A big win in the title race, and yet no big deal for Manchester City. They brushed Manchester United aside with a 4-1 win that could have been so much worse. The greatest indication of the Premier League’s most successful club – a stat that increasingly feels like it’s from a bygone era – is that this was probably the easiest game of City’s recent run.
It may even restore a sense of momentum and confidence to Pep Guardiola’s side just as they seemed to be lacking slightly in the title race with Liverpool, but then it never felt like there was any doubt they would beat their once-great rivals here. That is what this derby has become for them, in markedly quick time.
It was evidently a monstrous task for United, though, all the more so when you consider the wider context. This was Ralf Rangnick’s first game against a fellow “big six” club, and the team’s first since the start of December.
Despite that long three months without such a fixture, the period has seen them definitively fall out of the top four. All initiative is with Arsenal. United barely have any conviction, or coherence.
Long before the end, Guardiola’s team were trying pot-shots and ambitious volleys, simply because they could.
It was remarkable to think that these are two clubs with similar financial capacities, and wage bills.
City’s economic power is of course down to their 2008 Abu Dhabi takeover, and it would be wrong not to mention the wider significance of that as their players and opponents came together like all other Premier League clubs to offer a statement of solidarity with Ukrainian people.
Such heartfelt emotion from everyone in the stadium was undercut by all the advertisements for Abu Dhabi and Dubai around it. They form the two most powerful emirates in the United Arab Emirates, a state currently waging a war in Yemen.
The moment’s solidarity made that all the most important to consider, especially as everyone is at pains to point out just how unimportant football at a time like this.
It just shows how, by contrast, the sport has become so enmeshed in geopolitics due to its greed.
As those relatively unimportant matters regards the pitch, United are one of the few clubs who can’t really plead about a financial gap to City. There were still times when it looked like there was a chasm. That was usually when yet another chasm appeared in their defence.
It was remarkable to think Rangnick’s starting back four cost a collective £175m. They weren’t so much less than the sum of their parts, as not really any kind of cohesive unit at all.
The opening goal was – to be blunt – a fiasco. It was as if their defenders just didn’t know where to go or to look.
As three defenders went towards Bernardo, Harry Maguire gestured that someone should pick up De Bruyne, but no one seemed to know who that someone should be. The Belgian was left to pick his spot from him, putting it through Maguire’s legs for good measure.
It was worse for the second goal, in all respects. Maguire again let the ball through his legs but this time it was from his own goalkeeper’s parry as he struggled to find his feet from him, making it all look that bit more hapless as De Bruyne was again left to just fire in. The centre-half’s stumble almost symbolized United just finally giving away as City pummeled them with shots in another lightning move.
There should have been some frustration to that for United beyond their own failings, because there were hints of more.
One was that divine Jadon Sancho goal. Superb as it was in its own right, it was also precisely the sort of counter-attacking move that has so served United in this fixture over the last few years.
The otherwise exposed Aaron Wan-Bissaka won the ball with some tenacity, before Paul Pogba moved it on with such grace.
The midfielder’s exquisitely curved ball was so inviting but Sancho still had more to do. He surged onto it, checked himself, then showed admirable poise by waiting and picking his spot from him.
It’s just that an ideologue like Rangnick was never going to go as deep as that, and it’s arguable whether this United still have the conviction for such an approach.
Something is badly broken in this squad.
City could have smashed them together if they so wanted.
It almost sums it up that all the goals were so blockable, but United didn’t have the fortitude for that. For City’s sweeping third, Riyad Mahrez just opted to send a corner back towards the corner of David De Gea’s goal first-time.
For the fourth, Mahrez was left free to just thrash the ball home, kept onside by a flailing Alex Telles leg.
It is possible that moment could be key in the title race, as it could well come down to goal difference again.
On the other hand, and summing up just how easy this was, it is eminently possible City might regret not scoring more here when they could easily have done so.
And that’s despite it being 4-1. It says it all that such a thrashing of their biggest rivals no longer feels such a big thing for City. They now have far greater goals, amid far greater considerations for the sport.