Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2
Despite displaying two of the qualities they will require to become Premier League champions again — one half of top quality and another of resilience — Manchester City are not yet ready to compete with Europe’s top clubs, according to their manager Pep Guardiola.
City maintained their 100% start to the season and, particularly in the first half, produced the sort of slick, passing football with which their new manager has for so long been associated.
Guardiola was generally pleased with the way his men played over that 45 minutes as they assumed a 2-0 lead through Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho before Claudio Brava gifted Zlatan Ibrahimovic a reply.
But ahead of tomorrow night’s Champions League opener with Borussia Monchengladbach, the Spaniard warned his new side remains very much a work in progress.
“Until now, in the Premier League it has been okay — but to compete against the best clubs in Europe, in this moment with the way we are playing, we are not able to.
“We have played, not all of the games, but part of most of the games at a high level, and of course we have to continue. If you ask me whether we are ready to compete in Europe, we are not ready. We create, but in front we need more.
“But, it is just two months together, so we have time to get better.”
Jose Mourinho welcomed Guardiola to Old Trafford with a warm embrace to show the world their bitter feud was over, but at times in that first period, he must have felt humiliated by the ease with which the visitors played around a United side that looked leggy and ineffective, with the world’s most expensive player Paul Pogba anonymous in midfield.
In a blistering opening 40-minute masterclass, City were just too quick and too clever, with United players always a stride behind their opponents.
Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva drifted between the lines opening up United, while Fernandinho buzzed around Pogba denying him space.
United improved in the second half and Mourinho felt the final scoreline didn’t reflect the reality of the match as they chased an equaliser five minutes into injury time. The new United boss was correct — his side should have been dead and buried by half-time.
Guardiola said: “The first half was good — our build-up was correct, patient, and we attacked in the right moments.
“But we have had a little bit of a problem in the last few games with the last pass — we make the movements, but the last pass... especially in the second half when Manchester United pushed a lot.
“There was the chance to make counter attacks, and we had many. But, except for one or two from Kevin (De Bruyne, who hit the post in the second half), we didn’t finish.
“It happened similarly against Stoke and West Ham — when the game is open, which is typical here in England, if you don’t finish those actions you are going to suffer until the end. Today we were lucky — maybe one day we will not be lucky.
Mourinho accepted his side were caught in the headlights and felt second half sub Marcus Rashford showed up the mentality of some of his players. “I think some of the boys felt the dimension of the game,” he said.
“Everything around the game — the derby, the big game, Man United, Man City, the focus, the attention. Some of the guys, they felt it.
“But it had nothing to do with inexperience or age because we have the kid Rashford in the second half and the kid looked like he was playing in the under-18s against Salford City.
“It’s about the individual and how everyone reacts to the dimension of the occasion in different ways. It’s difficult to predict.”
Rashford and Ander Herrera were introduced in the second half with the young English striker in particular making a difference on the left wing with his fearless style and his displays making it harder and harder for Mourinho to leave him out of his starting line-up.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Rashford’s talent is so great that the forward will in time “take over everything” and pledged to help the teenager reach his peak. “First of all, he’s 18, he’s still young,” he said. “He has a lot of time. I think the way you have to approach a player like that, where everyone is talking about the talent and what he’s able to do and what kind of potential he has, is to remember he still has a lot of time.
“It’s not like he needs to take over the world today, the club knows that, the coach knows that and the team knows that. We know his quality and what he’s able to do. What the world is seeing now, we already know because we see it every day.
“There is no need to rush to push him and put him in the heat zone and put a lot of pressure on him because that can have the opposite effect.”
His manager was busy distracting from the humbling reality of this one-sided affair. It was only United’s first setback of the season and may not have a major influence on the title race. But the style and quality of City’s win felt like a major psychological statement. Advantage Pep.
MAN UTD: De Gea 6, Valencia 6, Bailly 5, Blind 5, Shaw 6 (Martial 81), Pogba 6, Fellaini 6, Lingard 5 (Rashford 45, 7), Mkhitaryan 5 (Herrera 45, 6), Rooney 6, Ibrahimovic 7. Subs not used: Romero, Mata, Smalling, Schneiderlin.
MAN CITY: Bravo 4, Sagna 6, Otamendi 7, Stones 7, Kolarov 7, Fernandinho 9, Silva 9, Sterling 6 (Sane 60, 6), De Bruyne 9 (Zabaleta 90), Nolito 7, Iheanacho 6 (Fernando 53, 7). Subs not used: Caballero, Navas, Clichy, Gacia.
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