Gary Neville says that he noticed Manchester United “starting” to employ an “uncomfortable” tactic which could eventually lead them to Premier League title glory.
The Red Devils pulled off a brilliant 2-0 win over derby rivals City on Sunday for a second successive league win at the Etihad Stadium.
As such, United further strengthened their claims for another top-four finish under boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The win moved them back into second above Leicester, who remain their greatest rivals to finish runners-up.
Indeed, fourth-placed Chelsea sit seven points behind the Red Devils ahead of Monday’s clash with West Ham. Everton, meanwhile, have two games in hand but sit eight points adrift of second.
And while United themselves look unlikely to challenge City for the title this season, Neville admitted that he felt “shocked” at what he saw.
The pundit told his Sky Sports podcast. “It wasn’t that United couldn’t win here today. They could and they’ve got a good record here over the last 12-18 months. But it was the way they won, the way they went about the game.
“They looked so drained in the last couple of weeks and you just think, ‘where have they got the energy to play the way they did?’
“Yeah, they might sit back, they might ride their luck and get a goal on the counter-attack… but they pushed up the pitch. Maybe the goal helped them in the first minute.”
Neville then elaborated on a change of tactics he noticed from his former side which will serve them well.
Neville points to changing Man Utd tactics
“If you look at the build-up to the first goal, all the Man Utd players are compact, they’re tight together, the defence is up the pitch and they’re all round the play, picking up loose balls,” he said.
“And that was the same for the first 20 minutes of the game. United really good, the back four really brave.
“I’ve said Man Utd will not win this league unless the back four push up the pitch and feel a little uncomfortable with the space that’s left behind them. I think they’re starting to do it a little bit.
“There are signs in games where – today definitely – they were brave. Not just brave out of possession in pushing up but I thought they got on the ball as well, popping it into midfield.
“So many teams play against City and get pushed back into their defensive third and then when they get the ball they pass back to the keeper and run up the pitch and take the easy option. United didn’t do that today.”
Man Utd must finish strongly
Meanwhile, Neville also warned that United’s next 10 games will still be crucial, despite the club looking set to finish in the Champions League places.
The pundit said that Solskjaer’s men could still finish in a “poor second” if they “fade” towards the end of the campaign.
Instead, he called on his former side to “get within seven or eight points of City” to make sure their battle to bridge the gap to the league leaders “counts for something” ahead of next season.
United return to action on Thursday when facing AC Milan in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie.