Manchester United's Marcus Rashford fires team into Champions League hunt with Man City winning goal
Man City 0 - Man Utd 1
Manuel Pellegrini was adamant, if slightly unconvincing. Despite Marcus Rashford's winning goal for Manchester United, which inflicted Manchester City's fifth home league defeat of the season, the Chilean insisted he remained in control of his team's destiny.
It is clearly a loose grip, however. Pellegrini has just eight more Premier League games in charge before handing over the reins to Pep Guardiola, but if his players continue to perform as dismally as they did against United, Heaven knows what the Bayern Munich coach will inherit when he arrives at the Etihad Stadium in June.
At this rate, Guardiola will be faced with a campaign in the Europa League and a squad in need of major rebuilding.
City have collected four points from a possible 18, won none of their nine fixtures this season against the current top six and lost 17 of the last 18 league games in which they trailed at half-time, drawing the other.
So if Pellegrini really does have control, then somebody should tell his players who - Sergio Aguero aside - performed as if they could not care less about finishing first, fourth or sixth.
"I don't think I lose any control," Pellegrini said. "The attitude of the team today reflects that they are all involved. It is not the best way to finish the season but I am happy with the attitude. The players are focused and we continue in the fourth position. We have 24 points to play for."
This was a crucial fixture for City, however. A home win would have sent United seven points off the pace in the race for fourth with City and West Ham, yet the away victory leaves the three clubs now separated by just a point.
There was no luck in United's victory. Rashford's goal, after the 18-year-old made a fool of Martin Demichelis, should have been followed by a penalty on the stroke of half-time after the forward was nudged over by the Argentine.
Referee Michael Oliver waved away United's appeals but, aside from an Aguero header which rattled the post in the second half, City barely threatened to lay a glove on Van Gaal's team.
But despite exiting the Europa League with a 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool on Thursday evening, United appeared the fresher, hungrier team, with the absence of the dropped Marouane Fellaini injecting more pace and purpose.
City, without the injured defenders Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi, simply could not get going, with the loss during the game to injury of Raheem Sterling (groin) and goalkeeper Joe Hart (calf) further scuppering their prospects.
Sterling and Hart will be assessed today, but it is unlikely that either will be fit to report for England duty in the friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands.
Rashford's goal, on 16 minutes, displayed class and awareness beyond his years, as he received the ball from Juan Mata before escaping Demichelis with a turn of pace that enabled him to have time to guide his shot beyond Hart and into the far corner.
Demichelis had a bad day and was replaced by Wilfried Bony early in the second half as Pellegrini attempted to inject some urgency and attacking threat into his team. But with Daley Blind and Michael Carrick outstanding for United, the visitors were able to hold firm and see out the game for a crucial victory.
City simply had no fight, but that has been the case for months.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart (Caballero 50), Sagna, Demichelis (Bony 53), Mangala, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Silva, Sterling (Fernando 26), Aguero.
Subs Not Used: Zabaleta, Kolarov, Iheanacho, Manu Garcia.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, Darmian (Fosu-Mensah 84), Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Valencia 63), Carrick, Mata (Schweinsteiger 70), Lingard, Schneiderlin, Martial, Rashford.
Subs Not Used: Depay, Januzaj, Romero, Fellaini.
Goals: Rashford 16.
Man of the Match: Chris Smalling
Ref: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)