It was three and easy for Manchester City yesterday as Moaning Maureen’s mid-table cannon fodder presented itself at the Etihad Stadium.
We were told, after a stuffy win against Bournemouth and, perhaps a more creditable and stuffier win away to Juventus that FC United of Stretford had seen the return of their “old swagger”. What we witnessed yesterday was a collection of rabbits caught in the sky-blue headlights. A side frightened to death by a scintillating football team that has not created a gap but a chasm between the meagre offerings of what was once a monolithic club which is now floundering in the shallow waters, and themselves, the emerged new force in the Premier League.
The red lights were flashing in the reds defence as soon as the first minute when they were carved open only to find Bernardo’s shot a little off target, but it would not be long before City had the scoreboard rolling.
Mendy’s far post cross found Bernardo busting a gut to get there ahead of Luke Shaw, once one of the division’s best fullbacks, but now more resemblant of Ricky Hatton between bouts. The Portuguese genius clipped it back across goal and found David, who had enough time to send the United defence in all directions before slotting it past De Gea.
The only disappointment was that City never really went for the jugular in the minutes that ensues. The Stretford were in disarray all over the field. Whatever visions they had of being able to bully the two Silvas through the feet and arms of Missing Matic, Flop Fellaini or Hard Luck Herrera clearly misfired as both of them tore United’s midfield apart, prompted by the simply brilliant Fernandinho. There is no other footballer quite like him in the Premier League and at 33 is getting younger every year.
The young forward flyers of Rashford, Lingard and Martial, might as well have not bothered in the first half. They hardly ever saw the ball and if they did the City recovery unit were on them in a flash. Martial was probably their best player in this match, but when you get the ball out wide and you see Walker in front, Fernandinho as the sidewinder and Sterling tracking back, all you can do is sling a high into nobody.
With it only being 1-0 at half-time the red rag broadcasting world were getting set for the kind of revival United put on last year, but within minutes of the restart, a one-two of wizardly between Aguero and Mahrez opened the door for Sergigol to blast one straight through De Gea, still referred to on morning television as the best in the world. He is these days very much yesterday’s goalkeeper.
This was Mourinho’s signal to send on the troops, so on came the monster-sized Lukaku who looked as though he had just come out of Wetherspoon’s. He was quick enough to beat today’s goalkeeper, Ederson into tripping him in the box, giving Martial a chance to reduce the arrears from the spot, which he duly did. Now the TV camera cut to the Pug who had decided the recovery was on again.
City then starved United of the ball for half an hour before literally taking the Michael out of them with a 44-pass move involving everyone in sky-blue and yellow if you include Ederson, which culminated in Sterling’s pass to Bernardo, who clipped the ball up and over the dilapidated Stretford defence finding the replacement Gundogan unattended in front of goal. End of story.
This was another Man City masterclass where Guardiola’s exceptional tactics outwitted Mourinho’s non-tactics. Whatever excuses the special idiot put together the fact is that Manchester City are streets ahead of their Stretford counterparts. The Blues won this at a canter and United did not have the answers in any department.
The final word goes out to referee Anthony Taylor. Much maligned by everyone in Blue as a closet Stretford fan, I thought he took to his task well yesterday. There were one or two times I thought he was more lenient on them than us, but City’s performance made it so easy for him to officiate. It’s like that when only one team has the ball and dominates the other one to the extent that even their fouling didn’t help them.