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.