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Paul McGrath: Manchester United have been waiting a long time for that

For the first time in years, the red half of Manchester looked like they were the equals of their noisy neighbours.

Manchester City's head coach Pep Guardiola reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)© AP

Manchester City's Jack Grealish scores the opening goal during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday January 14, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.© PA

File photo dated 03-01-2023 of Marcus Rashford, whose renaissance has coincided with Manchester United's as the forward's two goals against Charlton eased them into the Carabao Cup semi-finals. Issue date: Wednesday January 11, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd Rashford. Photo credit should read Tim Goode/PA Wire.© PA

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes scores his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)© AP

File photo dated 03-01-2023 of Marcus Rashford, whose renaissance has coincided with Manchester United's as the forward's two goals against Charlton eased them into the Carabao Cup semi-finals. Issue date: Wednesday January 11, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd Rashford. Photo credit should read Tim Goode/PA Wire.© PA

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday January 14, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.© PA

Paul McGrathSunday World

I have many, many friends in Manchester who have been waiting for a long, long time to see United do what they did to City yesterday.

For the first time in years, the red half of Manchester looked like they were the equals of their noisy neighbours in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

Are they really their equals? No, City have a stronger squad and United are probably two or three world-class players off having a squad to challenge for the Premier League.

But every journey begins with a single step and this game told me Erik ten Hag has Manchester United on the right path.

Curiously, they won the match playing counter-attacking football on City when a goal down.

For that Pep Guardiola and his players have to take the blame.

For ten minutes after Jack Grealish’s goal, the Sky Blues dominated the game, strolling around, picking passes, keeping possession.

And then it was if they had a collective loss of concentration, “Ah this is handy, we’ve the game won here.”

So they were caught not understanding the new rule on offside for the first goal and caught again by old-fashioned wing-play by Alejandro Garnacho for the second as he set up Marcus Rashford’s winner.

I’ll come back to Garnacho in a minute, but what about Rashford for whom this was a seventh Manchester United match in a row in which he scored?

I think someone, somewhere, quite probably the manager himself, had a word with Marcus a while ago.

To the effect he should pass all the good work he is doing for kids off the pitch off to some other people.

That it was time for him to get back to playing his very best football and being the very best he could be. And that is what has happened for Rashford at his club and with England at the World Cup.

You could see the confidence coursing through his veins with the way he scored the winner.

Only a striker who believes he is invincible scores like that, with a side foot through the goalkeeper’s legs.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United (L) celebrates with Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United after scoring their 2nd goal during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford on November 10, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)© Offside via Getty Images

If he keeps scoring and playing that way, United have an outside chance of catching Arsenal – but for me it is only an outside chance.

Remember, because of the World Cup, we are just now halfway through the season.

I don’t believe United will be able to sustain the run they are on now, all the way to the mid-May finish line.

Certainly not if any of Rashford, Casemiro or Bruno Fernandes was to get an eight- to ten-match injury. They are the key men for Manchester United now.

And emerging as a huge player is this lad Garnacho, a real will-o’-the-wisp winger in the finest traditions of the club.

As a centre-half, I hated being drawn out to tackle a lad like that.

He can go outside on his left, he can cut inside and you daren’t stick a foot out for fear of giving away a penalty.

Give me a big static centre-forward any day instead.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes scores his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)© AP

They would hit you on the quiet, but there was nothing to say you couldn’t hit them back either.

Far better to be marking them than trying to deal with a Garnacho.

This teenager at Leeds, Willy Gnonto, is another in the Garnacho mould.

I saw him against Aston Villa the other night and was really impressed.

Again, happy to go either way and happy to run at harassed defenders.

And the pair of them are still kids. I’m glad I’m retired.

Luke Shaw is far from retired, but four months ago it seemed his days as Red Devil were done.

Tyrell Malacia had come in at left-back and Shaw had joined Harry Maguire on the naughty step.

I think Harry’s days are done at United, he just cannot play in the manner ten Hag demands of his centre-halves.

But Shaw has been revitalised by being moved to the heart of the defence.

He’s not a big man, but he is getting the defensive headers in.

And he was outstanding in the last ten minutes yesterday when City were throwing everything at the United defence to get an equalising goal.


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