Anxious Van Gaal lets anger show after derby defeat
Man Utd boss Louis Van Gaal will be looking over his shoulder after taking just 13 points from 10 matches
Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0. A dramatic Manchester derby ended in victory for the Sky Blues and their fourth consecutive win over their neighbours – a winning streak they last achieved in 1970.
Sergio Aguero's second-half strike separated the two rivals at the end of an incident-packed 90 minutes. Factor in Chris Smalling's red card six minutes from half-time, a serious shoulder injury to Marcos Rojo and an allegation of spitting and it was an afternoon to remember at the Etihad.
Unless, that is, your name is Louis van Gaal. At this rate it might not be long before the Dutchman starts to look nervously over his shoulder. With just 13 points from ten matches, United are now embroiled in their worst start to a league campaign since the 1986-87 season. They finished 11th back then and it cost Ron Atkinson his job. His successor? Alex Ferguson.
Van Gaal's post-match press conference was at times brutally honest. Describing Smalling as "stupid" for getting himself sent off, his first yellow for charging Joe Hart and his second for clattering into James Milner, van Gaal then reflected: "We were close but not close enough today and we have to improve."
At other times the United manager let his imagination get the better of him, stating that the difference in class between his side and City and Chelsea is "zero I think".
Not many will agree with that bullish assertion. United are no longer the team they once were and they now lie tenth, 13 points behind the leaders Chelsea.
The defeat was compounded by a shoulder injury to Rojo, who was stretchered off on 56 minutes after colliding with Martin Demichelis.
"The shoulder is out, so you never know how long that takes," said a gloomy van Gaal of his Argentine defender. "I have to wait until tomorrow [for the results of a scan] but he shall not play against Crystal Palace."
And on the allegation that United midfielder Marouane Fellaini spat at Sergio Aguero during the game, van Gaal said: "I don't think he is a spitting figure."
Seven minutes after the departure of Rojo – who was replaced by Paddy McNair – Aguero scored the decisive goal with his 10th Premier League strike of the season.
Good work from Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy gave the Argentine the space he needed to lash the ball into the United net and end what's been a tough few days for the reigning champions.
Beaten by West Ham last weekend, and defeated by Newcastle in the league cup in midweek, City needed a fillip and now they have it ahead of a crucial Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night.
"We worked hard and played very well," was Manuel Pellegrini's pithy assessment of the victory. And asked if he believed City – lying third, six points behind Chelsea – will be leading the league in May, the Chilean replied: "We have 28 games more to play, which is a lot of points. Nobody can know what will happen. I said last week we were in a similar position to last year. Nobody knows how it will finish but we will continue to try and retain our title."