Our buddy Nick Patches is back! Today he talks about how Pep Guardiola worked hard to make Manchester City beat Manchester United and establish his dominance over Jose Mourinho.
Special 1, Guardiola 2. The final scoreline from Sunday's Manchester Derby is probably more flattering for United than an accurate reflection of the way the match unfolded. The first 40 minutes were absolutely dominated by City, with Pep's side showing their slick passing and possession-based game. After securing a 2-0 lead, City appeared to relax slightly and allowed United to get back into the game right on the stroke of halftime following a gaffe from debutant Claudio Bravo.
What unfolded in the second half was a different, yet similar impressive Manchester City display of class and skill, this time in their own half of the field and on the break. So, in a game that was being hyped up as the biggest in the world, how did Pep manage to completely school Mourinho in their first encounter in the Premier League? Well let's start with preparation and the starting XI selection.
Pep Guardiola has been called obsessive about winning, and even as a fan it was obvious how prepared City were for this game. According to Manchester Evening News, Guardiola worked 12-hour days planning and plotting every scenario and situation to make sure his side were successful yesterday. This is something City fans are most certainly not used to, but definitely appreciate about the Catalan. In between figuring out the United squad and how they might play, Pep had his own decisions to make, and this created problems for Mourinho.
Had Sergio Agüero been able to play, it would have been much easier for Jose to assume City's lineup. Without the Argentine however, there were plenty of options and only Pep really knew what he was going to do. Obviously a like-for-like swap inserting Kelechi Iheanacho was the most likely, but still was just one of many different potential lineups and formations that must have been running through Mourinho's mind.
Once the game began City lined up in their normal 4-1-4-1 and when in position dropped into more of a back three including Fernandinho, however the full-backs continued to stay wide. Over the first five games under Pep we've seen Zabaleta, Kolarov, Clichy, and Sagna resemble central midfielders rather than full-backs. But against a more narrow United formation on Saturday, Pep opted to keep his full-backs wide and use Kolarov's excellent cross-field passes to Sterling as a way to open United up.
Next we come to Kevin De Bruyne, the man of the match. Him and David Silva had very clear instructions of how Pep wanted them to work and exploit United's defense. Silva's job was to find the space behind Rooney (of which there was plenty) and in front of Pogba and Fellaini. Once Silva picked up the ball, De Bruyne was in behind Fellaini and Pogba and was excellent in running the channels in between Bailley and Blind, which we saw on the first goal.
Finally, what might have been the most important tactical move of the game, once the second half began United started to pressure for an equalizer, Pep immediately pulled off his only striker for Fernando to offer more defensive resolve. Myself, like many supporters, at the time saw this as an incredibly negative move and an attempt to shut up shop for the over 40 minutes remaining. But in his non-hesitation, Pep showed this was clearly what was meant to happen by his design. If City had a lead in the second half and pressure began, Fernando for Kelechi was going to be his change and the players on the field knew what they needed to do now. Fernandhino moved further forward and De Bruyne played as the False Nine. Every player continued to press hard and work and City probably should have scored another on the break, but in the end 3 points is still 3 points whether the score was 2-1 or 6-1.
Mourinho will point to the "controversial" referee decisions and his own mistakes in playing Lingard and Mkhitaryan, but in reality he was simply outclassed by Pep. It's worth adding that Pep can plan 24 hours a day but the players still have to go out and execute, and on Sunday they did. The talent on this squad is up there with the best in the world (making last year all the more disappointing), and with Pep at the helm, this team finally looks ready to kick on. Consider Sunday's statement of intent, and if the performance didn't scare the rest of the Premier League, maybe this picture of Warrior Otamendi will!