This Is How It Feels To Be Lonely - Afterthoughts of a Derby Day defeat for Manchester United

United are swept aside by their city rivals once again

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League
Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages
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This one is going to sting.

There were a lot of painful sights after this game to remind us Reds of what had just transpired. An already empty away end. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ ringing out around the Etihad as the exultant, gloating home fans gleefully changed the words. Glum faces in United shirts. Few, though, were so bitter or chastening as hearing the Inspiral Carpets song ‘This is How It Feels to Be Lonely’ echoing around the ground as the home fans pointed and laughed at the beaten Manchester United players.

This is how it feels to be lonely

This is how it feels to be small

This is how it feels when your word means nothing at all.

Manchester United have never been, and will never be, insignificant, but it’s easy to see what the blue half of the city were trying to say; we’re just another team to them now, another team they expect to sweep aside on the way to their next Premier League title. Just like Fulham, Luton or Crystal Palace. Another notch on their way to greater things. Liverpool are their rivals right now; United are just an afterthought. And that is what hurts most about this defeat; the predictable, perfunctory nature of it.

Let’s be honest, even the most optimistic Red would have struggled to believe we were capable of taking all three points from this game. Erik ten Hag said before the game the team must show their hunger. But, hungry or not, they were smothered by Manchester City’s sheer quality. Perhaps there’s an argument for extenuating circumstances. Ravaged my injuries to key players like Rasmus Hojlund, Lisandro Martinez, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Mason Mount, ten Hag and his team were up against it from the start, having to play their 21st different combination of players in the back four in their 27 league games this season. That, obviously, allows for no consistency to develop, which prevents the unit from being tight. Yet, discipline and defending were not really the issue in this game. The problem was quality and intent. After going ahead to a piece of individual brilliance from Marcus Rashford, the team seemed content to sit back and grimly hang on for the win.

That is not the Manchester United way.

After Phil Foden scored his second goal to put the Blues ahead, the home side had a staggering 86% of possession for the rest of the game. That is decisive by anybody’s standards. Rashford and Garnacho were starved up front, with nobody in midfield able to bring the ball out or buy the back line some breathing space. Creaking, bending but not breaking, that back line were resolute and resilient. They were eventually ground down, though, by over three hundred passes by City in the final third. This compared to the away sides measly fifty-eight. It’s hard to put the ball in the back of the opponents net if you don’t have it. Pep Guardiola has made his career from precisely this philosophy. It’s all very well United being hungry but, if someone won’t let you eat, you either go out and fight for sustenance, or else you starve.

United starved.

They just weren’t good enough. It says it all that, with just ten minutes left and the score tied at 1-1, many Red Devil fans would have been desperately hoping their side clung on for an unlikely point. Once upon a time, we’d have been cavalier in our approach to this situation, surging ahead to try and win the game. Not so today. Today United looked timid and surrendered feebly. One got the sense that the champions weren’t even at their best. Still, it was enough to swat aside their cross-town rivals with ease.

This is how it feels to be lonely.

Maybe it’s revenge for all those years playing second fiddle to the greatest club in the world. After all, if there’s any team that knows about insignificance, it’s that lot from the other side of town. Still, it’s hard to hear United players bleating about fouls that should have been given in the run up to goals (Rashford has got to stand up to Kyle Walker in the build up to Foden’s first goal) or the manager desperately hoping to claw his way into the Champions League via fifth spot (fifth), and not feel humbled, like we’re becoming just like everybody else. At the very least, it highlights in stark fashion just where we are right now, and how far away we are from where we want to be. If only we could, like that infernal Inspiral’s song says, put it down to another bad day. Truth is, there have been just too many bad days of late. This is merely another one of them. That’s why the announcer at the Etihad got it spot on playing the Inspiral Carpets; if the hammering to Liverpool last year was the intense depression of a Joy Division, this was just the equivalent of being left out in the grey Manchester rain, feeling cold, numb and unloved. Grim acceptance of one’s bleak situation.

It’s another one we’re going to have to take on the chin.

Manchester City may have a better team than us right now, but we’ll always be the bigger club.

Some days, though, it’s hard to remember that, or find comfort in it.

Just ask the Inspiral Carpets.