Many are subscribing to the theory that Manchester City are miles ahead of United due to their easy-on-the-eye approach and how they dominated possession. You shouldn’t buy the narrative they’re selling because it couldn’t be further from the truth.
City won the derby based solely on the scoreline – but let’s dig a little deeper. Perhaps an overexposure to Barcelona has left British football fans with an inferiority complex; always trying to reach that level. While the Catalan giants kept the ball for what felt like years at a time, they were incisive and above all else – clinical.
Can you remember a lot of chances that City created from open play? Raheem Sterling’s one-two in the first half was a nice piece of interplay, but Chris Smalling raced across to ensure contact would be hampered. David De Gea made a good save from Leroy Sané, but it was from a narrow angle, and hardly a gilt-edged opportunity.
In fact, the only clear-cut chances created in the opening forty-five minutes belonged to Gabriel Jesus – who did it all himself – and both goals. There’s nobody trying to take anything away from City. They were deserved winners. But the game panned out fairly much how Mourinho would have wanted.
That’s a concession in and of itself – but Mourinho’s always been negative. So, the question most people are answering is the one that shouldn’t be asked. How successful was Guardiola in opening United up at will through free-flowing movement off the ball?
Not very – they didn’t score from open play.
How successful was Mourinho in limiting City’s clear-cut chances, while nicking one on the break and stealing a result? A Romelu Lukaku trifecta of f*ck-ups away from achieving it.
While we’re on that point, the best ‘free-flowing football’ on display at Old Trafford yesterday came from United. Antonio Valencia flew down the right flank before crossing into the feet of Ibrahimovic. He laid the ball back to Mata who delivered a delicious lofted ball out to Anthony Martial. The Frenchman met it first-time to cross for Lukaku, but he couldn’t convert.
If City put that move together, there’d be an extension to Match of the Day 2 so the country could soak it in. Mata was denied the follow-up by a brilliant piece of goalkeeping. For all his heroics last week, De Gea won’t be adding to his highlight reel after yesterday.
There’s a bizarre double standard when it comes to footballing philosophy.
If you’re defensive – you’re handed chances, but if you stay on the ball – you’re apparently creative. That’s nonsense. United dropped runners occasionally. If a goal came from that, it would have been dubbed City’s brilliance.
However, when Rojo’s cross asked a question of Nicolas Otamendi – that wasn’t a plan of course – no, no – it was a defensive error. City play their brand of football regardless of the opposition; Mourinho attacks weaknesses. Both worked to a degree yesterday.
One was easier to digest for the majority of the public, because football has become a race to the perfect art for most, when it should be celebrated as the imperfect game that produces magical moments.
United had five shots on target yesterday; City had seven. One of them came when United were committing men forward late on.
Guardiola outlasted Mourinho thanks to set-pieces and a centre forward in the wrong penalty area. Nothing else.