TEAMtalk reflects on a thrilling derby between Man Utd and Man City, with Jose Mourinho and Claudio Bravo both thrust under the spotlight.
Mourinho’s mistakes cost United
Mourinho surprised many with the inclusion of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard. The manager said pre-match that he hoped his two wide men might give City’s full-backs a problem inside. The plan failed miserably. Lingard looked way off the pace on his return from injury, while Mkhitaryan looked utterly bemused at the role he was given.
City’s opener was a perfect illustration of the Armenian’s confusion. City retrieved a loose ball by their corner flag, with Aleksandar Kolarov giving it to Bravo and receiving it back. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had pressed the goalkeeper but, as they did during the entire first half, United were hunting alone rather than in packs. Despite Wayne Roooney’s instruction to press, Mkhitaryan looked to the bench for confirmation, by which time, Kolarov had time to pick a long pass – not a hoof, as it would have been under pressure – which Kelechi Iheanacho flicked into Kevin De Bruyne’s path.
Things got no better for Mkhitaryan, who was lucky to make it to half-time before being hooked.
Marouane Fellaini could have joined Mkhitaryan in the showers but Mourinho kept faith with the big Belgian, who was kept on a lead which David Silva and De Bruyne tossed between him. We wrote last week that Fellaini was facing a very different test in the derby to the ones he passed that were posed by Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull. It was easy to sit at the base of United’s midfield in their opening three fixtures, but City’s shape put Fellaini in direct opposition to two of Europe’s finest schemers. The clumsy Belgian simply does not have the mobility or intelligence to stop De Bruyne or Silva, who enjoyed the freedom of Old Trafford for the first 45 minutes. Paul Pogba’s desire to drive forward will often leave his partner exposed and Fellaini cannot cope when isolated against top-class opposition.
1 – Jose Mourinho has won just one of his last 10 meetings with Pep Guardiola (D4 L5). Pepped.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2016
Mourinho went some way to rectifying his mistakes at half-time, with Marcus Rashford replacing Mkhitaryan and Ander Herrera sent on for Lingard. The Red Devils were lucky to still be in a position where it could have made a difference to the outcome.
Herrera was everywhere, giving Fellaini the assistance he so desperately needed, while Rashford offered the threat Mourinho wanted. United pressed high and pressed together, forcing Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones to put out their cigars roll their sleeves up. Unfortunately for the manager, it was too little too late after a wretched first 40 minutes.
Bravo’s baptism of fire
City had played almost the perfect half, before Bravo dropped the ball in his box and his team in mire. Guardiola showed supreme confidence in Joe Hart’s replacement to offer him a debut in a derby away from home, despite barely having trained with his new side, and Bravo’s unfamiliarity with his team-mates and environment certainly showed.
Perhaps he was too eager to make a point. Much has been made of the fact that the Chilean is employed because of his ball-playing ability and questions were asked of his suitability to cope with the more traditional goalkeeping tasks, especially as the division’s joint-shortest stopper.
There was no need whatsoever for Bravo to come for Rooney’s hoisted delivery. Such was the flight and speed of the ball, it would have been almost impossible for anyone, even Zlatan, to find the net from that distance. But Bravo chose to come, though he did not signal his intention until it was too late. The keeper’s shout left Stones no time to hold his position and block off any red shirt looking to get his No.1.
Bravo had 15 minutes to retain his composure at half-time, but he was still rattled as United began chasing the game. Worryingly for City, his hands were no longer the problem. United set about every ball, and their pressure as a unit led Bravo to dwell on the ball before nudging it too close to Rooney. The keeper launched into head-on lunge, which took both Rooney and the ball. It is very hard to argue that, had the challenge taken place anywhere else on the pitch, the offender would not have been punished.
More dwelling led Rooney to get his own back in the final 10 minutes, and though his shaky start did not cost City the derby bragging rights, Bravo’s display will offer opponents some encouragement that there is a simple way to crack Guardiola’s unit.
Derby ding-dong lives up to hype
Despite all the sub-plots around the Manchester meeting, there was a concern that, so early in the season, both managers would be content to take a point and get on with the job of moulding their new teams. That fear was thankfully unfounded, with United and City slugging out one of the best derbies in years.
Judging from his team selection, Mourinho was certainly the manager most concerned with losing. Guardiola showed confidence in his side as they went out to attack United as they have Sunderland, Stoke and West Ham already and his courage was rewarded with one of the most impressive City displays for a long time. United couldn’t lay a glove on their neighbours before Bravo had a problem with his own mitts five minutes before the break.
What a game! City deserved their win. Plenty to go at on MNF!!
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) September 10, 2016
Mourinho rectified his errors at half-time and we were treated to an end-to-end slugfest in the second half. City were forced to adapt to United’s reshuffle, with Guardiola being quick to get Fernando off the bench, and both sides enjoyed alternating periods of pressure. By the time 90 minutes ticked over, there were bodies strewn over the pitch, with the likes of Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Fernandinho and De Bruyne all limping into the final whistle. After their first-half dominance and stubbornness after the break, City deserved the points. United will be encouraged by their improvement and a reality check after their opening three wins may serve them well in the long run.