Manchester United reporter notebook: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are re-energised
SSN's James Cooper looks at the situation at Old Trafford following United's 2-0 win over Manchester City
By James Cooper, Sky Sports News' North West Reporter
Last Updated: 09/03/20 11:52am
The Old Trafford crowd has been loud and nasty on a number of occasions this season, but this time the bile was directed at Manchester United's rivals on the pitch rather than those sat in the directors' box.
United's 2-0 win over Manchester City completed the first league double over the noisy neighbours since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
Last season, under Jose Mourinho, there was a notable fixture against Tottenham where Manchester United threw everything they had at their opponents in the first half, only to run out of steam and get picked off after the break, losing 3-0.
On this occasion those in red shirts maintained their rhythm and intensity right until the final whistle. The signs are this is a group benefiting from a fierce pre-season and a winter break Solskjaer believes has re-energised his men.
The addition of Bruno Fernandes has brought renewed vigour and focus to the team. He faced his sternest test since arriving at Old Trafford and, while not everything came off for the Portuguese midfielder, he was involved in key moments and a lot of what United did well.
Whether or not he was fouled for the free-kick that led to the first goal - and Ilkay Gundogan told me afterwards he was convinced he had played the ball and not the man - Fernandes teed up Anthony Martial beautifully, but the Frenchman may have been surprised his shot found its way past Ederson
Martial, prompted by Fernandes, is starting to play like the striker his manager wants him to be. His work ethic against City was as eye-catching as some of his graceful touches and movement.
Fred is another player who has been invigorated by Fernandes. There were signs he was starting to find his feet well before the January transfer window, but he is certainly on an upwards trajectory.
Fred clearly benefits from having someone close to him on the pitch to encourage and talk him through a game. The fact it is in his own language can only help. Even in the midst of his struggles at Old Trafford he demonstrated the ability to break up the play, now he has added pace, hunger and vision to his CV.
Credit also goes to Nemanja Matic who has stepped up his own intensity and quality again. Once upon a time Manchester City would have licked their lips at a midfield containing those two players, but time and time again they thwarted Pep's men and gave United a platform to go forward.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told me in the build-up to the game he is delighted his side are starting to take risks and drive forward.
Again it might be the Bruno factor, he continually looks to create and find players in space, but perhaps it stems from a greater confidence within a group boasting eight clean sheets from their last 10 outings.There has always been a temptation with United to place the focus upon attacking players, down through the years the club's glittering cast have demanded that, but since surrendering to Burnley at Old Trafford on January 22 only Club Brugge and Everton have found the back of the net, with mitigating factors for both of those goals.
I have talked before about the benefits for the forwards of having a manager who was skilled in the art of scoring, but credit has to go to Solskjaer and his coaching staff for bringing about this defensive shift.
The system employed against Manchester City gave United pace and poise in the right departments, on one flank Aaron Wan-Bissaka caught the eye with his ambition but also, not for the first time this season, his defensive supremacy over Raheem Sterling.
On the left-hand side, Brandon Williams has been one of the success stories of this campaign with plenty of bite alongside his boundless energy.
Both players seem to be benefiting from the feeling of certainty provided by the three behind them, with Harry Maguire directing Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof.
Suddenly it is starting to look as though this group is actually enjoying playing for Manchester United. There have been moments in recent years when that has not seemed to be the case, but the goal celebrations against City told you an awful lot about the mood right now.
It is easy to get caught up in the emotion, this is a club that swings from huge highs to shattering lows with very little in the middle. Few teams get to enjoy or endure such extremes. But Scott McTominay's late goal was typical of this as the rain beat down and the wind howled.
The majority of the 73,000 inside Old Trafford would have been happy to see his shot nestle high up in the Stretford End to soak up more priceless seconds, but the fact he seized upon Ederson's charity so cleanly meant the celebrations started immediately.
The derby win stretches United's latest unbeaten run to 10 games, seven wins and three draws in all competitions with 24 goals scored and just two conceded.
Ole masterminded an 11-game stretch without defeat when he took over last season. The next two games, trips to Linz in the Europa League and to Tottenham next Sunday, could see that achievement surpassed, providing evidence that this might be something sustainable or long lasting.
But, after such a heady afternoon at Old Trafford, whether you are a lover or hater of United, you might be able to appreciate the sentiment when Odion Ighalo told me, if it was down to him he would stay at the club forever.