Manchester United will be going in search of their fifth win in their last six visits to the Etihad Stadium when they face Manchester City in the latest chapter of the Manchester derby on Sunday afternoon.
United, who will make the short hop across the city 19 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side in the table, have enjoyed plenty of success in their neighbours’ own backyard in recent years. This period of current success in the blue half of the city started in April 2018 when the Reds staged a stunning comeback.
Trailing 2-0 at half-time, meaning City were 45 minutes away from laying their hands on the Premier League title, United, inspired by a Jose Mourinho team talk, battled back to claim a stunning and unlikely 3-2 win. Second-half strikes from Paul Pogba, who scored twice, and Chris Smalling sealed all three points and the local bragging rights.
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Considering United were woeful in the first 45 minutes, suggestions of a fightback would have been laughed at outside of the away dressing room at the half-time interval. But not inside the walls of the dressing room, with Mourinho calling on his players to step up and not be the ‘clowns’ that would watch City lift their third Premier League title at the end of the game.
“At half-time there were a lot of us feeling sorry for ourselves,” Smalling told Sky Sports. “The first-half was terrible, we dropped off and didn’t play our game and City could have been out of sight.
“I have [Mourinho] didn’t have to say too much, he emphasized that we don’t want to be the clowns who stand there and see them with their trophy. We stepped up.
“When you make a mistake like that you want a chance to make up for it, you can see the relief in my face. You never see him hide and today you saw 11 players stand up.”
For Mourinho, who spent just over two years in charge at Old Trafford, it was a tactical rejig that made all the difference.
“The message was first of all my disappointment for a game that was under control for 25 minutes without any problem to concede the third goal in the season against Manchester City in a corner and then obviously we lost a bit of balance and City had the second goal and their best moment,” Mourinho admitted.
“I told my midfield players that they didn’t need to improve because they were playing very well even in the first-half. I think it’s very difficult to be a midfield player against Manchester City and Paul [Pogba]Ander [Herrera] and [Nemanja] Matic were playing really well but I need more from [Jesse] Lingard and Alexis [Sanchez]I need them to connect our good football in midfield and especially I need my defenders to be a little more confident.
“With just a little bit of pressure by City they were kicking the ball, they were nervous, they were not bringing the ball with quality to my midfielders, so I needed improvement in terms of the confidence and to also bring the line up, so we could press a little bit.
“And then it was about keeping confidence, sometimes you are losing and the instinct is to change immediately because you don’t like anything, I didn’t have that feeling.
“And obviously the first goal is very important and after that the game was our game, they had obviously the reaction after 3-2, it’s normal, but mentally the game was our game. So I’m really pleased for the players and the three points are very important because now we need six to finish top four and now we have a good chance to finish second.”
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