The simultaneous arrival of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in Manchester was always going to create great contests, and the two arch-rivals served up an incredible game in their first derby match at the helm of their new sides. Derby matches between Manchester City and Manchester United had dropped off in quality in recent times, but Guardiola and Mourinho were bound to change things. They did, and in doing so they turned the most hyped game of the season into a thriller, filled with skill, goals and plenty of tension.
For the first half-hour, however, it looked to be no contest at all. City played like a shiny new sports car, purring into gear with slick passing moves which cut swathes through the United defence. Kevin de Bruyne was the architect, the Belgian giving it off when he saw fit and making wonderful runs in behind. Meanwhile, United looked more like a battered old SUV. They were sluggish, and they were closed down whenever they looked to enter City’s half. It was only a matter of time before City opened the scoring.
They did it just before the fifteen-minute mark, with Aleksandar Kolarov the architect. The Serb seemed trapped in his defensive corner, surrounded by two United players and under some pressure. There was only one option available, and he hoofed it downfield with all the strength he could muster. Kelechi Iheanacho was there, and he flicked the header on towards Daley Blind, who stayed unmoving. It was a costly error. The Dutchman left the door open, and de Bruyne glided through it with his usual ease. He took a couple of touches to control it, and he had no issues stroking the ball past David de Gea into the back of the net. City had the lead, and they didn’t look done by any stretch.
Frustration: Wayne Rooney (in red) wrestles for the ball with Pep Guardiola.
United didn’t seem to have a shot. They were down a goal, but recovery did not look likely. Guardiola did not push his men back, and City continued to use the pockets of space available to them. When United attacked, it was abysmal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was lethargic on the right wing, losing the ball almost every time he got it and providing no service for Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Wayne Rooney was getting flustered, wrestling with Guardiola and committing plenty of fouls. Meanwhile, on the left wing, Jesse Lingard was a disaster. His selection was unexpected, and once in the team it was as if he was not on the pitch at all.
The second goal came shortly after the first, with de Bruyne again setting things in motion. He found the ball in the box and turned his opponent before going for the shot. He drilled it into the post, but it fell for Iheanacho, who would have found it harder to miss the follow-up attempt. The ball rebounded to the Nigerian on the edge of the six-yard box, and he did not miss. Iheanacho stopped for a moment, before coming to the realisation that it actually was that easy. City led 2-0.
United were floundering, before they were handed an incredible lifeline which they grabbed with both hands. The goal came from nowhere, and it marked the turning point in this incredible match. David Silva conceded a free kick after sliding in on Antonio Valencia, and it seemed as if Rooney’s hopeful hack into the penalty area would be easily saved. It wasn’t. Claudio Bravo, who had been assured and steady in goal for forty minutes, crashed into John Stones as he looked to catch it, dropping the ball and giving Ibrahimovic a chance. He scored in a way only Ibrahimovic can, letting it bounce before smashing it past the defenders on the line with a powerful side-kick. It was the lifeline that United desperately needed.
Suddenly they were a new side, attacking with vigour and creating plenty of chances. Rooney picked off a poor back pass from Stones, and City were lucky that Bravo was able to hold on to Ibrahimovic’s header. A minute later, Bravo was at it again, this time haring off in pursuit of a ball which he was not quite able to get. He was caught out in a big way, especially when Lingard made his only real contribution of the match to beat Sagna and feed Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box. Stones was there, and he blocked it on the line, but the warning was clear. United were back in the contest, and City needed to lift their game.
Desperation: Eric Bailly (left) and David de Gea look to deny Nicolas Otamendi.
Mkhitaryan and Lingard were removed at the break, and United came back out with a renewed vigour. Ibrahimovic was in dangerous positions whenever they went forward, and City’s defence was no match for the dribbling skills of Marcus Rashford. The teenager held them in a trance as he moved with the ball, and he looked more dangerous in transition than any of his teammates. Bravo nearly coughed it up again minutes later, when he held onto the ball for too long and managed to present Rooney with a golden opportunity. He slid in to stop the United captain, limiting the damage, but it was another big mistake on a forgettable debut.
The game opened up as City lifted their level to match their rivals. It was pulsating, end-to-end football, as both sides looked to hit each other on the break. United had a goal disallowed after another brilliant run from Rashford, who held Bacary Sagna on a string before drilling it past him into the back of the net. It was to count for nothing, however, as the ball clipped an offside Ibrahimovic on the way through, the minute deflection costing United their leveller. City kept the pressure on, and after de Gea was forced to make some excellent saves to deny Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi they had another brilliant chance when Leroy Sane fed de Bruyne on the break. The Belgian hit the post and the ball rolled across the face, coming tantalisingly close to the goal that would have sealed it.
Soon that counter-attack was not happening, and the game was just City letting United heave long balls into the box. Rooney slung in ball after ball, but it was to no avail. City were solid in defence, and they would not be denied an exceptional victory. It was a great battle, and hopefully it sets the tone for derbies to come. If it does, then we have a lot to look forward to as Mourinho and Guardiola continue to leave their mark on the Premier League.
Manchester – Old Trafford
Manchester United 1 (Ibrahimovic 42)
Manchester City 2 (de Bruyne 15, Iheanacho 36)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): de Gea – Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw (Martial 81); Fellaini, Pogba; Mkhitaryan (Herrera 46), Rooney, Lingard (Rashford 46); Ibrahimovic.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Bravo – Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernandinho; Sterling (Sane 60), de Bruyne (Zabaleta 90), Silva, Nolito; Iheanacho (Fernando 53).
1. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Much of Manchester City’s early dominance can be traced back to de Bruyne, who took advantage of the space he was presented with to create plenty of chances for himself and his teammates. He scored the first goal and set up the second, and he was unlucky to be denied by the woodwork on a number of occasions. His set piece delivery was as good as ever, rounding off an exceptional game.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
Ibrahimovic was United’s only scorer, and he found himself in plenty of dangerous positions. He created plenty of problems for City’s defence with his height, positioning and ability to find space in the box, and he was unlucky not to score more. He was ever-present in attack for United, and can hold his head high after a strong performance.
3. Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Fernandinho was a solid presence in midfield and defence for City, dropping back in the closing stages and denying United with his ability to win the ball in dangerous spots. He was good in the air throughout, and had some great chances at the other end when he was able to push forward.
4. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Rashford came on to replace the struggling Lingard at the break, and he was a game-changer for United. He was a dangerous presence on the left wing, and he was in complete control as he made dangerous runs into the box. He had a goal disallowed in unfortunate circumstances, and was one of United’s best.
5. Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
Sane came on at a time when City were coming under increasing pressure, and his introduction had an immediate impact. He used all of his pace as he looked to get away on the break, and he created plenty of problems for anyone who tried to mark him. He alleviated some of the strain on the City defence, and will take confidence from his efforts.