Sunday 18 November 2018

Party pooper: Pep stunned as Pogba double sinks City

Manchester United's Paul Pogba celebrates after the match. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Manchester United's Paul Pogba celebrates after the match. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Jim White

They weren't expecting that at the Etihad. Sure, the title will be theirs sooner or later. Sure, Manchester United's stunning comeback, from 2-0 down to win 3-2 has merely put the Champagne on ice. And when the title is won, against Tottenham, Swansea, West Ham or Huddersfield in the coming weeks, the record books will still have note of their team's total ascendancy over the rest of the Premier League.

But everyone of a Manchester City persuasion will know that this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity lost, a chance squandered to do what these fans have long waited for: to rub noses in the dirt, to mock, to relish the manifestation of total superiority. To win it against the enemy would have been the sweetest moment of their supporting lives, payback for the years of condescension. Even better, it was something United themselves had never done, even in their years of domination.

Despite what was at stake, this was not Anfield last Wednesday night. The United bus slipped into east Manchester virtually unnoticed. No one was waiting for it, no one assaulted it. The home fans probably felt they didn't need to. Even if the bus had made its way on to the pitch to be parked in front of David De Gea, the home fans would have assumed David Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling would hardly have been disturbed: they would have simply passed round it.

And when City scored, the explosion of noise demonstrated what it meant. There was something particularly appropriate about Vincent Kompany putting the ball in the net after barrelling past Chris Smalling as if the United skipper wasn't there.

The way he wheeled away in celebration, the way he scooted in front of the United supporters, leaping in triumph, the way he roared in front of the City stands, was indicative: if anyone knew the significance of the moment, City's longest serving player did. Within touching distance of beating United to win the title: he knew it meant everything to the fans.

Then, when the second went in, a smug glow descended over the home sections. This was what it meant to be City: to glide with supreme ease past the hapless red shirts. Never mind the appointment against Liverpool in the Champions League, never mind conserving energy for the almighty task of reversing three goals, this was the one that mattered.

At half-time the talk was entirely triumphalist in the blue sections. It was about how little Alexis Sanchez would have offered to their team had he settled for City instead of United. And how glad they were that whatever the offer that had been made of Paul Pogba in January, it had not been taken up by Pep Guardiola.

And then the roof fell in. Whatever Jose Mourinho said to his stumbling team at half-time, it was to produce perhaps the most unexpected turnaround in this fixture's history. Suddenly Pogba, the man who had been so roundly dismissed, looked what few believed he could be after his first-half showing: a class operator. His two goals were greeted with foaming fury in the seats in front of the press box.

Meanwhile, in the United area, a sense of glowing disbelief took hold. The brooding silence was replaced by a manifest delight. It is a role you imagine Mourinho would have loved, raining on Guardiola's parade. But if he did, he kept his satisfaction to himself, marking the winner by wandering over to the drinks container and taking a swig from a water bottle. And then, at full time, greeting his long-term rival with a generous embrace.

Meanwhile in Liverpool, for the first time, they will have witnessed a United victory and cheered it to the echo.

"We are doing a better season than last season - more points, more victories, more goals, less goals conceded," said Mourinho. "Everything is better for us, but is not enough because they (City) had this season of don't stop winning.

"But we are not the team that people think we are, we are not as bad as people think we are, I am not such a bad manager as some people think I am, the players are not so bad as people think they are and that's what we are going tor try to prove, that we are the second best in the country."

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