Sport Manchester United

Tuesday 21 November 2017

City slickers remind United about the one who got away

Manchester Utd 1-2 Manchester City

Antonio Valencia fractured his arm
Antonio Valencia fractured his arm

James Ducker

Alex Ferguson had been loitering purposefully in the doorway of an adjacent lounge when the former Manchester United manager finally spotted Pep Guardiola in the corridor, about to make his way into the post-match press conference and he made a quick beeline for the man he had left his own suite to come to see.

Their embrace was warm and genuine and, as disappointed as Ferguson will have been at watching United vanquished by a team he once derided as "noisy neighbours", he would also have been one of the first to appreciate the calibre of the performance Manchester City had just served up.

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola must face-off again
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola must face-off again

To some observers at Old Trafford, Guardiola may always be the one who got away.

Ferguson travelled to New York in December 2012 to sound out the former Barcelona coach about succeeding him at Old Trafford only to discover that the Catalan, in the midst of a 12-month sabbatical, was about to sign for Bayern Munich.

United's hopes that Guardiola might give them first option were punctured and, three-and-a-half years on, the club have entrusted their faith in Jose Mourinho - the only manager to finish above Guardiola in a league campaign - to prevent City's head coach from rubbing salt into lingering wounds. This, though, was an inauspicious beginning.


Wayne Rooney tries to get the ball off Guardiola Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Wayne Rooney tries to get the ball off Guardiola Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Sure, United rallied after the interval and asked several questions of City, thanks largely to the introduction of Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera and a switch to a three-man midfield, and Mourinho simmered with injustice about some of referee Mark Clattenburg's decisions, notably the failure to award a penalty after Claudio Bravo's lunge at Wayne Rooney.

But there was a poise and panache to City's play in the first half, at least until Bravo's debut clanger offered United a scarcely deserved olive branch, and a resilience and robustness in the second period that earned them three points and Guardiola a resounding first victory over Mourinho in the wider war.

A couple of observations: City ran 8.3km more than United - a huge amount given that they had 60pc of the possession and it was Mourinho's side doing much of the chasing.

City also won 11pc more of a near-identical number of tackles and, for all the talk of Guardiola as a footballing purist, there is also a pragmatic streak to him, as evidenced by the withdrawal of his only striker, Kelechi Iheanacho, for a defensive midfielder, Fernando, with 37 minutes of the match still to play.

David Silva tries to get away from Eric Bailly Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
David Silva tries to get away from Eric Bailly Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

The speed of thought, quick decision-making and incisive passing City showcased in that captivating first 40 minutes could not have contrasted more starkly with a United side whose defensive line dropped deeper and deeper through a combination of their cheap concession of the ball and City's intense pressing. But Guardiola may have taken just as much satisfaction from the steely manner in which his players defended, Nicolas Otamendi most notably, when United changed their approach, pushed much higher upfield and tried to box City in.

Kevin De Bruyne suggested this is a "new beginning" for City and the sublime Belgium playmaker is already proving to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Catalan's methods.

Much of the talk beforehand had been about United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting one over Guardiola, the coach he failed to see eye-to-eye with at Barcelona, but the story ended up being De Bruyne proving yet another point to the man who sold him at Chelsea.

Mourinho must have been squirming as De Bruyne, ably assisted by David Silva, sliced through his team. De Bruyne's finish for the first goal, after United's centre-halves Eric Bailly and Daley Blind failed to deal with a route-one ball from Aleksandar Kolarov, typified his composure.

And there was a similar nonchalance to the way in which he cut inside Blind and Jesse Lingard before rolling a shot against the post, Iheanacho gobbling up the rebound.

"I think this system, for me, is the best thing," De Bruyne said. "We need very pacey and skilful wingers and me and David try to press as much as we can to relieve the team at the back - and everybody is doing their part really well.

"But we need to keep doing that because, if one or two switch off, it gets really hard.

"The way we try to play now is very enjoyable, especially for the attacking players. I think maybe for some guys it is a new beginning."

If there was a concern for City, it was Bravo, Joe Hart's replacement in goal, who dropped a relatively routine catch from Rooney's free-kick to allow Ibrahimovic to score, and then narrowly avoided giving away a penalty with a studs-up challenge on the United captain.

Bravo insisted afterwards that he had felt "comfortable" throughout, and there were words of support from team-mate Nolito.

"Claudio is a magnificent, spectacular goalkeeper," the City winger said. "We are very happy that he is here with us and we are very relaxed with him, and that's it."

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