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Opinion Piece: Football Prevails
Our Premier League scribe gives his thoughts on this past weekend's Manchester Derby.
So what have we learned from Saturday’s heavyweight Mancunian clash? The much-awaited renewal of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and arch-nemesis Jose Mourinho delivered its fair share of intrigue. Perhaps what’s most striking about it was how utterly predictable it was. Guardiola’s side monopolized possession, at times enjoying an embarrassing hold on the game. United looked to counter as often as possible, with Zlatan desperately trying to protect possession and create some continuity going forward. Ultimately, however, justice was done and the team intent on actually playing football prevailed.
The absence of Aguero was perhaps the primary subplot going into this encounter. His absence was barely noticed as City’s midfield completely dominated United.
Marouane Fellaini - he of the errant elbows and dubious hair - really epitomizes the ideological differences between Pep and Jose. He quite frankly would never play in a Guardiola side. He lacks the creativity and is essentially an agent of chaos. His primary role is to break down the rhythm of the game. Fernandinho, on the other hand, brings rather more eloquence to the holding role, liberally spraying defence-splitting passes whilst not forgoing his defensive duties. It’s a perfect distillation of the difference between the football idealist- Pep- and the arch-pragmatist, Jose.
Allow me to momentarily abandon journalistic objectivity. I’m glad that City prevailed. Imagine if you will, that United held on desperately in the first half and managed to sneak a last-gasp winner through Ibrahimovic. Mourinho would have been praised as some kind of tactical wizard, proving there is more than one way to skin a cat, etc. Guardiola’s adherence to a fluid footballing aesthetic would have been deemed antiquated and tired. When in reality, Manchester City are just a far superior football side at present. That being said, this City side is far from the finished article. Claudio Bravo’s floundering display hardly inspired confidence. City fans will be hoping that the Chilean is able to establish himself and command his area with more conviction. Joe Hart’s ignominious departure could start to look a touch premature.
Raheem Sterling. What to say? Seemingly rejuvenated under Guardiola, the diminutive winger was virtually anonymous on Saturday. Something about the big occasion seems to bring out all of that skittish uncertainty in his play. He was fortunate that Mkhitaryan had such a shocker: his ineffectiveness was allowed to ninja past while the Armenian struggled to make simple passes stick. The more I watch him, the more I’m certain that Sterling is your veritable flat-track bully, unable to influence big games with any consistency. Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus are going to put huge pressure on Sterling as the season evolves.
Kevin De Bruyne produced a master-class in attacking midfield play. I actually feel a bit sorry for Wayne Rooney. Well, as sorry as one can possibly feel for a ludicrously successful sportsman. He was trying his best to galvanize his troops. I feel as if Mourinho hasn’t successfully delineated his role in the side. He says that he sees him as a nine or ten, but the evidence from the weekend would suggest that Mr Rooney hasn’t got the memo. His natural inclination to drop deeper and orchestrate proceedings ironically impinges on the cohesion of the side. Zlatan was cast adrift in limbo on countless occasions, desperately utilizing his unique skill-sets to just keep possession.
Paul Pogba looks to also be somewhat confused in his role. He seems to be consistently debating whether to advance or remain on patrol. He did look dangerous on his brief positive forays, perhaps giving Mourinho something to ponder. I mean, you just made the guy the world’s most expensive player. It seems slightly strange - and oh so Jose - to try and clip his wings. Daley Blind was exposed as a makeshift centre-half while Ander Herrera literally ghosted through the game.
With all the rigmarole surrounding Pep and Jose, it really turned out to be your traditional derby. It was an error-strewn match between two sides yet to fully realise their potential. City, however, seem to be much closer to the Promised Land. Mourinho’s anti-football approach to the big games is only justifiable when he wins. What I saw on Saturday was one team being totally dominant in footballing terms. United were fortunate that City weren’t ruthless on Saturday. As hard as it is to envisage Pep taking delight in anything, I’m sure that he must have got some satisfaction from the events of the weekend. Pep 1- Jose 0.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets