Manchester City set up their Sunday afternoon thrashing of Manchester United in the least Pep Guardiola way possible.
The 50th Premier League Manchester derby ended 4-1 to City, braces from Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez securing the bragging rights and restoring City’s six-point lead at the top of the table.
However, contrary to what the score-line suggests it was far from one-way traffic. Well, until a brilliant and hilarious final 20 minutes.
The first half played out like the last 30 minutes of a cup tie, each side landing blows on each-other’s goal with neither asserting control in the middle of the pitch. It was chaotic, it was breathless – a neutral’s dream. It was probably not what Pep Guardiola wanted to see.
Guardiola’s decision to start Jack Grealish on the left wing ahead of Raheem Sterling and to push Bernardo Silva back into a number eight midfield role suggested that City would look to control proceedings through keeping the ball and passing United into surrender.
The inclusion of the dynamic De Bruyne over the more controlled Ilkay Gundogan seemed to contradict this, but with Bernardo, Grealish, Phil Foden and Rodri all on the field, City should have had enough to dictate things.
That is not how things played out though.
De Bruyne put City into an early lead when he coolly finished off a fluid team move, but straight away United began to make their presence felt.
Time and time again Ralf Rangnick’s side hit City on the counter, with Anthony Elanga and Jadon Sancho marauding up and down the wings and Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba operating as an unlikely front two.
United’s equaliser came through one such counter; Sancho broke down the left, Rodri showed him onto his preferred right foot and the former City academy man curled past Ederson.
From that point on it became clear that chaos was going to reign, a nightmare scenario for Guardiola in big games. The City boss has previously admitted that his team are not good at coping with or playing through transitions, yet that is exactly how De Bruyne scored his and City’s second.
Foden broke into the box after outrageously lifting the ball over Victor Lindelof’s head, and a De Gea save and a block later, De Bruyne smashed home.
In some ways the first half was similar to City’s 1-0 defeat of Chelsea in January. That was a game of transitions, one you would have expected Chelsea to come out on top in, yet City scored the winner through a counter-attack of their own.
Just like you, we can’t get enough of Manchester City! That’s why we’ve decided to supplement our expansive City coverage on the Manchester Evening News with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to City fans – City Is Ours.
Writers and presenters who share your passion for the blue side of Manchester will be producing written, visual and audio content to reflect the mood in the stands as well as the press box.
After half-time City looked more controlled, United unable to get the ball off them and exploit the space in front of City’s back four.
Mahrez scored City’s third after the Blues had squandered a handful of opportunities, a delightful volley from a De Bruyne corner reminiscent of an Arjen Robben strike for Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in 2010.
After that United didn’t have a sniff, City dragging them side-to-side and front to back. Like they did in November, Guardiola’s side toyed with their neighbours, Mahrez adding another in injury-time to add salt to United’s wounds. But it could have been different
Thankfully City weathered that early storm and got back to doing what they do best. Perhaps Guardiola should give his side more credit for how they play in transition – it turned out alright on derby day.
How do you think City played against United? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.