David Silva inspired City to a convincing derby win against Manchester United, allowing the blue half of Manchester to climb back atop the Premier League table.
City got off to an ideal start, as David Silva pounced on Bernardo Silva’s cutback to send his side into the lead with just 12 minutes played. Manchester United did well to make it to halftime without further damage, but three minutes into the second half Sergio Aguero blasted one past David de Gea from a tight angle to double the lead.
United pulled one back after Anthony Martial converted a penalty won by substitute Romelu Lukaku. Jose Mourinho’s side fought gamely, but Man City were always a step ahead, sealing the win through a late goal from their own substitute, Ilkay Gundogan.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Imperious City are favourites for the title
This particular derby was for more than just bragging rights. After Liverpool’s win against Fulham earlier in the day, City needed to beat United to reassert themselves atop the Premier League. They have picked up where they left off last year, and are currently on pace to beat their points and goals total from the record-breaking season.
With this win, they reaffirmed their status as favourites for the title, and it is hard to see who can stop them. Liverpool are their closest challengers but have not been in the free-flowing form that they showed before the Champions League final. Arsenal and Chelsea are adjusting to new management and are not quite the finished product yet. Spurs are up for a fight, but limited in their depth, while United’s title hopes are already over.
Nemanja Matic is a fading force
One of United’s biggest keys last season, Nemanja Matic has been hopelessly poor this season. On Sunday, he was bypassed time and time again by City’s passing sequences, with Marouane Fellaini being the more disruptive presence.
Most criminally, he stood completely still Gundogan controlled the ball and shot past de Gea to seal the game from only a couple of yards out. The Serbian midfielder is still an excellent reader of the game, but looks to be a fading force. Perhaps Andreas Pereira, the talented young Brazilian, deserves another chance to prove himself in the side.
Old hands still hold the key for City
Not to say that City’s massive investment in players over recent seasons has not made a difference, but it is telling that their two biggest players in the derby were Sergio Aguero and David Silva, two men that have been around since the first title win.
It is a testament to the strong recruitment policy that City have had over the years, and indicative of two players who are already City legends. Silva’s artistry has only gotten better with age, as he continues to pick the perfect pass, and pop up in every pocket of space between midfield and defence.
Aguero’s rocket of a finish past de Gea showed that he is not slowing down, despite his silver-fox hairstyle, and is now tied with Sir Bobby Charlton on eleven derby goals. As long as these two are still firing, City will continue to thrive.
Mourinho’s tactics invited pressure
Without Paul Pogba, who picked up a knock against Juventus and failed a late fitness test, Mourinho had to make a change in midfield. His starting three of Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic was exceedingly defensive, even for Mourinho.
With Pogba’s absence, there was no forward impetus from midfield that could have been provided by starting Juan Mata or Fred, possibly allowing Fellaini to come off the bench and influence the game the way he had against Juventus. All of this led to a constant onslaught from City, with United forced to clear their lines and hope that Rashford, Lingard or Martial could chase down a long ball to the corner.
It played into Guardiola’s hands, and by the time Mourinho changed up his system, it was too late and United were already two goals down.
Will United be able to qualify for the Champions League?
With this loss, United fall seven points behind fourth-placed Spurs, and it is looking like an uphill battle for them to make up that gap. The top three seem fairly comfortable, so assuming that Liverpool, Chelsea and City qualify for the Champions League, United are left battling it out with Spurs and Arsenal for the last spot.
Of the three sides, United have the most talented squad, but still look the most directionless. There is now little room for error, as United need to claw back some of the deficit before the hectic Christmas fixture list. The odds are slowly stacking against Mourinho’s men, and they need to start saving their season.