Whatever you believe, this result has left City three wins away from the title, with only Burnley, Leicester and Brighton standing in their way.
Liverpool have fought so hard to keep up, but City have been unstoppable. There was thunder and lightning in Manchester yesterday and the goals kept raining down for Pep Guardiola’s side — 157 goals in all competitions a new record for an English top-flight club, beating their own previous best.
The unseasonably hot April spell ended with the arrival of a storm which swept through the city before the match. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United tenure. Old Trafford staff had to clean up spills and puddles on seats as water streamed through gaps in the old roof.
Around the same time as the pouring rain, United’s starting line-up was revealed by the Manchester Evening News on the Internet, three hours before kick-off. Leaks from the training field, leaks at the stadium: United are a club full of holes at the moment and seemingly no way of shoring them up.
Solskjaer had them training at The Cliff – United’s old training ground until they moved to Carrington in 2000 – early on the morning of the game, presumably to give the players a reminder of what life used to be like. While symbolic of their past, it is indicative of their recent present: a club seemingly always on the edge of the abyss, waiting to be blown over.
United’s recent decline and the domination of rivals Liverpool and City as the leading pair this season has left them in a peculiar place. There was much talk of distorted loyalties in the days building up to what were City’s last remaining Top Six opponents, knowing a 100 per cent record will see them to consecutive Premier League titles. Liverpool fans wanting United to win, or at least draw, to keep City second. United fans wanting United to lose in order to prevent Liverpool winning it.
If United fans were supposed to want their team to throw the game on purpose, then nobody had actually told the tens of thousands who filled Old Trafford. Thunder came from the stands as United started quicker than lightning. City were left dazed and confused, as though struck by it, early on.
Marcus Rashford went close three times: a looping effort from 30 yards, audacious but close; a difficult volley just wide; a run through on goal only denied by a clattering, fair, challenge by City goalkeeper Ederson.
But City were like the more skilled boxer, waiting for the inferior, enthusiastic opponent to tire. That tried-and-tested tactic to avoid an unexpected KO. They deflected and ducked, limited the damage then started to inflict their own.
A Raheem Sterling shot took a wicked deflection which almost caught De Gea out.
Then Bernardo Silva stung de Gea with a shot from inside United’s penalty area. It was an early warning for Luke Shaw, who he lost easily, and United’s keeper that would be mistakenly ignored in the second half.
On 54 minutes, City’s sensational attacking midfielder cut inside Shaw once more and shot so quickly that De Gea could not reach the ball as it tucked inside his near post. Was he to blame? If he escaped ultimate responsibility for the first, he was hugely culpable for the second, 66 minutes in. City broke with Sterling, who played substitute Leroy Sane, pictured, through. The winger’s shot was low and OK, but it was almost straight at De Gea, who went with his leg and the ball went in off it. Replays also came accompanied with a damning shot of United’s four defensive players in a vertical line chasing back – probably not one they learnt at The Cliff that morning.
In between the two goals was Lingard’s miss. The ball looped over Ederson and the desperate lunge of Vincent Kompany on the line and fell to Lingard at the back post, but the England midfielder swung his boot at nothing.
City’s fans started singing about United’s “wheels coming off” and that United’s fans had “seen the champions” and could return to London (that is the censored version, anyway). The city is ours, they sang, and they have a point.
The difference between these two rivals seems ever greater: one old and full of leaks, the other storming through football with no sign of abating.
Although every cloud, and all that, for United: at least Liverpool are unlikely to win the title now.