Kevin De Bruyne defends Manchester United players from accusations after derby collapse

Manchester City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne has defended Manchester United’s players after they were accused of giving up in Sunday’s Manchester derby.

De Bruyne scored twice in a 4-1 victory for the home side at the Etihad, with United collapsing in the second period after a first-half in which they were clearly second best but seemed to possess at least a modicum of self-belief.

Pundits including former United players Gary Neville and Roy Keane accused the club’s playing squad of throwing in the towel, with various reports since the weekend defeat suggesting the players are unsure about manager Ralf Rangnick’s methods.

But Belgium international De Bruyne says that United’s struggles with pressing against City may have made it look as though they weren’t trying

‘It’s difficult to say [whether United gave up], when you play a pressing style it’s very hard to adjust to it so maybe it seemed like they did give up a little,’ De Bruyne explained. ‘It’s very hard to do it for 90 minutes as a team.

‘First-half it was a bit more difficult, they pressed us a bit higher than they normally do but in the second half we found the spaces where we needed to be. I was watching the last 10 minutes and it felt like they were a little bit out, so the spaces got a bit bigger. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they gave up, it’s hard to say that.’

If De Bruyne is correct, then United need to significantly improve their pressing efficacy if they are to continue with the style of play Rangnick has insisted upon since replacing the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in autumn.

The Red Devils are fifth in the Premier League table, one point behind Arsenal, but have played three more matches than the Gunners so far this season and are looking unlikely to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

City, meanwhile, lead the standings by six points to Liverpool, who have a game in hand to catch up.