Teenage striker Marcus Rashford again proved the man for the big occasion for Manchester United, scoring in a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday that intensified the race for Champions League qualification.
The 18-year-old Rashford continued the dream start to his United career by scoring in his first Manchester derby when he sprinted past the exposed Martin Demichelis and sidefooted home in the 16th minute.
It was his fifth goal since being brought into the first team to answer a striker crisis less than a month ago, having also scored in important games against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal.
City, which lost winger Raheem Sterling and goalkeeper Joe Hart to injury, is now only one point clear of both United and West Ham in fourth place — the final Champions League qualification spot — with eight games left.
It was a huge result for United, with coach Louis van Gaal having billed the game “do or die” for his side’s top-four chances following its elimination from the Europa League on Thursday. Amid all the speculation over his future, Van Gaal could still win the FA Cup and guide United back into the Champions League in the final two months of the season.
Unlike City, which is in the Champions League quarterfinals, United doesn’t have European football to clog up its schedule and is likely to have captain Wayne Rooney back from injury after the upcoming international break.
Meanwhile, if City’s current form is anything to go by, incoming manager Pep Guardiola will be taking over a Europa League team next season. City has now won just one of its last six league games — and that was against last-place Aston Villa — and failed to score in four of its last five matches. The days when City had the most fearsome attacking unit in English football are long gone.
In an electric atmosphere at the Etihad, City had plenty of the ball but struggled at both ends of the pitch, with Sergio Aguero isolated up front and the 35-year-old Demichelis a liability in defense against the fearless Rashford.
United’s goal came against the run of play, after Rashford finally got one-on-one with Demichelis. There was only one winner as the youngster skipped by the man almost twice his age, and slotted under the body of the diving Hart to become the youngest scorer in a Manchester derby in the Premier League era.
The first half ended in feisty fashion with players pushing and squaring off after Rashford fell under the reckless challenge of Demichelis, who somehow got away with the foul.
Demichelis came out for the second half but blotted his performance even further by leaving Hart short with a dreadful back pass, with the goalkeeper hurting his calf as he hastily cleared ahead of the inrushing Anthony Martial. Hart was carried off on a stretcher and Demichelis was put out of his misery moments later when he was taken off for City’s third substitute, Wilfried Bony.
Having Bony up alongside Aguero caused United more problems, and Aguero headed a cross from Yaya Toure against the post in the 66th.
Bony and Aguero had late chances but United goalkeeper David de Gea wasn’t threatened, meaning United has taken four points off City this season.