Manchester United closed the gap on rivals Manchester City to just one point after a crucial 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium, courtesy of Marcus Rashford’s excellent first-half strike.
The Manchester-born striker – making his first appearance in this fixture – produced a moment to savour on 16 minutes, showing an incredible turn of pace to burst into the area and slot the ball past Joe Hart. It was a mature piece of centre-forward play, and one which was ultimately enough to ensure the Reds left the Etihad with all three points.
Ahead of the game, Louis van Gaal opted to make two changes to the side that faced Liverpool in midweek, with Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin replacing Guillermo Varela and Marouane Fellaini respectively in the starting line-up.
While October’s reverse fixture produced a closely-contested goalless draw, both sides showed more intent from the off this time around, as City won a corner in the opening minute. The game’s first chance fell for the hosts shortly after, as Darmian’s defensive header fell kindly for Jesus Navas, but the winger’s first-time volley dropped narrowly wide.
Navas was regularly involved in the early stages and went closer with his next effort, only to be denied by fellow countryman David De Gea. Slick passing between Raheem Sterling and David Silva allowed the former to dig out a deep cross, but the United keeper got down quickly to save with his feet.
With little over a quarter of an hour played, though, the Blues were made to pay for their missed opportunities. Juan Mata found space in midfield and picked out Rashford, who left Martin Demichelis for dead on the edge of the box, sprinting past the defender to calmly curl the ball home.
The Reds’ youthful frontline was beginning to impress, with Jesse Lingard proving a handful for the much-changed Blues defence in the no.10 role. And van Gaal’s men might have added a second on 18 minutes, as Anthony Martial tested Hart with a powerful drive.
The home side were quick to remind United of their attacking intent at the other end, and should have equalised when Silva’s free-kick was headed wide by Demichelis, but the Blues’ goal threat suffered a blow soon after when Sterling was forced off through injury.