Three more wins.
That’s all Manchester City needs to guarantee a second-straight Premier League title under Pep Guardiola following a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United on Wednesday at Old Trafford.
[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-2 Man City ]
How did City get there? A gritty first half stepped aside for a clear gulf in class.
That pregame fouling banter was more than a subplot
On Tuesday, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed that City is a kicking foul machine to limit counter attacks and Pep Guardiola responded by, and I’m paraphrasing, “We aren’t, but let’s talk after the game, bruh.”
Well, City snapped into those tackles with a little more vigor on Wednesday, willing to take yellow cards in exchange for some angry staredowns with United and its bench.
Sometimes the Manchester Derby doesn’t get the true derby vibe because neither side is known for snapping into the other with tackles, but Vincent Kompany‘s NHL-style open-ice hit to earn a first half yellow served notice that the physical play wasn’t going away.
Gundogan steps up at both ends, helps Bernardo open scoring
German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was not at his best when City fell to Spurs in the UEFA Champions League, but he was versatile and vigorous on Wednesday at Old Trafford.
Neither David De Gea nor Luke Shaw covered themselves in glory on Bernardo Silva‘s opener, but Gundogan cued it up with a tougher-than-it-looks pass to the right side of the 18.
And with key piece Fernandinho on the bench with injury, Gundogan put forth a strong performance as a combination holding/defensive midfielder.
Zinchenko as Pep’s safer Sane
Follow me here: Twenty-two year old Oleksandr Zinchenko is not the elite-level threat presented by an in-form Leroy Sane, but he doesn’t have to be when Pep Guardiola wants to play it a little safe.
Sane attacking from the left was the key to Guardiola’s 2017-18 masterpiece, but the winger has been a less important piece given the MVP-level season of Raheem Sterling.
A capable center midfielder turned left back, what Zinchenko gives Guardiola is a relentless engine up-and-down the left who can dribble to start plays and pass as well as most on the pitch.
Just look at the matches when Zinchenko has not been available to Guardiola and witness the struggles at left back. The Ukrainian was linked with a move away from the Etihad before the season, but it seems more likely he’ll be choice A for Pep moving forward.
Pogba not enough, Rashford still stuck in rut
Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are remarkable talents, but neither delivered on Wednesday relative to ability.
Pogba hit a delightful pass that could’ve been an assist if Jesse Lingard has his legs correct, and also won a few tasty free kicks, but was not the world-class talent we’ve seen so many times.
And Rashford will be a fine forward in the Premier League for a long time, but was again not the consistent force we’ve seen Romelu Lukaku be more often. Rashford has to get that experience to get there, but this was a big spot for him and he was not able to deliver the goods.
— Raheem Sterling’s assist on the Leroy Sane insurance goal is a perfect illustration of how much he’s grown as a player. He saw the pass before we saw it on television, and still waiting that extra moment to give Sane time and the perfect weight. He’s my Player of the Year if City wins the title (Otherwise, Virgil Van Dijk).
— Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a good tactical move out of halftime to harry Man City in possession near the halfway line, but never found an answer to the introduction of Sane and Gundogan’s more than capable answer to Fernandinho’s injury.
— Jesse Lingard could’ve scored a handful of goals but his technical skills didn’t reward his utility and intelligence. He’ll sleep poorly tonight.