Tuesday 11 December 2018

Eamonn Sweeney: ''Trumpinho' will be calling the table 'fake news' next'

Manchester United boss has a warped sense of reality but there is no hiding from failings

Blue is the colour: Bernardo Silva reaches the ball ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Photo: Getty
Blue is the colour: Bernardo Silva reaches the ball ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Photo: Getty
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Manchester United's performance against Manchester City was a 90-minute admission of inferiority. Rumours of a Red Devils revival turn out to have been greatly exaggerated.

They were based on a shaky foundation. The fuss surrounding narrow wins over Watford, Everton and Bournemouth tells how little we've come to expect from United.

Pep Guardiola explains why he took Sergio Aguero off. Photo: Getty
Pep Guardiola explains why he took Sergio Aguero off. Photo: Getty

Wednesday's win in Turin was significant but the suspicion remained that the complacency of the favourites contributed hugely to the upset.

Those suspicions were confirmed at the Etihad. The gap in points between City and United is the same as that between United and 18th-placed Cardiff City. A similar gulf in class divides the two sides.

United are seven points shy of the top four and their recent improvement, such as it is, has yet to bring them past Watford or Bournemouth.

Appropriately for the day that was in it, General Mourinho dispatched his troops into battle as though knowing they'd probably be slaughtered.

Guardiola and Jose Mourinho embrace after the match. Photo: AFP/Getty
Guardiola and Jose Mourinho embrace after the match. Photo: AFP/Getty

A midfield unit of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini was the most uninspiring trio to play in Manchester since Emerson, Lake and Palmer did a reunion gig at the Apollo in 1992.

The selection spoke of a fearful determination to defend stolidly and hope for set-piece success.

For a man so fiery at press conferences there's a strangely resigned air to Mourinho when faced with superior opposition these days. It's almost as though he believes every defeat is a kind of personal victory, proving his contention that it's unreasonable to expect him to compete against City unless he's allowed to spend the GDP of a small country every season.

But it's not just City that Mourinho's United can't compete with. It's hardly outlandish to expect them to be higher than eighth in the table.

Events elsewhere indict the manager's self-pity. At the Nou Camp yesterday Real Betis took the game to Barcelona and scored a 4-3 victory. The disparity in resources between Betis and Barca is much greater than that between United and City. Yet the mid-table Spaniards have also won at Real Madrid this season.

On Saturday Borussia Dortmund came from behind to defeat Bayern Munich 3-2 and open a seven-point lead over champions considered far more invincible than City. Dortmund turned the tables by exposing Bayern's weaknesses rather than opting for damage limitation. Mourinho seems unwilling to test the thesis that fortune favours the brave.

City were strikingly unworried after Ederson's rush of blood to the head put United back in the game.

Given the visitors' recent propensity for late goals and last season's dramatic turnaround in the corresponding fixture, you might have expected the home side to exhibit some nerves.

Not a bit of it. City's recovery of control was instant. More precise finishing could have put the game to bed long before Ilkay Gundogan slotted home five minutes from time.

There were 44 passes in the move leading to that third goal, an eloquent testimony to the ease with which City conducted their business.

Anthony Martial's penalty aside, United failed to conjure up even the cousin of a chance.

Mourinho's insistence afterwards that people shouldn't mind such trivial things as statistics was bonkers.

Losing 3-1 is a stat you can't ignore. So is 32 points to 20. 'Trumpinho' will be calling the table 'fake news' next.

Not long ago the Manchester derby was hyped up as a great event and arrived trailing gusts of guff about 'noisy neighbours' and 'bragging rights.' That air has seeped out of that balloon. There's no doubt which club rules the city now.

City have bigger fish to fry than United. Chief among them domestically are Liverpool and Chelsea yet it's hard to see either outlasting Pep Guardiola's side.

The only thing that might stop City would be a dramatic points deduction should football's authorities take the club's alleged financial cheating seriously.

It would be little consolation to United who have fallen too far behind to benefit from neighbourly misfortune.

Fourth place for United this season would now constitute a major achievement and a massive surprise.

After the huge hopes engendered by Mourinho's arrival, his ambitions are now reduced to emulating Louis Van Gaal's performance of three seasons ago.

Money isn't the only reason City have pulled clear of United. The best player on the field yesterday was David Silva who has been marvellously rejuvenated by Guardiola . So has goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

Magnificent

Another magnificent thirtysomething, Fernandinho, was the dominant figure in midfield, driving forward with intent one minute, assiduously covering back the next. The combined figure City paid for all three is less than the fee United paid for Paul Pogba.

United spent more on the struggling Fred than City did on the splendid Bernardo Silva who created two goals yesterday.

The clubs paid the same amount for Leroy Sane and Anthony Martial. Who's got the most out of that one? Martial's anonymity yesterday showed that a flurry of goals against lesser teams does not instant redemption make.

Guardiola may be a big spender but he gets the very best from his big-name purchases in a way Mourinho doesn't any more.

United's humiliation was completed by a couple of showboating moves from Raheem Sterling. The reaction of Juan Mata summed up United right now. Instead of winning the ball from Sterling the Spaniard complained furiously to him after it had gone out of play.

That's Mourinho's United. More bothered about the look of things than the result.

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