Calamitous set-piece defending from Man United allowed Man City to score through David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, either side of a Marcus Rashford goal.
Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the league to 11 points with a hard-fought win at Old Trafford. Silva opened the scoring for the citizens after United failed to clear a corner, before Rashford capitalised on a mistake by Fabian Delph to equalise on the stroke of half-time.
Early in the second-half, Romelu Lukaku fluffed a clearance from a free-kick, presenting Otamendi with a chance to restore City’s lead. City were also indebted to Ederson for a stunning double save near the end of regulation time, allowing them to walk away with the win.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Does that seal the title?
Technically, no. Teams with bigger leads have collapsed, such as Newcastle in 1996 (12 points ahead in January). However, this City side have been imperious, and their 14th win in succession has put them firmly in the driver’s seat. They have tied the record for the most consecutive league wins, and have only dropped two points all season.
It is hard to see any team in the league posing a credible threat to them. Guardiola has built a high-class winning machine, and it will take an unbelievable swing of fortunes from this point on for City to lose out on the title. The league may already have been won, and it is not even Christmas yet.
When the whistle blew for full time, Lukaku’s body language told the story of the game. Shoulders slumped, eyes on the ground, the Belgian looked spent. He had an atrocious game, at fault defensively for both City goals, combined with his late chance at the other end of the field.
For Silva’s goal, Lukaku failed to anticipate the ball missing his team-mates in front of him, resulting in a weak deflection back towards his own net. The second one was even worse. A City free-kick was met with an ugly swipe, hit low and hard into the crowd of players in front of the net. The ball ricocheted to Otamendi, who gleefully did the honours.
This could still have been excused if Lukaku had taken his chance at the other end. Anthony Martial put the ball on a plate, and from six yards, Lukaku whacked the ball straight at Ederson’s face. The keeper did extremely well, particularly to block Juan Mata’s follow-up, but the finish was that of a striker who is without form or confidence. Perhaps it is time for Ibrahimovic to start some games.
Pogba’s absence was felt
As expected, Paul Pogba’s suspension came back to haunt United. Mourinho named an attacking trident in Martial, Rashford and Jesse Lingard, but there was no cohesion between attack and defence, particularly in the first-half. Ander Herrera was ineffective in this scenario, and the big Frenchman’s confidence and athleticism were sorely missed. City ran the game in midfield through Fernandino, de Bruyne and Gundogan, which Pogba could have helped counter. United were left ruing his challenge on Hector Bellerin last weekend
City show grit to complement their flair
For large stretches of the game, City did not play particularly well. They had the lion’s share of possession, but David de Gea was not worked too hard. Both their goals came through defensive errors by United, but what shone through in this game was the grit and work-rate that runs through the lineup.
Each player in Guardiola’s team worked hard, pressing United’s backline, limiting their time on the ball and forcing turnovers in possession. This led to constant pressure on United, and the eventual, game-changing mistakes. Towards the end of the game, City managed the clock extremely well, with de Bruyne in particular holding the ball up by the corner flag for an absurd amount of time. This is a team with a plan, with steel and flair in equal measure. The rest of the league cannot keep up.
There is still a glimmer of defensive frailty
In spite of the win, there was a glimpse of frailty in City’s defence. For the fourth game in a row, they conceded a goal from a cross. In this case, Otamendi misjudged the cross, Fabian Delph miscontrolled the ball, and Rashford took advantage. In the end, it fell to a combination of Ederson’s fantastic reactions and Lukaku’s poor finishing to save the win for City. It is not much, but the rest of the league will take what they can get.
Whatever remote hopes there are for the chasing pack, they will be built on these defensive slip-ups. If Guardiola can manage to coach these out of the team, it is hard to see how they will be beaten.