there’s certainly merit in the argument that the penalty call could’ve been avoided, akin to how such moments are overlooked in most games. But to say it changed the game certainly undermines City’s brilliant game plan and implementation.
Even before the opener, City were by far the better team and came close to rattling the net as early as the eighth minute of the game when a brilliant Rodri pass was headed back into the direction of Phil Foden by Kyle Walker. Foden’s first-time header forced a good save from Andre Onana before the ball fell in front of Haaland, who somehow couldn’t push the ball into the net from close range.
Further, United had more than two-thirds of the game and a rousing home crowd in the background to change the momentum and subsequently the scoreline in their favor. Regardless, apart from rare moments of short-lasting exciting sequences, the Red Devils were largely second best in everything, including work-rate at Old Trafford, and were lucky to avoid a more grim full-time score.