So much has changed in Manchester over the last decade. From an all-conquering side under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have become a bit of a laughingstock to many football fans in England.
When they hosted their neighbours, Manchester City, in the Carabao Cup recently, the gulf that has emerged between United and the current Premier League Champions was there for all to see.
Andreas Pereira on the red side, Kevin De Bruyne on the blue side. Manchester United supporters booed their team off and even cheered the substitution of one of their own players, Jesse Lingard, whilst the Manchester City fans mocked their rivals, urging those in charge at Old Trafford to keep faith with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
City at times produced brilliant, intricate football that culminated in incisive passing moves and simple goals, while United resorted to hoofing it long in the hope of a flick on.
There were even empty seats, something United fans usually like to ridicule City about. Sir Alex Ferguson, who sat in the directors’ box, stony faced throughout the game, once said that never in his lifetime would City be top dogs in Manchester – even he couldn’t have predicted such a fall from grace in such a short time.
Marcus Rashford did grab a goal back to give United a glimmer of hope for the second leg but, make no mistake about it, this was a complete mismatch between two clubs who have been travelling in the opposite direction for too long.
In Solskjaer’s defence, he was without two of his ‘regular’ midfielder’s, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay through injury, but what was he thinking when he decided to go with a central midfield pairing of Fred and Andreas Pereira? Had he forgotten his side was about to face some of the most accomplished ball players in the modern game?
The last time he tried the pairing United shipped five goals in eight days against newly promoted Sheffield United and Aston Villa, and despite the obvious warning he went with it again with predictably disastrous consequences.
They were coming up against Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Riyad Mahrez and others, and to think David Silva and Phil Foden only made the bench – it must have been brutal viewing for those backing the reds.
United’s focus on bringing in another striker last summer was naive and negligent, ignoring having to strengthen in the middle of the park. Pogba wants out, whilst McTominay is still learning his trade and will be sorely missed.
But it is not just in midfield where United have problems – they started the season with seven centre-halves on their books and yet found themselves having to rely on Phil Jones to come in at the back in their biggest game of the season following injury to Harry Maguire.
Jones is probably still in a spin after being turned inside out by De Bruyne, but he was by no means United’s worst performer – his centre-half partner, Victor Lindelof, was all over the place too. It all just summed up the Manchester United of 2020.