There seems no point mocking those who made fateful half-time predictions about the state of Manchester United, nor those who put those predictions into documented words hastily deleting them. For we all passed comment, out loud or otherwise. We watched Manchester City dismantle their city rivals in the first half, and we understandably used it as overwhelming evidence of United’s decline. How could we not?
This victory proves nothing about Manchester United’s capability to win or even challenge for the league title next season.
But we can conclude definitively that Jose Mourinho still retains the respect of his players, and that those players are motivated to play for him. One of the most impressive aspects of United’s comeback is that it was not provoked by half-time substitutions or change in formation, but by a team presumably having the riot act read to it and responding to their manager’s words.
In no player was that more true than Paul Pogba, whose relationship with Mourinho and Manchester United future have regularly been called into question. Even if the accusation that Pogba was playing for the individual rather than team in the first half is accurate, his second-half display demonstrate the level he is capable of. It’s also the level he must aspire to on a weekly basis.
It would be a crying shame — for the neutral at least — if the lasting legacy of City’s magnificent Premier League campaign was undone by a late dip in form. But Pep Guardiola will know that it is a danger. He is a coach used to elite club management, where defeats linger far longer in the memory than victories.
The truth is that Manchester City should have beaten their neighbours and thus lifted the trophy on Saturday. The finishing of Raheem Sterling and incompetence of referee Martin Atkinson stopped them leading by at least four goals at half-time, and there could have been no Mourinho redemption story from that point.
And yet results like these stick, particularly coming off the back of the comprehensive midweek defeat to Liverpool. If, as is likely, City are eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday, Guardiola faces a battle to give this season a happy ending heading into the summer.
If the changes made by Jurgen Klopp for the Merseyside derby gave a number of Liverpool players the chance to impress their manager, the manager would have been forgiven for drawing a red line through three or four names.
The most obvious conclusion is that any injury to a member of Klopp’s front three leaves him short of options.
This is not an attempt to lambast Dominic Solanke or Danny Ings. The former is a young player learning his trade and the latter a striker who has battled enough injury misfortune for an entire career by the age of 25. But the top of the Premier League is no place for sentiment, and managers do not have the luxury of making every player feel valuable to the cause. Neither Solanke nor Ings are fit for Liverpool’s purpose. Their style does not fit Liverpool’s (Klopp could be heard screaming at them to press), and nor does their ability match the club’s ambitions.
Yet Liverpool have a tough task in recruiting a new forward. It is not easy to find a player good enough to fit into their brilliant front three if one of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane are absent, but who is also happy to spend significant time on the bench. Perhaps Klopp must consider rotating his front line more next season. That creates its own difficulties.
If the decision to sack Mark Hughes came long after anybody held hope of him addressing the situation he had created, that left Stoke City close to panic mode.
They could no longer trust the safe option, partly because those managers typically take time to turn things around and partly because they had all already been taken.
Yet rather than take a risk when risk was needed, Stoke somehow took a risk by playing too safe, without that being oxymoronic. There was little in Paul Lambert’s recent managerial history which suggested that he could transform the mood in a dressing room over a short period of time, and that has been entirely reflected in their results.
You can hardly blame Lambert for taking this job. He was not first choice but nor could he ever have expected to be. But quite why Stoke only created a shortlist of potential managers who had Premier League experience, even when it would leave an alarmingly shallow pool, is unclear. It reveals a lack of imagination that is in complete contrast to Swansea City’s appointment of Carlos Carvalhal, and it might well take Stoke back into the Football League.
“We are all frustrated as it feels like a defeat,” said on-loan Ruben Loftus-Cheek after the draw at Bournemouth. “Two quality goals, but unfortunately another late one against us.
“It could be a lack of concentration from the boys which we need to get right.” A late loss against Tottenham. A late loss against Manchester United.
A late loss against Liverpool. A late draw against Bournemouth. Loftus-Cheek has identified Palace’s problem. Solving it with only one month of the season remaining might be far more complex.