Manchester United enter Premier League title race with stunning comeback win over Man City

Bruno Fernades scored the first goal of the turnaround before Marcus Rashford won it  (REUTERS)
Bruno Fernades scored the first goal of the turnaround before Marcus Rashford won it (REUTERS)

There will be a lot of debate about the equaliser at Old Trafford but there can be no disputing its merit, outcome or significance.

A resurgent Manchester United were full value for a 2-1 late comeback victory against Manchester City that saw Erik ten Hag’s side evoke the derby victories of old while strengthening the conviction that a new era has at last started. It may well be represented by match-winners Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho, and certainly sounded like that in the stands throughout.

While that was huge for Ten Hag and United - especially given the transformation from October’s 6-3 humiliation - it might have been even bigger for Arsenal. In the space of four late second-half minutes, they and the rest of the world witnessed their lead go from two points back out to five, with the potential to make it eight at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Perhaps the greatest significance of all was that this City again looked less than the side that have won the last two titles, Erling Haaland’s presence offering goals but so many fewer touches and one man less in build-up play. That is an issue for a team that themselves went in a few devastating moments from looking like they could grind through for another run to one repeatedly stumbling - especially in play.

Pep Guardiola may well argue about the manner of Bruno Fernandes’ equaliser as the offside Rashford seemed to so blatantly be interfering with play but the greater problem for City was how they left themselves so prone to that. Casemiro’s ball cut through them. Garnacho’s run devastated them.

Ten Hag's decisions were inspired, making the difference for a team that itself looks so different to even just before the World Cup.

There had been dismissals that they had only beaten soft opposition on the Premier League’s return - but no more. This was a huge win, that may well turn out to be one of the most important of the season; a genuine hinge moment.

Guardiola is certainly going to have to turn things over in his mind a bit.

United caused a seismic shock with their comeback (REUTERS)
United caused a seismic shock with their comeback (REUTERS)

City had been slow and notably lacking in sharpness. So many passes were going astray or just to red shirts, something all the more pronounced since Guardiola’s side were trying to play many more of them. A growing contradiction in this team is that they have one fewer player to pass the ball to, since Erling Haaland is so seldom involved in build-up play. He obviously more than compensates for that with his scoring, but it is something City have to work around.

Against that, United looked to stay solid and hit all that space in behind. They could even have been ahead twice through Rashford running in there. Once, from a fine Fernandes ball, he skipped around Ederson like Mark Hughes only to see Manuel Akanji clear a low effort. Second, having again been put through on the run, he slightly miscued his touch in the wind to allow Ederson the chance to smother it.

Guardiola knew he had to change something. He introduced Jack Grealish for the second successive Premier League and he again produced.

It was this time a finish of his own rather than the pass he supplied for Riyad Mahrez against Chelsea, but both came within three minutes of coming.

Grealish had been offering all of the touches that Haaland wasn’t, and then took that goal chance off him by reacting first to Kevin De Bruyne’s superb clipped ball to offer a towering header.

It at that point felt symbolic of City’s position over United, lording it over them from above - but Ten Hag has done something different with this side. It is not just about the tactics. They are amplified and improved by a canny resolve the manager has imbued. It is reminiscent of his own personality, as in dealing with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Grealish looked to have set City ont he path to victory before the turnaround (AFP via Getty Images)
Grealish looked to have set City ont he path to victory before the turnaround (AFP via Getty Images)

United now have a series of young players ready to step into the space - not least Rashford and Garnacho.

That might have double meaning given the manner of United’s equaliser. Casemiro was clearly looking for Rashford when he played that fine through ball on 78 minutes. The forward happened to be in an offside position, though, only to leave it for the oncoming Fernandes. The playmaker offered a wonderfully flowing finish that soared into the net.

The reaction to that was disrupted by the linesman’s flag, only for that to be overturned due to the current laws. It was difficult to argue that Rashford wasn’t interfering with play given his very presence in that area influenced the thinking and decisions of City’s makeshift centre-half pairing but still an easy decision for referee Stuart Attwell to give.

Those are the rules.

The Manchester derby temporarily returned to an older order - United denying City with late comebacks and goals.

They didn’t have to wait long for the next one here, as the wait is probably over for the next revelation. The effervescent Garnacho turned Nathan Ake this way and that before playing the cross for Rashford to turn in.

This entire result, however, was so much more than a turning point. It was also about more than an offside decision, even if that will dominate discussion.

United have made their own statement, on a day that could have quite the say.