Pep Guardiola emerged victorious from his first Manchester Derby in some fashion. City dominated the first half and stood tall when United (literally) piled on the pressure in the second.
Here’s what I learnt today:
Pep is in a different league to his peers
After the first half, I wanted to say that Pep had transcended all of his managerial rivals, that he had left his Mourinho’s and Ancelotti’s and reached an upper echelon inhabited by Brian Clough, Ferguson or Johan Cryuff. I guess that would’ve been a little overstated. United fought their way back and Pep surprisingly decided to close up shop by lobbing Fernando and then Pablo Zabaleta on. Mourinho’s little nod to himself at the final whistle was indicative of how pleased he was to have nearly grabbed a draw.
All eyes were on who would start up front and for all of Pep’s hints that Sané or Sterling could play there, Pep did the obvious- or least obvious thing by replacing his first choice striker…with his second choice striker. And Kelechi appeared to catch Mourinho off-guard and consequently his players too. It looked like they were expecting a roaming false 9 so they drowned out the space behind them. This is in turn gave De Bruyne and Silva license to wreak havoc in front of the midfield and boy did they do that. City utterly embarrassed United in that first half and United didn’t deserve anything, let alone a fumbled catch from a debutant keeper. Guardiola had played an absolute masterclass on Jose Mourinho.
Claudio Bravo treads water
Claudio Bravo’s debut was frantic (well for us, not him) to say the very least. He dropped a clanger – well two clangers. He then nearly got himself sent off dribbling in his own box. Pep’s suggestion that he had played one of the best performances he’d ever seen looked silly out of context but Pep was drawing testament to Bravo’s personality and his belief in himself to continue playing the same way he’d been asked to.
And that’s exactly why Bravo has been brought in. To help in the ‘build-up’ and create passing options at the back. Pep emphasised in his post-match interview that City had played brilliantly that first half because of Claudio Bravo, because his build-up was so good. I think it’s important to remember that these unique keepers are worth their weight in gold because they give the team so much in possession. Because when your keeper can sweep and pass intelligently you can evade opposition pressing or skip a passing phase or two because your goalkeeper has already won the ball high up and laid it off to Nolito on the opposite side of the pitch.
While fumbling crosses are unacceptable, you’re going to get nervy moments like these. It’s part of the package. Bravo skinning players in his own box, passing across his box and – one thing we didn’t see much today – long-range attempts from opposition midfielders. This is the small price to pay for the benefits you do get from a player like Bravo. You can only hope that as he settles in, they just won’t become as frequent.
City’s defence comes of age
Such is typical of Jose Mourinho, that when he does struggles to go toe to toe with an opponent, he reverts back to ugly, physical, route one football. He tried to go toe-to-toe with Pep once. That 5-0 whopping he received in his first El Clasico remains permanently scarred into his memory. Never would he try again.
So when Pep clawed off Mkhitaryan and Lingard at half-time, he had only one intention in mind and Pep knew it. To push Fellaini and Pogba forward to try and swarm City’s relatively short team in the air.
And it nearly worked. Manchester United were absolutely relentless with their long balls in the second half, forcing City into desperate defending and hoping any knock-downs would fall their way. But City stood strong. Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov and Sagna were all sensational, throwing their bodies on the line time and time again. This wasn’t what Pep had hoped for when he joined City but I’m sure he was expecting it sooner rather than later; especially against his adversary Mourinho.
Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are an unstoppable duo
Coming into the season, a few people wondered whether Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva could really co-exist together. They were both number tens who were about to be managed by a fella who never played formations built around number tens. So it was surprising to see Pep decide that the best way keep both of them in his side was to just play…two number tens in his team.
They were both sensational today, combining brilliantly and taking turns running off the back of Fellaini to create chances. And it wasn’t just their guile and slick passing that was impressive either. They ran around like animals, putting in tackles all over the pitch and even winning headers. If City are going to achieve anything this season then you can bet these this magic duo will be at the heart of it all.