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Manchester United FC

Manchester United FC

MANCHESTER, England — Three thoughts on Manchester City’s 2-1 win vs. Manchester United in the Premier League.

1. City take derby spoils, go 11 points clear

Manchester City took a huge stride toward the Premier League title by ending Manchester United’s 40-game unbeaten run at Old Trafford.

Goals from David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, either side of Marcus Rashford’s equaliser, also secured a 14th successive league win for Pep Guardiola’s side, equalling the record previously set by Arsenal.

A late double save by City goalkeeper Ederson, to deny Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata, ensured victory but the winning margin does not tell the story of City’s dominance over their neighbors.

For long periods, United could not get a foothold, with City retaining possession and forcing the home side to hit long, aimless balls to Lukaku. Rashford’s strike shortly before halftime gave United hope of an unlikely win but Otamendi’s goal, following a defensive mistake by Lukaku, kept them firmly in control of the game.

Having gone unbeaten in the league this season, it will now take an incredible collapse by City for the chasing pack to have any hope of catching them. And with a trip to Swansea on Wednesday, Arsenal’s record will be erased from the record books with another win.

Such is City’s form that another Gunners achievement could be under threat; Guardiola’s team are in with a genuine chance of going through a league season unbeaten, as Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” did in 2003-04.

2. United miss suspended Pogba as Silva stars

When Robin van Persie signed for United from Arsenal in 2012, the Dutch forward’s ability when defending set pieces impressed many at Old Trafford. He offered a reliable and disciplined presence in the six-yard box when facing corners or free kicks, proving he was about more than just scoring goals.

Almost six months into his United career, the same cannot be said of Romelu Lukaku, especially after his defensive horror show against City. The former Everton centre-forward went into this game having scored just twice in 13 games, so he is clearly not delivering in front of goal as Jose Mourinho would expect.

But when asked to do a shift at the back, Lukaku is proving just as unreliable and both of City’s goals coming from his basic lack of defensive nous.

The opener came when he allowed himself to be out-muscled and outjumped by Nicolas Otamendi, whose header gave David Silva an easy strike at goal. Then, in the second half, a lazy hack at a clearance from a free kick saw the ball bounce off the back of Chris Smalling and into Otamendi’s path, who scored from close range.

He was unable to make amends at the other end, which means two basic mistakes cost Lukaku’s team dearly; his manager may be well served by showing him clips of Van Persie defending set pieces as he has much to learn.

3. Lukaku flops at both ends

Paul Pogba’s absence was always going to be felt by United, but City’s quality truly exposed just how much Jose Mourinho’s team rely on the £90m midfielder.

United had no like-for-like replacement to fill the gap caused by Pogba’s red card against Arsenal, so Ander Herrera was selected to play in the holding role alongside Nemanja Matic. Herrera is all-energy and commitment, but he is no Pogba. Then again, neither are Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata or Michael Carrick, so Mourinho had little choice.

Too often, though, Herrera was outsmarted by the outstanding David Silva and left chasing shadows. When he did catch up with a City shirt, Herrera would dive in and win the ball or, more often, commit a foul; his 14th-minute challenge on Nicolas Otamendi was a case in point and surprisingly didn’t result in a penalty.

Pogba’s greatest asset is his ability to stretch the game and instigate the devastating counter-attacks that proved so deadly at the Emirates, but Herrera is a destroyer rather than a creator and his limitations were highlighted time after time. City were able to dominate in midfield and maintain almost constant pressure.

For a team of United’s stature to be so reliant on one player being able to stretch the game is an indictment of their shortcomings. In January or next summer, Mourinho has to find a player who can add greater quality to the midfield in order to support Pogba and Matic.

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Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho

For the Manchester United fans who have not yet completely erased David Moyes from their collective memory, Newcastle United at home comes with a shiver.

“They are coming to Old Trafford and we are going to make it as hard for them as we possibly can,” Moyes said, in December 2013.

Make it hard. For Newcastle. At Old Trafford.

That, and the fact United lost the game 1-0, came, in part, to symbolise Moyes’ reign as manager. A perceived lack of belief and results that seemed to prove it.

Newcastle were the third team to win at Old Trafford during Moyes’ tenure after Everton and West Bromwich Albion. Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City, Liverpool and Manchester City would all do the same by the time he was sacked.

United under Jose Mourinho do not have the same problem.

Newcastle were beaten at Old Trafford on Saturday in the way they used to be. Comfortably and, despite scoring an early goal, with minimal fuss.

“Lads, it’s Newcastle,” Sir Alex Ferguson might have said.

It extended United’s unbeaten run at home to 38 games in all competitions — matching Ferguson’s best run between December 1998 and April 2000. The club record is 39 games unbeaten between 1964 and 1966.

Mourinho’s team have also won their first nine home games of the season — a post-war club record. Dwight Gayle’s opener for Newcastle was the first league goal United have conceded at home since April.

The belief is back and so are the results.

Of course, it means nothing to Mourinho and he said as much at his prematch news conference on Friday. He is not here to set records, he said, only to win trophies. If one follows the other, then great. But it is only really silverware that interests him.

Mourinho might not want to spend too much time talking about United’s home form, but it is not an accident. His career is built on winning home games. Particularly home games in the league.

Between February 2002 and April 2011, he did not lose one. The run spanned nine years, one month and 10 days, four clubs in four different countries, 150 games, 125 wins and 25 draws.

Since taking over at Porto in 2002, Mourinho has only ever lost nine league games at home — and four of those were during Chelsea’s disastrous run at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

Barcelona are still the only side to inflict a home defeat on a Mourinho team in the league during a season when they have gone on to win the title.

The team that beat Real Madrid 3-1 at the Bernabeu in December 2011 included Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa and was managed by Pep Guardiola.

It was Guardiola’s Manchester City that last won at Old Trafford more than a year ago.

They will be back on Dec. 10 for a game that could decide whether or not there will be a title race this season.

City have been in blistering form but, at home, Mourinho will fancy his chances.

“After playing so many away games recently, seven of our last 10, it is pleasing that five of our next eight matches will all be at Old Trafford,” he wrote in his programme notes ahead of Newcastle’s visit.

“This is a time when we can build momentum as we work towards our aims, and like I always say, we will always do better when you play with us, so if you get behind the boys, they can make some real progress over the coming weeks.”

Progress for United would be eating into City’s eight-point lead at the top of the table.

It is thanks to their home form that they are still in touch at all after losing two and drawing two of their last five Premier League away games.

Wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, CSKA Moscow and Manchester City in the next month would set a new club mark of 41 consecutive games unbeaten at home. But victory over City would be more significant than the other 40 put together.

The belief, the fear factor — whatever you want to call it — is back for the first time since Ferguson retired.

Meaningful title challenges also disappeared when Sir Alex left. Mourinho will hope that is about to change, too.