MANCHESTER — Manchester City beat Manchester 2-1 to win the Manchester Derby. Pep Guardiola beat Jose Mourinho in the tactical battle to win their first Manchester derby against each other.
As the old adage goes: “It was a game of two halves” and that much was true in the hotly-anticipated clash on Saturday at Old Trafford.
City oozed class and offensive intelligence in the first half, winning the ball back high up the pitch and demolishing United’s confidence as Mourinho’s side barely got out of their own half until they were handed a gift of a goal via Claudio Bravo‘s howler and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s brilliance.
Before that, though, Kevin De Bruyne latched onto a long ball and finished coolly, then Kelechi Iheanacho slotted home after De Bruyne’s shot came back off the post. At 2-0 it looked game over, and it should’ve been.
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Guardiola’s side flew out of the traps and Mourinho’s side — which looked disjointed after he chose to start both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard out wide but then realized his mistake and hooked them both off at half time — couldn’t deal with the fluid movement of the excellent De Bruyne as United’s midfield lost the ball time and time again with Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney guilty caught in possession.
De Bruyne kept dropping deeper and grabbing the ball off Fellaini, the disappointing Paul Pogba or Rooney and then it was all systems go. Raheem Sterling on one wing. Nolito on the other and the impressive Iheanacho through the middle. It was a slick offensive performance in the first half and if City went in at half time 4-0 up, United and Mourinho couldn’t have complained.
Speaking to the BBC after the game, Guardiola praised the mixture of style and grit of his team with contrasting performances across both halves.
“First half we were better – in the second half it was difficult. We had counter attacks and we didn’t finish. We were not brilliant in that moment in the last part of the pitch. But we go to one of the best stadiums in the world and win the game,” Guardiola said. “These guys have a heart – in the first half we won a lot of duels against a team physically stronger. In the second half, the long balls, you just pray because it’s almost impossible to control that.”
The reason they controlled the aerial threat of United in the second half was because Guardiola chose to take off Iheanacho early and bring on Fernando to shore up midfield. He switched things to counter Mourinho’s direct tactics and Fernando helped plugged the gaps. It worked a treat. Sitting deep and defending is not something you expect from a Guardiola side but he showed he is capable of adapting to a new challenge.
To me, that shows he is already learning from his short time in England so far.
Guardiola mentioned that his side have suffered in the second half of games so far in the Premier League and that is clear to see. When teams play more direct and by-pass City’s midfield because they are too good in that area, they are susceptible.
The Spanish coach also admitted he knows better than most how to plan to play against a team managed by Mourinho.
“This is not the first time I’ve played against Mourinho’s teams and I know how difficult it is when you lose the ball in the positions it is so dangerous. I received many goals from Mourinho’s teams to counter attacks. Because his teams are very good in that part of the game. In the first half we controlled it and concede one or two counter attacks, no more. That is really good. We defended the set pieces because they are stronger and taller than us and we defended really, really good.”
Mourinho, on the other hand, straight up said that he wasn’t beaten in a tactical battle as he and Pep made multiple changes in personnel and tactics throughout the 90 minutes to try and outwit each other.
“I think the thing they did in previous matches of bringing the full backs inside for the building up, they didn’t [do that],” Mourinho said. “They respected our capacity to attack through the wings. I think they thought about Valencia, Luke Shaw, they thought about our wingers. They didn’t do that. They brought Stones into that space a few times. We didn’t have a tactical problem. We had a problems with poor performances. We lost the ball very, very easily.”
Whether those errors were due to United’s poor play or City’s clever pressing can be debated but there’s no getting over the fact that this was a huge psychological hurdle maneuvered expertly early in the season by Guardiola against one of City’s main rivals for the titles, and their crosstown foe.
The Mourinho-Guardiola rivalry rumbles on for now, but with a warm embrace before and after the game Guardiola hopes their rivalry will be forgotten the next time they met and the focus will be on the fascinating tactical battle on the pitch.
“I don’t know if he respects me but I told you that I respect him a lot,” Guardiola said. “What happened happened. We are adults. He is a father and I am a father. I didn’t come here to see about the rivalry or something like that. He wants to win. I want to win. He beat me, I beat him. In the future I am going to beat him, in the future he is going to beat me. It is simple like that. We are adult people when we see each other. Sometimes we don’t agree with his opinion or my opinion but it is part of the game. I try to be focused in my players, that’s all. Hopefully next time we play against United in the cup or the league, people start to forget about asking about our relationship.”
Friends, foe, or neither, Guardiola’s team got the better of Mourinho on Saturday and the much lauded Spaniard showed not only his quality as a coach but his ability to adapt to new surroundings and still thrive.