MANCHESTER: A master class from captain Kevin de Bruyne led Manchester City to a decisive 4-1 derby victory which kept them six points clear of Liverpool in the Premier League title race.

Ralf Rangnick’s United suffered only the second defeat of his reign but can have had no complaints. They had a 10-minute spell of dominance in the first half but, for the rest of the game, were outplayed by a far superior team.

De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez scored two goals each to crown a performance which was perfect preparation for the Champions League return against Sporting on Wednesday.

United’s failure meant that they dropped out of the top four after being overtaken by Arsenal. Their immediate attempt to regain lost ground is awkward: United are home to unpredictable Tottenham on Saturday.

City had won only three of the previous 17 derbies and had not won at home to United since 2018. However they claimed a seasonal double after winning 2-0 at Old Trafford in November and made amends for the 3-2 defeat by Tottenham in their previous home game.

Perfect start

They launched the 187th derby with serious purpose and enjoyed a perfect start by opening the scoring after five minutes. De Bruyne pounced for his 50th league goal after Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva turned the left flank of the United defence inside out.

United had lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation without Cristiano Ronaldo and with Bruno Fernandes as their own false No9. The extra strength in midfield when out of possession helped them force a way back into the match. They duly equalised with a fine individual goal from old City graduate Jadon Sancho after 22 minutes.

That was the effective end of United as a force in the game.

City regained the lead through De Bruyne six minutes later. United gave away possession in their own half, shots from Foden and Silva were blocked before the Belgian made no mistake for his ninth goal of the season.

The leaders had identified Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the weak point of the United defence and they continued to press him in the second half. Foden and Mahrez were both foiled in pursuit of a third City goal and a De Bruyne fee kick was well held by keeper David de Gea.

Mahrez gained his eventual reward in the 69th minute. De Bruyne provided the cross from the left and the Algerian struck his 20th goal of the season in all competitions with the help of a deflection off Harry Maguire’s leg.

Manager Pep Guardiola decided he could now afford to given De Bruyne a rest. The change emphasised City’s squad depth with Ilkay Gudongan coming off the substitutes’ bench.

Mahrez wrapped up the victory two minutes from time with a fourth City goal which reflected the true balance of the match.

Liverpool edge it

On Saturday Liverpool had maintained the pressure on City with an important 1:0 victory over West Ham. But it was far from simple. Manager Jurgen Klopp admitted that his team had needed to “dig deep” to secure their 600th victory in the Premier League.

Sadio Mane scored the winning goal after 27 minutes but Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini missed good chances to score what would have been a deserved equaliser.

Klopp said: “To win 12 games in a row you cannot win only when you are flying. Obviously, we were not flying. We had to dig really deep and the boys did that. To get something out of this season it is necessary that we keep on going. There is no time to rest.”

In the closing stages Klopp celebrated winning tackle by Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konaté and Naby Keita as if it were a cup final. He said: “All of these situations were for me like scoring a goal. You can’t celebrate like you would a goal but it still feels exactly the same for me.”