Three things we learned from the Manchester Derby

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MANCHESTER — The Manchester Derby delivered drama in wintry conditions and it also underlined that this is Manchester City’s Premier League title to lose.

[ MORE: Mourinho calls City “lucky” ]

City beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford at a snowy Old Trafford on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola‘s men setting a new Premier League record for the most consecutive wins in a single season with 14 victories on the spin.

Guardiola leads Mourinho all-time with eight wins, seven draws and just four defeats from their 19 encounters, as United suffered their first defeat at home in 41 games in all competitions.

[ MORE: Pep delighted with derby win ]

This was also the first time they’d lost at home in the Premier League in 24 games, since they lost to Man City (who else!?) last September.

Here’s what we learned from an intense encounter in the Manchester Derby.


CONTRASTING STYLES CLEARER THAN EVER

“Park the bus, park the bus Man United! Playing football the Mourinho way!” sang the Manchester City fans from the away end at Old Trafford.

United did just that with two holding midfielders and long balls up to Romelu Lukaku, while City turned on the style and dominated possession and the tempo of the game.

United will point to Paul Pogba‘s absence through suspension as the main reason for their midfield failing to stake any claim whatsoever on the game, but the gulf in class between the teams during the run of play was incredibly vast. Just as we expected.

The 3-1 win at Arsenal last weekend somewhat papered over the cracks for United who lacked the dynamism in the final third they showed last Saturday, with Lukaku isolated up top without Pogba’s supporting runs.

As for City, their juggernaut continues. Guardiola’s men are the champions elect with a record 14 Premier League wins on the spin and they show no signs of slowing down. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva may not have been at their fluid best, but they threatened to unlock a stubborn United defense on multiple occasions with Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane constant pests.

To add to their imperious form they’re taking the league by storm with style as “ole’s” rang out from the away end on multiple occasions. In the end, City eased by United in what is likely to be their toughest test of the season. That says it all.


CENTER BACK STILL AN ISSUE FOR CITY

John Stones‘ star is rising further as he sits on the sidelines.

The Man City and England center back pulled his hamstring in the victory at Leicester City last month and in his absence Nicolas Otamendi has stepped in admirably with Vincent Kompany also back full fit.

That said, Otamendi and Kompany had played against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham with City conceding in each of their last five games and Eliaquim Mangala also looking off the pace as he stepped in at times.

On Sunday a mistake from Otamendi — he was caught out of position on a long ball from Marcos Rojo and couldn’t head clear — led to Fabian Delph mis-controlling and Rashford making it 1-1 right on half time. Kompany came off at half time with Fernandinho slotting into central defense, and then Mangala came on after City went 2-1 up.

Otamendi made amends for his first half mistake with an acrobatic finish to put City 2-1 up, but it’s at the other end where City will see their biggest challenges in continuing their incredible winning run.

It’s hard to pick holes in a team which is 11 points clear atop the table but Guardiola must know he’s at least one center back away from having a truly great team. He has one in Stones, for sure, and may need to acquire another one in January if they’re going to sweep all before them not only in England but in Europe too.


LOW-POINT FOR LUKAKU

Romelu Lukaku had an absolute shocker in Manchester United’s biggest game of the season and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s shadow is looming larger than ever over the Belgian striker.

When United needed Lukaku most, especially with no Pogba, their big money summer signing faltered.

Lukaku was largely at fault for both of City’s goals as the ball hit him from a corner for the first and David Silva hooked home, then he made an absolute mess of a routine clearance from a free kick which led to Otamendi scoring the winner.

He looked short of confidence when he was set free in attack and although he had no support, the $100 million man was well off the pace and didn’t try to drop deep to get into the game. Lukaku has scored just twice in his last 13 appearances for United and just once in his last eight outings in the Premier League. It showed.

Twice in the second half he was set free but he hammered the ball over on the first break and then dribbled into a defender on his second break. On both occasions moan and groans were loud from the home fans at Old Trafford and to put the icing on the cake he was denied an equalizer late on from inside the six-yard box as Ederson saved superbly when Lukaku should’ve scored.

Zlatan, who came on to partner Lukaku late on against City, will now surely get a run in the team over the busy festive period. If the veteran striker delivers goals, how can Mourinho leave him out of the team? After a red-hot start to life at United, Lukaku has pretty much hit rock bottom.

Right now he’s not a threat in attack and he cost his team dear defensively in the derby.

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”