It was a breathless, exhilarating way to start the new era of Mancunian rivalry and, at the final whistle, Pep Guardiola could be seen pumping his fists. His team had held out and Claudio Bravo, his new goalkeeper, had been spared after a debut that must have had Manchester City’s supporters longing for Joe Hart’s presence in goal.
The first olés could be heard after only 34 minutes from the corner of Old Trafford splashed in blue. A few moments later, Kelechi Iheanacho doubled City’s lead and at that stage it was difficult to remember a more one-sided derby since Roberto Mancini’s team scored six here, Mario Balotelli unveiled his “Why Always Me?” T-shirt and Sir Alex Ferguson was driven away in a state of shock.
Unfortunately for City, it was not too long afterwards that Bravo’s first attempt to catch the ball led to Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring and from that point onwards the away team’s superiority had to be balanced by José Mourinho’s men knowing the opposition were relying on an accident-prone goalkeeper.
United were convinced they should have had a penalty in the second half, with Bravo implicated again, and Marcus Rashford’s introduction at half-time immediately gave them a greater threat in attack. They gave everything in their search for an equaliser and, if nothing else, contributed richly to a thrilling contest.
Yet they had also come against a side that moving the ball around with a rare combination of speed, fluidity and intelligence. David Silva, such a brilliantly measured footballer, chose a good day to put in one of his outstanding performances.
Nolito menaced on the left and Kevin De Bruyne, scorer of City’s first goal, added his own refined touches. If United occasionally looked slow in thought and movement, it was because their opponents passed the ball so stylishly. Sergio Agüero was suspended but, attacking-wise, it was Guardiola’s team that operated with the more penetrative edge and there were plenty of times in a breathless second half when they could have added more goals on the counterattack.
The irony is that when the opening goal arrived, after 15 minutes, it had its origins in a good old-fashioned whack upfield. Aleksandar Kolarov was close to his own corner flag when he cleared the ball 60 yards, Kelechi Iheanacho applied the first touch and De Bruyne expertly did the rest, showing quicker anticipation than Daley Blind, steadying himself and firing a precise shot into the bottom corner. The long ball, the flick-on and the goal – not exactly classic Guardiola but, for City, a thing of beauty, nonetheless.
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