The hype surrounding the Manchester derby went into to overdrive in the lead up to Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off. The main focus was taken away from the players, it was the battle of the old enemies; Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola generally had the upper hand on his rival in the El Clasico and it was the same story in their clash in the Premier League. Guardiola 1-0 Mourinho.
Both managers had three wins from three going into the game, something had to give and it did. In truth, City gave United a football lesson in that first half. Guardiola refused to bring his full backs inside as Mourinho had expected and City were extremely dangerous out wide as United afforded them an ocean of space to attack. The away side easily kept possession with little pressure from the hosts and without the ball, they were aggressive in winning it back.
The tactics and team selection was wrong from Mourinho. It was a game plan of sitting deep and hitting the away side on the counter attack. That does not work for a Manchester United team at Old Trafford. The twenty time champions of England should have been pushing up on a very suspect City defence and goalkeeper. It was United’s backyard, they should have dictated the flow of that first half. Kevin De Bruyne’s goal was a clear result of a lack of pressure from the front by United and poor judgement by the normally astute Daley Blind.
Of course the players were poor on the day from defence to attack. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard had nightmares, they were rightly substituted at half-time. Pogba, Fellaini and Rooney were passengers throughout the game. It seemed that the occasion stifled some of the United players and that should never be the case. As good as City were, United just made it too easy. However, the home side were handed a lifeline after a mix up between John Stones and debutant Claudio Bravo allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to pull a goal back but despite a much improved second half performance, United could not find that equaliser.
While it is a disappointing defeat, it should not be damaging. Three wins out of four is still a solid return at this early stage and this could prove to be a valuable learning curve for Mourinho and his new look United team. The second half changes already showed this. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera made a huge difference in the second half. The switch to 4-3-3 also worked as United pushed up on City and started creating chances.
It was an enthralling second half that was wide open as the Red Devils chased the game, either side could have scored the crucial next goal but neither did. Guardiola’s side ultimately deserved the win but Claudio Bravo should have been sent off and a penalty awarded for that tackle on Wayne Rooney. As the self proclaimed Special One stated, it could have been a very different outcome if the correct call was made.
The positive impact of both Rashford and Herrera needs to be noted by Mourinho. They should be regular starters. While other more experienced players failed to make an impact, Rashford looked like he was playing in an U-18 match. The young star was a constant thorn in the City side as his pace and direct running gave them something to actually worry about apart from their own goalkeeper.
Herrera brought much more aggression to United in midfield and he led the charge when so-called stronger players like Pogba and Fellaini were anonymous. The Spaniard is an incredibly underrated player and it is an astonishing mystery why he has not been a regular fixture in the starting eleven for quite a while.
It is early days for Mourinho’s Manchester United career and he can use the derby defeat as a learning curve in which to grow and improve the team.