In what was the first epic clash between two titles contenders, both Manchester United and Manchester City put on a fine display of football, with the visitors worthy winners over the ninety minutes. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, who for many years did battle in La Liga, met for the first time as managers of English clubs – and the first Manchester derby of their careers. City were without Sergio Aguero, who was banned for elbowing Winston Reid before the international break, but didn’t miss the Argentine with a phenomenal first half display.
Guardiola’s men were sublime at times, with Kevin De Bruyne running the show. The Belgian opened the scoring with a smart finish past David De Gea and indirectly setting up Kelechi Iheanacho with an easy tap in. United were extremely poor and overawed by City at times, that was until Claudio Bravo spilled a routine catch, to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic to smartly finish to claw one back for the home team.
United were much better in the second half, but couldn’t find the elusive equaliser as Mourinho changed shape, which gave a far better balance but sadly – no goals. If anyone was expecting fireworks between the United manager and his opposition number, they would be disappointed. Both managers put in a fine shift and the tactical battle between the two was fascinating to observe.
For all of City’s brilliance, movement and pressing – United were very poor in the first half. The United manager gave Henrikh Mkhitaryan his first start for the club, whilst Jesse Lingard started his first Premier League match of the season. Both were poor throughout and were substituted at half time. Mkhitaryan looked off the pace and struggled to have any impact at all, whilst Lingard – who had played well in the 1-0 victory over City back in March – appeared nervous and like his teammate – struggled to deliver anything of quality. Both players mis-controlled the ball, mis-placed passes and in Lingard’s case was too easily dispossessed by the opposition.
It was no surprise that both were substituted at half time but it was a surprise that it took so long. Mkhitaryan was impressive against Hull City when he came on as a substitue with United chasing the win, but this was definitely one to forget for the Armenian. He is coming back from injury, which he picked up over the international break, and it can take many months to adapt to a faster paced environment but the former Borussia Dortmund playmaker was definitely one of the “players”, Mourinho referenced at the end of the game that was “below the normal levels”.
The first half demonstrated the class City now have under the leadership of Guardiola. Their movement in United’s half was sublime and time after time De Bruyne got in on the left hand side, in between Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly. Both Daley Blind and Bailly looked a lot more stretched than they had done in previous games, with the movement of Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Nolito and man of the match De Bruyne caused trouble throughout the first half. If City provided the spark and intricacy a new manager dreams of instilling, United resembled a middle age stag do party participating in five a side the morning after the night before. The home side couldn’t string simple passes together, whilst some players pressed and others sat off. It was only Ibrahimovic’s goal that got United going after Bravo’s dropped an easy catch in the 36th minute. It was a lifeline for Mourinho’s men, but if truth be told – City should have put the game to bed.
If Mkhitaryan and Lingard disappointed, then substitue Marcus Rashford – the goalscorer in the last Manchester derby – was the injection of pace and class the home side needed. Mourinho changed United from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, with Rashford wide left and moving Wayne Rooney, who again disappointed, to the right hand side. Paul Pogba looked much more comfortable in a more advanced role and the introduction of Ander Herrera ensured the Frenchman could afford to roam the field, rather than be restricted by defensive responsibilities. Pogba has been criticised in the past for ill positional discipline and in the first half he was drifting all over the park, which allowed De Bruyne and David Silva space to operate in.
With the change in shape and introduction of the substitutes, United looked a different force in the second half – with Rashford showing more in sixty seconds than Lingard did in the previous forty-five minutes. United’s number 19, who scored the winner against Hull City and a hattrick for the under-21s, was full of confidence on the left flank, flicking the ball inside to the on rushing Luke Shaw whilst driving down the touchline to beat Bacary Sagna on multiple occasions. Mourinho will have wished he had started the youngster as United looked threatening every time Rashford got on the ball. With United in the ascendancy, City’s manager sprung into action – replacing Iheanacho with centre midfielder Fernando early in the second half. It worked as United’s early pressure was nullified with a much firmer looking shape from the visitors.
Ibrahimovic had a number of half chances, whilst there were scrambles in City’s box towards the end of the ninety minutes. The visitors came close to making it 3-1, when De Bruyne broke forward to smash De Gea’s left hand post. The ball flew inwards, but somehow managed to go out for a goal kick. Mourinho felt that United should have had two penalties following an awful challenge from Bravo and a handball claim following the ball striking Nicolás Otamendi on the elbow. City’s new goalkeeper was lucky that his first half mistake didn’t cost his new team the three points and was indeed lucky that he remained on the pitch after his poor control let Rooney in for a 50/50 challenge. The panicked Chilean flew into the United skipper with studs up mid way through the second half, but referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on. The handball claim was simply that, a claim – and Clattenburg was right not to give anything.
Manchester City were worthy winners in what proved to be an extremely exciting contest. United were overwhelmed by City’s first half display, but were let back into the game following an error by Claudio Bravo. Mourinho must now start Marcus Rashford against Feyenoord in the Europa League and against Watford in the next Premier League fixture following his display today. Despite being able to carry the ball long distances, Pogba was better playing further up the pitch and, although it is unlikely he will drop his skipper anytime soon, United would benefit from having the Frenchman nearer to the opponents goal. We’re three matches in to the season with plenty of football yet to be played, but City’s display is a reminder to United of the quality the club faces in the fight for the title.