Blue moon now rising over Anfield

Manchester City's Leroy Sane, center, scores his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford. Picture: AP Photo/Jon Super

In a title race which has been billed as the heavy metal football of Liverpool against the melodious harmonies of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola’s side proved they can crank up the amps when they really need to - and the Etihad maestros must surely now be favourites to be crowned champions.

Make no mistake, City were tested to the very full at Old Trafford in a feisty, aggressive and competitive Manchester derby which forced Guardiola’s men to show the kind of characteristics they don’t normally have to channel.

But they answered every question thrown at them on a night which could prove pivotal in how the final table looks on May 12.

In the first-half, in particular, City, now back on top of that table, of course, were forced into errors by a fired-up United side, panicked into rash challenges and left thinking seriously about how they could break down a determined five-man defence.

But on a day when Liverpool fans had to sit and cheer their most hated rivals, the visitors showed the physical and mental strength of champions to survive the atmosphere, to gradually take control of the game and to prove the gulf in class between themselves and United.

Unlike Liverpool, too, they didn’t need to wait until the end of the match to make it happen. They took their time, yes, and they were patient too - but two goals early in the second half showed a ruthless streak that goes way beyond the beautiful melodies of their one-touch football.

The fact that City did it in the end without key midfielder Fernandinho, who went off injured, and without Kevin de Bruyne, makes the result all the more impressive. But it will be the character of his players, not just the performance, that may delight Guardiola the most.

For all their beautiful football, classy touches and talk that they may be the greatest Premier League team of all-time, City came into this match knowing that a title battle sometimes has to be exactly that.

The question was would they have the stomach for it? And it was a question they answered in the affirmative.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made sure the night would be about more than just free-flowing football with his Fergie-style pre-match quotes about City’s persistent foul rate, which angered Pep Guardiola so much.

It was the start of an aggressive approach from United designed to turn an already combustible Manchester derby into something even more difficult for City to cope with; a high-octane night of growling intensity.

If Liverpool fans had any fears that United wouldn’t have the confidence, belief or incentive for that kind of approach after losing 4-0 to Everton last weekend, they were soon proved wrong as Solskjaer’s men did everything in their power to make City feel uncomfortable.

It was only in the final 10 minutes of the first-half that City were even allowed to breathe and to start to gain some control of a football they have been used to owning for most of their games this season, and in particular during the previous 10 Premier League fixtures which had all been won.

When their most combative and competitive influence, Fernandinho, picked up an injury only five minutes into second half, the test of City’s mettle grew even more intense and Liverpool fans on sofas across Merseyside inched closer to their television sets.

The response, however, was wonderful.

City re-shaped with Leroy Sane on for Fernandinho and they scored within three minutes through Bernardo Silva - before Sane himself added a second.

Both were ruthless finishes, both summed up why Liverpool have a serious fight on their hands now if they are to regain top spot before the end of the season.

City’s next match is at Burnley on Saturday and in many ways this derby game proved to be the perfect preparation for a fixture that is also notoriously physical and feisty.

As for United, they proved what we probably already knew – that they are willing to play for their new manager but don’t, ultimately, have the quality in their ranks to compete with their noisy neighbours right now.

Thankfully for Solskjaer, Arsenal’s miserable defeat at Wolves means United’s top four hopes are still alive, especially with Chelsea arriving at Old Trafford next on Sunday.

But they have a long way to go if they want get anywhere near the all-round quality, shape and organisation of City’s wonderful side which has now shown, emphatically, it can marry the beautiful game with mental grit and determination.

It’s a powerful combination and one that, despite the powerful chords, won’t be music to the ears of Liverpool fans. They may have to admit, reluctantly, that despite the noise at Anfield, it is City who have the amps to be champs.

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