MANCHESTER —- Two new managers began reconstruction work in Manchester in July. City’s 2:1 victory over United at Old Trafford demonstrated that Jose Mourinho has to work still harder to make up ground lost already to his old nemesis, Pep Guardiola.
That conclusion from “the world’s most valuable football match” emerged from more than the outcome secured by goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho against what proved a consolation from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. City, with a 100pc record after four Premier games, totally dominated the first halfhour and should have put the game out of sight.
Even without the striking threat of suspended Sergio Aguero they displayed a mixture of cohesion, pace, teamwork and confidence which left United looking definitely second-best.
Yet it must also be acknowledged – to be fair to Mourinho – that the way they played the remainder of a losing game also demonstrated how far they have improved in a short time since the stultifying, nowhere-man days of Louis Van Gaal.
To this extent, Mourinho is having a more difficult task: he is having to undo Van Gaal’s legacy while imposing his own. Guardiola, at least, has made significant refinements and improvements to a City team long since committed to a positive style under predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.
The only ‘failing’ of Pellegrini was that he was not Guardiola. Indeed, it says much about the Chilean’s work that he spent his last two seasons knowing that his replacement by the Catalan was not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.
United’s midfield, including £89m world record buy Paul Pogba, was bypassed by City for most of the first half. But Guardiola’s gamble on throwing Claudio Bravo into the derby for an English debut proved questionable twice over.
First, it was after Bravo mishandled a cross – a staple diet for any Premier goalkeeper – that Ibrahimovic pounced for the goal which brought United back into the game. Then Bravo was extremely fortunate to escape the double concession of a penalty and red card when he tangled with the feet of United skipper Wayne Rooney in the second half.
Question marks arose also against Mourinho’s team selection, in particular the first start for Henrikh Mkhitaryan in an unsual role on the right wing. His replacement for the second half by Marcus Rashford was predictable but, again, possibly already too late.
Guardiola was defensive about his selection of Bravo and was relieved, in the end, to escape to victory. He said: “We are happy. I think the spectators enjoyed it because it was open until the end. First half we were better and in the second half it was difficult. We had counter attacks and we didn’t finish.
“But we showed a lot of heart. In the first half we won a lot of duels against a team which is physically stronger. In the second half, with all the long balls coming in, you just pray because it’s almost impossible to control that.”
Mourinho, who greeted his old rival before the game with a warm handshake and hug, blamed himself for defeat though he was not happy ith two contentious decisions by referee Mark Clattenburg.
He said: “In the first half they were much better than us. We started the game badly. Some players below their normal level in terms of concentration for a game of this speed and the team paid for it.
“I had two or three players in the first half that if the game was now and I knew what was going to happen, obviously I don’t play them. But this is football and sometimes players disappoint managers and sometimes they give us great surprises.
“Therefore it is my fault, I am the manager and it was my fault because it was my choice.”
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