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Manchester City Respond to Pressure in Style

Blues Thump Reds to Claim Derby Double

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Before the 187th Manchester Derby, much of the pre-match talk surrounded Jadon Sancho’s return to City and Liverpool’s 1-0 win over West Ham on Saturday, while most of the post-match chat surrounded United’s freefall from their previous lofty heights. With the Mersey reds just three points behind the blues, questions were asked if City could handle the pressure going into the match against United.

They were fair questions, given City’s difficulties in home derbies. The blues had lost four of the last five home matches against United and under Pep Guardiola, City had won just one home match against their city rivals. Derby days always have so much at stake, none more so than city bragging rights until the next encounter. But with Liverpool breathing down the blue necks, Sunday’s match against United came with an added amount of pressure.

But how City rose to the challenge. In fact, they played like a team that had a greater distance than the mere three points that separated them from second place and, in doing so, showed just how far United have fallen. For all the money the reds had spent on players like Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba and Sancho, they were nothing more than a shadow of the teams that used to take derby day in their stride, before walking from the field with three points.

The blues took less than five minutes to get onto the scoresheet when Kevin de Bruyne swept home Bernardo Silva’s pinpoint cross, after great link-up work between the Portugal star and Jack Grealish. Silva, surrounded by three United players, still managed to put in a great cross into the middle where the Belgian was waiting and, despite two reds and the keeper in front of him, sent the ball not the back of the goal. It was just the start that the watching neutrals, mainly those on the red half of Merseyside, didn’t want as they hoped for a favour from their most hated rivals.

Of course, City didn’t have it all their own way and United tried to hit City on the counter-attack, a move that came to fruition on 22 minutes when a rare lapse allowed United to pour forward. And how the media will no doubt have enjoyed the person who scored the goal as none other than Sancho.

The former City man, who was ruled out of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League quarter final tie last season, signed for United last summer but hasn’t lived up to the hype his transfer created. His goal, a curling effort from the edge of the area, sneaked in beyond the reach of Ederson and, although his celebration was half-muted, it served to demonstrate what the blues have been missing out on and why City should not have let him go.

But the reason why the blues allowed Sancho to move to Germany was down to the emerging talent that was Phil Foden, who has established himself so deeply into the first team that it’s a challenge to remember a time he wasn’t part of the City set-up. Foden has shown his brilliance on the ball many times this season, and it was his tenacity ad skill that brought about City’s, and de Bruyne’s, second goal.

Foden’s flick over the defender set him free on goal, and the youngster showed great composure to control the ball before hammering a right foot shot that was saved by de Gea. United then had chances to clear but failed to take them as Silva rifled in a shot that was deflected by the defender, but only onto Alex Telles, who made the perfect pass to de Bruyne to smash the ball home and put City back in front.

United were the architects of their own downfall as the goal came from the reds losing the ball in their own half, with Foden almost taking full advantage. The young midfielder won’t mind too much that he didn’t get on the scoresheet, but how Foden, a life-long blue, would have enjoyed scoring against the Stretford Rangers. The youngster had opportunities to increase the pain on United, as well as putting a bigger dent in Liverpool’s goal difference, which now stands at just one goal.

As for United, they had two chances to clear the ball, but instead decided to dally in their own penalty area and give de Bruyne chance to control the ball first before rifling home. It was in some ways reminiscent of City’s 5-1 win back in 1989, when City’s second goal went in with United unable to get a foot on the ball.

Even though City were superior in all departments to the reds, you can never disregard their ability to come back and haunt the blues. They have come from behind to win too many times to remember against the blues, so it was a welcome relief to the faithful that City came out of the blocks in the second half with all guns blazing.

Like a Boa Constrictor, City squeezed and stifled the midfield, limiting their attacks and, in doing so, any chance of escaping with a point. United had no shots at the City goal in the second half, while adding another couple themselves. And when the third came midway through the second period, it was one taken with sheer class that is defining City’s season.

De Bruyne’s corner looked to have evaded everyone, but in reality, the Belgian’s vision had picked out Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian was completely unmarked as he came running to the edge of the area to meet de Bruyne’s inch-perfect delivery, and he knew exactly where he was going to put it.

On the half-volley, Mahrez struck the ball sweetly through the huge gap that United’s defence had opened up, and the ball flew past de Gea into the bottom corner, leaving the United keeper furious that they would allow someone of Mahrez’ quality the time and space to deliver such a blow.

That was the final straw for United, who effectively gave up the match as a contest and concentrated on damage limitation. How would Ronaldo, out with a mysterious injury that even his own sister was questioning, have reacted to seeing the team swept aside in such a manner? The faithful’s only regret would have been that the reds top scorer was not on the pitch to hear the crowd cheer every pass with an ‘ole’ before breaking out into a Poznan celebration that reverberated around the ground.

At 3-1, City had done enough but it didn’t stop Joao Cancelo attempting an acrobatic scissor kick that de Gea palmed away. That would have been the icing on a very enjoyable blue cake that City had created in such a masterful way, but the topping to a magnificent display was still to arrive. And, as has been a trend in City matches, it needed VAR’s intervention once again.

Mahrez was set through on goal and his powerful shot missed the head of de Gea by centimetres, bouncing off the keeper’s neck and into the goal for 4-1. Initially, the goal had been ruled out for offside, and in fairness, Mahrez looked so far offside that he could have been standing at the gasometers a few hundred meters down the road. However, VAR had a look and decided that Maguire’s trailing leg had played the Algerian onside and the goal stood, giving the blues a 4-1 victory.

If the question before the match was ‘how will City handle the pressure?’ the answer was with a resounding victory that now throws the ball back into the hands of Liverpool. The Mersey reds face a trip to Brighton at the weekend, but then play their game in hand at a resurgent Arsenal, who replaced United in the final Champions League spot. Despite their early season woes, the Gunners have the third best home record in the league, behind City and Liverpool, so the question should not be can City handle the pressure, more a case of, can Liverpool?