Two Manchester City stewards crossed the streamlined modern bridge linking the club’s training ground to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, walking towards a large police wall which would separate 51,000 home fans from 3,000 away fans. “It’s the first derby I’ve not been nervous about,” says one. His colleague agrees. Nearby, City legend Shaun Goater was similarly confident. And rightly so. The champions were about to face a Manchester United with a solitary away league win all season. City had wobbled a bit recently in the league, but they’d outclassed United in previous derbies, beating them twice last season. ⛔️ These @AWBissaka tackling compilations are NEVER going to get old ⛔️ #MUFC pic.twitter.com/KsV4z8z4FI — Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 9, 2019 The atmosphere took time to build before the big match. Fans arrive late to games in England. “The first game you look for in the calendar is about to begin,” said City’s public address announcer. “The current holders of all four domestic trophies. The formidables. Our boys in blue …” Manchester Derby analysis with Rafa Benitez! pic.twitter.com/IOClcQvrqz — Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) December 9, 2019 There were numerous flags about it being “Our city” – the inference being that Manchester belongs to City and not United. That’s the Abu Dhabi-owned, Catalan-managed (on and off the field) club with no Mancunians in their first team against United’s, with three local boys. United fans regularly accuse fans of their blue neighbours of not being from Manchester, but the surrounding former mill towns like Stockport. City fans opine that United fans are all from London. They’ve gone quiet on United being called “The pride of Singapore” since City have also started to attract a global fan base. There are elements of both sets of fans who genuinely think that the others are a subspecies and inferior human beings. United fans are called “Rags” (Red arrogant gets), City fans “Bitters” (at their years without trophies while United’s shone.) Tony Cascarino: “Watching the Manchester derby, I was struck by one of the most extraordinary defensive performances I have ever seen. Wan-Bissaka, to my mind, must be the best one-on-one right back in the country and arguably in Europe.” #MUFC [Times] pic.twitter.com/EEdfy0aX95 — United Xtra (@utdxtra) December 9, 2019 But at the start of the 179th Manchester derby, United were underdogs by everyone’s reckoning, until the whistle kicked off proceedings. To general surprise, United were the better team. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t like the term counter-attack since it indicates his side only attack from a defensive position, but United countered so frequently and effectively that it stunned the home fans. The speed and precision was a joy to see. Rashford, a Mancunian, scored the opening goal, a penalty. United should have scored five in the first half. Antony Martial, inconsistent and incredible, made it two. “I see the Stretford End arising,” hollered the away fans as United continued to attack. Rashford hit the cross bar. “Ole, Ole, Ole,” rang out. Many social media fans of little faith may have turned against Solskjaer, but at matches he’s had an overwhelming body of support – though he desperately needed results after only four wins in the first 14 league games. That’s now six from 16 after glorious victories against Spurs and City. United’s record against the best teams is the finest in the league. It’s still not good enough overall, but it’s about more than points. United are suddenly showing evidence of serious improvement, Solskjaer’s plans appear to be bearing fruit. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was superb on Saturday, the midfielders Scott McTominay and Fred too. The energetic Brazilian has finally come good; United have never lost a game against a big-six side when McTominay has started. He was one of seven United players in their 16-man squad on Saturday who came through the club’s youth system. City had one, substitute Phil Foden. United are still five points off the top four and all will not run smoothly along the way. Solskjaer plans to move still more players on and bring in new signings over the next three or four transfer windows. He wants and needs time. City, missing Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Aguero, improved in the second half. United fans remained raucous and raffish, singing about drinking with George Best, about Scott McTominay, doing a conga with Wan-Bissaka and more about Solskjaer. City gave a very loud rendition of their anthem Blue Moon as they pressed to get back into the game. They sang campione too, but it was the red defence which might have gained Italian approval. A stain on humanity made racist gestures to two United players, others threw objects at them. What good can come from that? City were quick to condemn the actions of a few idiots, decent City fans were appalled. Nicolas Otamendi’s header made it 2-1 and a nervous final few minutes for United. “Come on City!” before another chorus of Blue Moon, but it didn’t do the trick. United held out for a deserved win and the away fans were kept behind to prevent supporters mixing outside the stadium. United’s players went to celebrate with them, some handing over their shirts. There haven’t been enough moments like this for United in 2019, an unpredictable, conflicted, poor year. After two wins and superb performances against Spurs and City, United are in a far better place after failing to defeat Aston Villa a week previously. There was a small price to pay. The win makes Liverpool’s position at the top even more formidable, but that didn’t matter in United’s greatest moment since that March triumph in Paris.