November 6, 2021 Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts REUTERS

The scoreline may not have been emphatic, but everything else about Manchester City’s 2-0 derby win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday was a strident declaration of the superiority of Pep Guardiola’s side.

Liverpool had left no doubt about their dominance with their 5-0 crushing of United two weeks ago, but while this derby lacked the same shock factor, it was still a stark demonstration of just how far behind the best United remain.

In every department on the field City had better players while United, starting from their alarmingly loose defence, have too many who simply aren’t up to the standards of a club that has aspirations of returning to the top.

“It was so poor. The difference in class, quality and decision making, basically everything,” said former captain Roy Keane, now a pundit with Sky Sports.

“I know the old saying is ‘men vs boys’, but United are so off it, it’s unbelievable,” he added.

The debate will no doubt continue over whether their Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man to finally get the club back on a par with City, Liverpool and Chelsea. But what appears beyond dispute is that, whoever is in charge, United need to overhaul their squad.

It is not as if money has not been spent by United’s owners in recent years, but the evidence on the field is that the investment has too often not been successful.

The club have been working on improving their scouting and recruitment methods and results, but the current squad is the product of years of not getting recruitment right.

City have also made mistakes in the transfer market over the years, like any club, but the squad Pep Guardiola can choose from is packed with talent ready to step on the field and deliver.

City have arguably the best right-back in the world in England’s Kyle Walker, while United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka has failed to live up to the expectations that accompanied his arrival from Crystal Palace. Both cost around 45 million pounds.

Bernardo Silva, whose wonderful touch, vision and enterprise has delivered so much for Guardiola since the Portuguese joined the club from Monaco in 2017, cost roughly the same initial amount – around 50 million pounds – as United’s workmanlike but limited Brazilian midfielder Fred.

Central defenders Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, both cost reported fees of over 30 million pounds, but look just a fraction of the quality of City’s 60 million pound centre-back Ruben Dias.

United do have talent in their squad: Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes would walk into most teams in the world, and the absences of Edinson Cavani and Raphael Varane were sorely felt on Saturday.

Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford are also exciting young talents who should develop into top players in time.

But United’s squad includes several whose best days are behind them like Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones, while players such as Jesse Lingard, Diogo Dalot and Anthony Martial have long appeared not to carry the confidence of Solskjaer while remaining on the pay roll.

The hope is that the club’s academy will produce another generation of exciting talent to thrill the Old Trafford faithful. But in the meantime there is a quality gap when it comes to the team that can be sent out to face the likes of City.

Whatever the future for Solskjaer, getting United back to the years of success they enjoyed under Alex Ferguson remains far from a quick fix.

 

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