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.