Louis van Gaal impressed by teenage class, but City's defence left depressed
That Marcus Rashford's goal made him the youngest scorer in a Premier League Manchester derby is only a fragment of the story. By a little after 5pm he had also completed one of the most absolute eviscerations of an opposition defender in the fixture's history, reducing Martin Demichelis to a such a diminished state that the Colin Bell Stand gave collective thanks to see him removed on 53 minutes.
A Manchester derby can do these things to a defender. The "washing machine" is how Patrice Evra described it after his first such experience, 10 years back. "Patrice didn't come back out for the second half," Paul Scholes remembered on these pages last year. "It was not hard to see why."
But that was a debut. Demichelis had been called upon for his experience on the afternoon when Rashford tore him up and wrung him out. Those coltish, stick legs of Rashford's don't look like they've the muscle to get the job done but his goals on two big occasions have revealed otherwise now. Arsenal and City know all about him.
To observe the 18-year-old Manchester boy - the only Mancunian on the pitch - destroy an Argentinian World Cup defender who is a year less than twice his age, score the winner and then be denied a clear penalty in his home city's derby was to recall what another industrial city's son from the streets did in his own breakthrough season.
It is 20 years ago since Robbie Fowler scored 29 goals in the 1995-96 campaign, with two against Everton and four against a dominant United that year.
Rashford's free and easy running, his strength and his positional sense suggest something very significant, as well as the ice in his veins.
The significance of this Manchester occasion loomed huge in his imagination throughout a childhood in Wythenshawe and other less-than-salubrious Manchester districts. When the day dawned, he breezed it.
Demichelis assumed the status of training ground dummy when Rashford scored the momentous goal, drifting through him on to Juan Mata's sharp incisive ball to slide the ball past Joe Hart.
The striker should have had a penalty on the stroke of half-time, when an instinctive flicked pass by Morgan Schneiderlin placed the ball equidistant between Rashford and the same unfortunate defender near the byline - a position from which there would only be one winner. Demichelis brushed him down to the ground and implied there had been theatrics. The teenager clambered up and squared up.
The quality of City's central defenders on display was deconstructing the notion that they buy well because they plan their transfer business so well.
Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala had not been entrusted with the central defence since Liverpool's 4-1 act of destruction here in the depths of winter, and no-one at City is denying that they thought Mangala would have delivered more than he has, for an outlay north of £40m.
There was the usual obfuscation and dissembling from Manuel Pellegrini last night when he said that Rashford had not made much difference to Demichelis - eventually conceding that the Argentinian "was nervous; not a good day".
Managers have been making it up as they go along for decades in the aftermath of defeat but this kind of utterance from Pellegrini will be part of the collective memory when he has gone, and he could do himself a favour.
Louis van Gaal actually called it accurately on Demichelis, with whom he fell out at Bayern Munich.
"Rashford is very quick and Demichelis looked like the years are catching up with him," the Manchester United manager said. "He was a very good defender, he was my centre-back in Bayern but that is the life of football."
Football being a game of such cause and effect, Rashford's pace and presence at the top of the side had also ensured there was a creator for the goal chance he took.
Wary of allowing the teenager a chance of getting a run on them, Demichelis and Mangala retreated, opening up the space in front of the defence for Mata to operate influentially.
They were not the only ones looking out for him. David De Gea's long punts for Rashford revealed a United willing to fit their approach around the threat available to them.
By the time the second half began, Demichelis was incapable of so much as a competent back-pass, short-changing Hart so badly that the goalkeeper strained his calf attempting to clear, with Anthony Martial snapping at his feet. He was put out of his misery five minutes later - and it is possible he won't play for City again.
Mangala was deputed to deal with Rashford and, though City's drive for an equaliser meant there were fewer opportunities, the last knockings of the afternoon brought the sight of the teenager skinning him, too; racing 50 yards into City territory, and making a few step-overs before winning a corner.
Van Gaal won't entertain discussions about this boy's place in the England side. "We don't have to exaggerate," he said. "He is young, he is good, otherwise I don't let him stay (in the team]."
But this was a performance which his usual circumspection about discussing individuals could not contain.
"My players have fought to the end," he said. "Marcus Rashford with cramp. Still he can run with cramp. I have never seen that."
Independent News Service