After three-and-a-half years the Etihad Stadium finally witnessed a Manchester City win against Manchester United on Sunday, but the final result was not the only sign that the good times have returned.
Pep Guardiola’s side edged out a tightly-fought first half, during which Kevin de Bruyne scored either side of a Jadon Sancho equaliser, but after half-time City were back to their dominating best.
United simply could not cope with the Blues in the second period, so much so that they seemingly gave up trying to. Ralf Rangnick’s side particularly struggled to cope with City’s attacks down the left-hand-side; at one point in the second half, over 80% of City’s attacks were coming down that flank.
The left-wing has probably been City’s favored route of attack this season and on Sunday Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo showed just why.
The trio terrorized United all afternoon with their passing triangles and movements, each of them rotating positions and moving into seemingly non-existent space to tie United’s defenders into all sorts of knots.
Kevin de Bruyne’s early opener partly showed this, even if Cancelo stayed out of the attack. Grealish and Bernardo combined superbly, the former running off the wing to slip in the latter inside the left channel.
Bernardo occupied three defenders before crossing, leaving United woefully understaffed in the penalty area and De Bruyne completely unmarked.
They continued to run rings around their rival’s defense in the second half too, as Cancelo pushing up into midfield allowed the trio to get closer together and helped City to keep possession and control the game.
The constant worker-bee movement dragged the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof and Scott McTominay around like rag dolls, sending them into a state of confusion and panic.
On one occasion – although it did not result in a chance – Cancelo waltzed past the back-line after laying the ball to Bernardo, United’s defenders too scared to track him for fear of unintentionally opening up more space. It was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for them, such was the hopelessness of their cause.
Of course, attacking in triangles is nothing new, but it provided a nice throwback to one of City’s greatest derby day hits.
No one will ever forget the 6-1 at Old Trafford in October 2011, a result that sent shockwaves through the game and signaled a changing of the guard in Manchester.
City were awesome that day, and a big reason for that was their build-up play down the right-wing. David Silva, Micah Richards and James Milner formed passing triangles to start a number of different moves, one of which set up Mario Balotelli to tap home City’s second goal of the day.
In theory United’s three defenders should have been able to deal with City’s three attackers, yet the constant movement and intelligent passing confused them and allowed a huge gap to open up behind the left-back.
Silva was involved in triangles again in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, with Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko taking turns as the supporting cast.
Passing and moving aside, there was something else remarkable about the trio on Sunday. Cancelo has developed a knack of being first on the scene of a celebration whether or not he was involved in the goal, and against United he took things to the next level.
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When De Bruyne scored after four-and-a-half minutes he was fist-pumping in front of the home fans, and when his captain scored a second he let out a big “Vamossss!!” in the direction of the away supporters.
Claiming that certain players just ‘get it’ is treading dangerously close to footballing DNA guff – we’ll leave United to that – but it’s hard not to be reminded of the passion of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart when you see Cancelo going (inflatable) bananas on derby day.
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