Manchester City were worthy winners on derby day with a 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United.
When City took an early lead through David Silva there was still hope for Jose Mourinho’s men, who have come back from a goal behind on several occasions this season. In this fixture last year, United were 2-0 down at half-time but still managed to go on to win the game, so supporters clutched at straws that a similar fate would unfold.
There were no fireworks on the roof or t-shirts claiming ‘we did it on derby day’ ready to hand out, but this victory certainly goes some way to boosting City’s title hopes.
United’s second half comeback looked unlikely when Sergio Aguero doubled City’s lead not long after the restart. Gary Neville, and plenty of fans on social media, claimed David de Gea should have done better with the shot. Maybe it’s because expectations are so high when it comes to the Spaniard but the speed of the ball made it very difficult for the goalkeeper to react in time.
Mourinho was more critical of Jesse Lingard for the second goal, without mentioning him by name, after he lost possession cheaply on the halfway line to allow the counter-attack.
United got themselves back in to the game when Romelu Lukaku, who passed a late fitness test, came off the bench and won a penalty almost immediately. His close control saw him take the ball past goalkeeper Ederson, forcing him to bring the Belgian down.
Anthony Martial sent Ederson the wrong way to score his sixth goal in the last five league games. Only Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Eric Cantona, Dwight Yorke, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie have scored in five consecutive league games for the club, putting him in good company.
The Frenchman is in excellent form and United will be as desperate as ever to get him to extend his deal, even if he was fairly quiet for the rest of the game.
With just a goal in it, United looked sharper and kept the ball in City’s half, but didn’t do enough with the possession they had. The crowd and players appeared more nervous, likely thinking about this fixture from the season before, but they held their nerve and scored a third through substitute İlkay Gündoğan.
After the game, Mourinho claimed he was happy enough with the performance, but blamed mistakes for all three of their goals. “Against a team like Manchester City, if you make mistakes, you are punished.”
Truth be told, United make defensive mistakes every weekend, which is arguably why he wanted the club to splash the cash on a world-class central defender like rivals City and Liverpool have. Sometimes United get away with it, often they don’t, and then the pressure is on to make amends. Sometimes they have the quality to do that, with the charge often lead by Paul Pogba waking up and getting himself involved. This was certainly the case in United’s last game at the Etihad and has been a feature of their comebacks this season too.
There wasn’t that option on Sunday though, with Pogba missing out on the game thanks to playing on with an injury in Turin.
“He resisted,” Mourinho said ahead of kick-off, when explaining the Frenchman’s absence. “He felt that he could resist. He felt that was such a crucial match for the team. He made that sacrifice for us and then it was impossible for him to recover for this.”
After the match, Mourinho refused to blame the result on Pogba’s absence, even though it meant they had to change their game plan and that Marouane Fellaini had to start the game, despite not yet being fit enough.
United’s midfield were poor without Pogba though, with Ander Herrera making too many mistakes and Nemanja Matic caught napping time and again. Marcus Rashford, the only Mancunian to start, had a lonely game up front with the players behind him lacking the creativity to get the ball to him.
Phil Foden, the Stockport-born starlet, came off the bench in injury time, as he sometimes does, as merely a box-ticking exercise.
Guardiola has claimed that the youngster is ready for the Premier League and for England duty, yet he has never started a league game and has yet to even play two hours of football in the competition since making his debut in December last year.
Mourinho refused to comment on City’s alleged unfolding FFP scandal ahead of the game, despite repeated probing from journalists, but you would imagine Foden would be afforded more playing time if not for Guardiola outspending every other team since his arrival in England.
Yet the fans who claim they support the only team from Manchester seem unconcerned about how few players progress from their ranks in to the first team. Teenager Jadon Sancho is tearing it up in the Bundesliga since making the decision to leave City for Borussia Dortmund, and has played for the England team as a reward.
While having the bragging rights on home-grown players was relevant during this fixture a couple of years ago, when Rashford scored the winning goal at the Etihad, it matters little now that City have stretched the gap to 12 points between the two clubs. United may play their academy graduates, but City have better and more expensive players in their squad who have taken them to the top of the table.
Mourinho insists his target for this season is to finish in the top four, while City are favourites to win back-to-back titles for the first time in their club’s history. But as far as this week goes, with a 2-1 victory and a 3-1 defeat, when faced with the best teams in Italy and England, it could have been a lot worse.
The fact a narrow defeat against their hated rivals is seen as expected rather than a crisis says a lot about United’s current position though.