As you were ladies and gentlemen. Manchester City re-establish hegemony in Manchester and England, returning to the top of the Premier League. Manchester United continue to improve, responding more faithfully to the demands of the blood red shirt, but remain a league apart, or expressed in numbers, a dozen points adrift of their imperious rivals after as many games.
For 12 coruscating minutes at the start this was a derby of one team and another dimension. United managed only six completed passes in this period. Mind you, it is awfully difficult to see in a blizzard.
There is little for which United need reproach themselves. We are witness here to arguably the greatest club side England has seen. It needs only the embroidery of the Champions League to rubber stamp City’s status, and who out there is so obviously better than Pep Guardiola’s epic creation?
Overall this wasn’t their most compelling display. Credit United for that. They fought with intelligence and heart to gain a foothold early in the second half. Yet the two-goal advantage with which City signed off was ultimately routine.
In the absence of the injured Paul Pogba, Jose Mourinho defaulted easily to Marouane Fellaini, an instinct he might even have had to wrestle had both been fit. Pogba emerged from the tunnel beforehand to commune with his team-mates, for all the good it did in those torrid opening minutes.
Bernardo Silva had the first strike at goal before United had had a kick, the move a product of the familiar City carousel. Fernandinho was next in the slot after United had been sliced wide open a second time. David Silva, who else, was the can-opener-in-chief, his ball to pick out Raheem Sterling in the sixth minute exquisitely weighted.
It was almost a relief to the visitors when the ball hit the back of David De Gea’s net. Like a fighter taking a count after a knockdown, United at least had the chance to draw breath. The goal went to Silva D, smashed in off De Gea’s arm with 12 minutes gone after Silva B squared a whipped cross from Raheem Sterling.
This was the dream outcome for City and their fans. The start had been an adrenalin fest even by this team’s standards, an erotic spasm of the footballing kind and not surprisingly the frenzy cost them. The intensity dropped enough to allow United to grow into the game. Though they didn’t work Ederson nearly enough in goal, they popped the ball about PlayStation sharp, denying City enough of it to suggest the derby might yet have meaningful tension in it. Mourinho was as good as his word, configuring his team to get forward at pace, with Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial all prominent in wrestling the initiative from City. We even saw De Gea rolling the ball out under pressure, an utterly alien feature in previous iterations of his team.
United went to the break only one down, a triumph after the shellacking at the start. The early exchanges of the second half would deliver their own justice, Sergio Aguero gorging on an unforced error like only he can. Exchanging a one-two with Riyad Mahrez, he thumped the ball past De Gea with unseemly violence.
United needed to add weight to possession in the final third, and Romelu Lukaku was summoned from the bench. Just 30 seconds later the Belgium international won a penalty as he went through on goal and was taken down by goalkeeper Ederson. Anthony Martial accepted the responsibility of scoring from the spot.
On came Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata in pursuit of the comeback United have made their signature in recent weeks. It was suddenly like old times, and like many a ding-dong all those years ago it was City who held sway, Gundogan making this emphatically their day with three minutes to go.