This was a Manchester derby that lived up to the hype. In recent years, there has been more bark than bite, but this match, played in a snowy Old Trafford, was as intense as one could have hoped for.
Manchester City were the eventual winners and went back to the Etihad with the three points to extend their lead to 11, and they were well worth their win. There is no denying or excuses to be made over the fact that Pep Guardiola’s team were better throughout the 90 minutes.
The Citizens zipped the ball across the crisp surface with ease, and roamed around in midfield with acres of space to run into thanks to Manchester United’s inability to press their opposition and cut their attacks out at source.
Even though José Mourinho opted for an attacking line-up, the Portuguese boss’ tactics were incredibly disappointing. He showed his counterparts far too much respect and sat his team far too deep, which allowed City to have all of the possession and time on the ball to pick through this United team.
Man City have played far better football than they showed at Old Trafford this season, but they did not need to reach those heights. Man United gave them the freedom to play without being pressured and so they took their time and plotted ways to carve them open.
However, on the contrary to City’s well orchestrated attacks, their two goals came from costly mistakes in defending from Romelu Lukaku – a player whose confidence was alright near to rock bottom. Well, it will be now.
The goals were not pretty, and rather fortuitous, but Man City were worthy victors at the end of the game and would have felt hard done by if they were not to win.
It is alarming that every time Manchester United play without Paul Pogba there is a considerable lack of energy, desire and leadership shown on the pitch. Ander Herrera filled in for the Frenchman, but, as the Spaniard showed during Pogba’s absence through injury, he was not capable of running the show nor taking control of such an important game.
The game bypassed United and they failed to plant their own mark on it, apart from in the five minutes before half time, where they attacked with intent and, believe it or not, scored an equalising goal.
That should have been enough for Mourinho to tell his players to go out and attack – take the game to City, but, no. Man United remained deep into their own half and invited City to attack them, which was relentless.
One would think that is the Premier League title sewn up for Guardiola, but a lot of things can still happen in the ever-changing world of football between now and May. A few shaky results, as their performances had been up until the derby, and the momentum can slightly change – just look at how Liverpool’s title slipped out of their grasp.
Manchester United are still in four competitions and if they end up with a second-placed finish, it will still be their best domestic season in five years. That should say everything about how the club has been managed since Ferguson’s retirement.
An important point to stress regarding these two clubs’ squads and their managers is this: while both have spent fortunes in building up their squads, Guardiola came into Man City and inherited players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling.
Mourinho, on the other hand, had a far worse-looking squad to work with and did not have the luxuries of the qualities in depth that his across-town rivals have. Since both managers have arrived, Guardiola has signed 17 new players, in addition to who he had, whereas Mouirnho has only signed seven.
It is clear that Mourinho thought squad harmony was more important than overhauling the squad completely, while Guardiola thought the opposite and his methods have quickly become ingrained into the City players’ minds and they are now reaping the rewards.
Manchester United still have a long way to go to properly challenge for the Premier League, but the style of football, as well as the results, are easily the best since Sir Alex Ferguson. The Portuguese boss is the right man for the job, but it will take more investment and time for Mourinho to get the squad that he feels totally comfortable with.