Manchester City, led by balletic David Silva, win the battle but signs are positive for Manchester United
As the Old Trafford public address system boomed out the Stone Roses’ This is the One, Jose Mourinho, Manchester United and Manchester City’s team strode onto the turf. This was the game the football world had waited for.
Pep Guardiola emerged from the tunnel and walked alone along the touchline towards his bench. The Catalan was gently booed by United fans, but while Mourinho didn’t afford City even a cursory mention in his programme notes, he waited for his rival, clasped his hand and the pair briefly hugged as 27 press photographers focused their lenses. Like their employers, the managers were all keen to diffuse any possible tension.
As the game kicked off, the managers who had clashed so often when in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid stood on the edge of their technical areas, five metres apart. Guardiola was suited and stood with the bow-legged gait of a former professional footballer, his arms folded, his frustration obvious when his side lost possession. Mourinho covered his suit with a rain jacket, digging his hands into his pockets.
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True to the previous form between the pair in which Guardiola has held an advantage, City started brighter, Kevin de Bruyne at the heart of their dominance as he dragged Paul Pogba backwards. He also scored their opening goal after 15 minutes when Kelechi Iheanacho, a surprise starter, headed towards the Belgian who nipped in front of Daley Blind. The Dutchman usually anticipates so well, but De Bruyne created the space to choose his spot past David de Gea.
City were superior, the in-form David Silva at his balletic best, making City an attacking force even without Sergio Aguero. United had a penalty appeal when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was brought down but the Armenian had been flagged offside.
United, who, like City had won their opening three games, were soon 2-0 down after 36 minutes when a De Bruyne shot surprised De Gea and came off the post for Iheanacho to tap in his fourth goal in his last four City away games. Guardiola turned and ran to his bench to celebrate, Mourinho stood dumbfounded.
United were poor, wideman Mkhitaryan labouring on his full debut, Jesse Lingard not taking his first chance of the season.
A mistake from debut goalkeeper Claudio Bravo let United back in, the Chilean dropping a Wayne Rooney free-kick which Zlatan Ibrahimovic volleyed into the Scoreboard End net four minutes before half time.
United brought Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera on for Mkhitaryan and Lingard. Both made a difference. The impact of Rashford, the only Mancunian on the field, whose goal had settled the last derby, was immediate.
Then the tackles started to hurt. United picked up four second half yellow cards. Mourinho, sipping liquid from water battles left pitchside for his players, became more animated — in frustration with his own players including Blind and De Gea — as much as at the decisions which he felt went against them.
The clumsy Bravo was fortunate not to see a card after a 56th minute challenge on an outraged Rooney, and while United did get the ball in the net after 69 minutes, Rashford’s effort was ruled offside as Ibrahimovic deflected it in.
United’s second half pride, play and passion was encouraging. A quick De Gea pass to Herrera saw an impetus lacking in recent seasons. Then City substitute Leroy Sane broke and set up De Bruyne, his shot hitting the inside of the post and rolling along the goalline. Nobody was watching the managers anymore.
United pushed but could not equalise. Mourinho was quick to congratulate Guardiola at the final whistle — plus all the City bench. Guardiola urged his players to applaud the delighted 3,000 travelling fans.
Too many Manchester derbies have underwhelmed, while El Clasico is regularly a benchmark for excellence. This most eagerly awaited derby was a fine game of British football. City, as exemplified by the fist pumping celebrations of John Stones after the final whistle, were delighted but while United didn’t win the battle, their fans saw enough from a rejuvenated side to see that they have every chance of winning the Premier League title. And that’s a big improvement on the last three seasons.
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Published: September 10, 2016 04:00 AM