Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho renewed their hostilities at Old Trafford, but the action on the pitch proved more intriguing
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side came out on top in the Manchester derby on Saturday in the biggest game of the season to date in the Premier League.
Manchester City were in control for the opening half hour in a match that began at an incredible pace, as Jose Mourinho's men looked to be caught somewhat off guard by the speed and intensity of the pressing and passing from their neighbours.
City created a number of chances by getting wide and whipping the ball low into the box in those early exchanges, and while the defensive pairing of Eric Bailly and Daley Blind managed to deal with it to start, the warning signs were there.
However, the move that produced Manchester City's first goal started with the ball at the feet of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who passed it out to Aleksander Kolarov near the corner flag. His long punt found the head of Kelechi Iheanacho, and with Blind caught on his heels, Kevin De Bruyne snapped into steal the ball and stroke it into the bottom corner past David de Gea, who was left asking questions as to where his entire defence had gone.
That wasn't the only time in the half that the new Spanish number one would be asking that very question, as Iheanacho and De Bruyne swapped roles to double their side's advantage a short while later.
De Bruyne's curling shot from the right hand side once again caught the rest of the Manchester United defence napping, as it struck the post and bounced out to a completely unmarked Iheanacho, who tapped home and looked straight over at the linesman. When he saw no flag, he ran off in celebration with his arms aloft.
At that point, it was beginning to look a bit like the game between the two managers in 2011 which saw Mourinho embarrassed 5-0 at the Camp Nou, as Guardiola's side looked for incisive passes from the middle to the flanks that would give Sterling and Nolito space to run into.
Image: Martin Rickett / PA Wire/Press Association Images
Despite their dominance, Manchester City did not add a third, and the next goal came for United a few minutes before the break, to breathe life into Mourinho's side.
A cross from a Wayne Rooney free-kick proved too troublesome for the Manchester City defence, as Claudio Bravo came to claim only to be bumped by John Stones. It may have been a case of miscommunication, or simply a taste of the way that teams will target the goalkeeper (one of the smallest to ever play in the Premier League) with high balls into the area in the coming weeks and months, but Zlatan reacted in an instant to volley into the net.
With things finely poised at the half-time break, Mourinho decided that he neede to take action, substituting off Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard for Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera.
The second half produced more yellow cards than it did chances at goal, as Mourinho's changes did more to stem the tide of Manchester City's attack than it did to create many opportunities for his own side.
Rashford was the bright spark that fans at Old Trafford wanted to see; his electric pace and eye for goal did indeed find the back of the net, but the ball had clipped Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was in an offside position, meaning that it was ruled out.
With the clock ticking over the 80 minute mark, the Portuguese also introduced Anthony Martial to try and find the goal that would level things, and that served to ratchet up the pressure on the visitors and their defence in the closing stages.
Wayne Rooney came close, but a last minute challenge knicked the ball away from him. Ibrahimovic had a good chance but pulled a late volley wide of the mark in added time, while another effort from outside the box was blocked down for a corner.
Image: Mike Egerton / EMPICS Sport
De Bruyne's influence on the game was clear, in particular after Guardiola had to take off Iheanacho with what appeared to be an injury. Another stunning performance from Eric Bailly at the back marshaled him as best as could be hoped, but the movement and passing and movement from the front three was too much to deal with in the opening stages. De Bruyne struck the post in the second half again, and came close to creating other clear scoring opportunities for himself to boot.
By contrast, Manchester United's record signing Paul Pogba was conspicuous largely by his absence and inability to influence the play. City were working their way through midfield with ease, and further up towards the attacking third, the creative burden fell on Rooney and later, Rashford.
City proved adept at slowing the game down and controlling the ball when they needed to, and with Sergio Aguero still to return to improve an already dangerous front line, Guardiola's team showed the signs that they are adapting to his style of play well, even if Claudio Bravo looked less than certain when put under pressure.
Despite all the talk of story lines, narrative, sub-text and whatever other term you want to use for it, the game itself almost lived up to the hype. The pace was breathless, the tactical battle was crucial and there was enough physicality from both sides to suggest that the remaining chapters yet to be added to this storied rivalry later this season, will be just as intriguing as the first.