Juan Mata gave Manchester United a timely shot in the arm as Jose Mourinho’s men extended Manchester City’s alarming winless streak to progress to the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
Both sides’ need for a win added intrigue to an already mouth-watering derby, with Pep Guardiola’s men unable to eke out victories of late and United reeling from Sunday’s 4-0 humiliation at Chelsea.
Mourinho apologised for the unacceptable result at his former stomping ground and went some way to making amends last night, with Mata’s strike securing a 1-0 triumph that condemned Guardiola to a sixth successive winless match for the first time in his managerial career.
City were a far cry from the side that had at times lit up Old Trafford last month, but that was little surprise given the main protagonists were absent as the Spaniard plumped for nine changes.
Mourinho made a comparatively restrained four alterations to the side humbled at Stamford Bridge, although neither team was able to get a first-half shot on target as they struggled for attacking fluency.
Willy Caballero impressively tipped a Paul Pogba strike on the post when United first threatened after half-time, but the City goalkeeper was unable to prevent Mata sweeping home minutes later.
United held on to knock out the reigning champions and secure Mourinho just his fourth win against Guardiola, which will surely put a smile on the Portuguese’s face after he spoke of his troubles living alone in a Manchester hotel.
Pre-match bemusement at those comments, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s continued absence, were followed by an early let-off for the hosts.
An abysmal start cost United dearly at Chelsea and Kelechi Iheanacho had the chance to strike a similarly early blow, only to misdirect his header over after Jesus Navas darted past the recalled Luke Shaw.
Another of Mourinho’s returning quartet was the subject of penalty appeals soon after Aleix Garcia went down under pressure from Michael Carrick – but referee Mike Dean was uninterested.
Aleksandar Kolarov emerged from the half-time break in place of Vincent Kompany, taking the captain’s armband and his place in defence.
The reshuffle, perhaps enforced given the Belgian’s injury record, was leapt upon by United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba, so poor in the first half, combined and the latter got away a left-footed shot bound for the net until Caballero impressively tipped the ball onto the post.
Pogba tried another off balance and Mata’s cross-shot stung the palms as the hosts pushed for a goal that arrived in the 54th minute.
Ibrahimovic stayed strong in a duel that left Nicolas Otamendi on the deck, then continued to send in a low cross which Ander Herrera missed as he clashed with Fernando. Referee Dean waved away calls for a foul and Mata swept home convincingly.