City Found Wanting in Face Of United Onslaught
Manchester City will win the Premier League, that’s as certain as it gets, but on Saturday they passed up the chance to do it in the most emphatic of ways, at home to their neighbours Manchester United.
That they did not do it will eat away at Pep Guardiola and his squad, as they were so superior to United for the opening 45 minutes it was embarrassing for Red Devils fans.
United legend Gary Neville, in his role as co-commentator for Sky Sports, suggested that he might not return for the second half. You get the impression he was only half joking after seeing City cut the Red Devils to ribbons.
How they were only two goals to the good only Raheem Sterling will know. With City leading 2-0 courtesy of goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan, Sterling was twice set clear and on both occasions he fluffed his lines – firing over the bar. On both occasions, Guardiola let out cries of anguish. The Spaniard all too aware of the need to kill off a wounded foe.
United were wounded, hurting and there for the taking. City did not finish them off and whatever Red Devils manager Jose Mourinho said to his players at half-time, he should bottle and sell it as those words are priceless.
The worst possible scenario for Mourinho would have been to watch on as City were handed the Premier League title. Confirmation that his great managerial rival Pep Guardiola had his number.
Mourinho did not have to go through that as his side produced a stirring comeback, one that harked back to great Manchester United attacking displays of the past.
United were set up to be strong defensively in the first half, supposedly tough to break down. City, the best in the business at breaking down opponents, found them easy pickings. In the second half, with nothing to lose, Mourinho threw caution to the wind and released the shackles.
The transformation was sensational. Paul Pogba went from a player on the fringe of the game, a Ferrari stuck in neutral, to an all-action wrecking machine. Aided in attack by Alexis Sanchez, who had suffered his fair share of criticism since his January move from Arsenal, they exposed City’s vulnerabilities.
Pressing hard and forcing mistakes, Pogba helped himself to two goals inside two minutes at the start of the second half.
City’s swagger disappeared and it came as no surprise when Chris Smalling grabbed what proved to be the winner half an hour from time. There seemed an inevitability that Mourinho’s side who complete the most unlikely of comebacks.
For City, it put a seal on what was a bad week following their loss to Liverpool in the Champions League.
They will regroup and go on to take the title, but they no longer have an air of invincibility about them and it will be up to Guardiola to kick on again.
For Mourinho, it was confirmation that he can still deliver. What is still unknown is whether he will continue to give Pogba and Alexis the freedom to attack, or revert back to his pragmatic roots.
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