Despite all of the praise and mostly the points, Manchester United under Jose Mourinho seemed star struck and frozen when meeting with Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, letting the industriousness of Fernandinho tear his midfield apart, while the front consisting of Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Nolito and Kelechi Iheanacho ran amok for the first 45 minutes.
The first half reminded me of Jose Mourinho making his El Clasico debut, back in 2010, when he thought his success with Porto, Inter and Chelsea prepared him for that night at the Camp Nou. Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 5-0, when it seemed that it wasn’t just some heavenly performance by perhaps the best club football team ever put on this earth; Mourinho and his players had no clue how to stop or adapt, and all that without Lionel Messi doing anything special.
The match becoming more balanced had more to do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring than anything else. Obviously, that sounds as simplistic as possible, but City calming down a bit had more to do with one moment of a supreme finisher finding the net, which he’ll often do even on a bad day, than anything else Mourinho adjusted to. Like he said, some of his players disappointed him, which is another way of saying he f***ed up his tactics and lineup choices, but it’s always about blaming someone else. Surprisingly, Mourinho lashed out at his own players much sooner than he tends to do. He also blamed Mark Clattenburg for making mistakes, forgetting that City also deserved a penalty kick.
The second half was still in City’s favor, but this was no longer a one-team show. Claudio Bravo, despite looking shaky in his aerial performance (a Premier League cross-fight is nothing like what the La Liga has), managed to settle down, and so did Manchester City. David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne controlled the pace again, and Leroy Sane at some point had loads of space and freedom to finish the match, but his finishing touches were of poor quality, something he’ll have to improve on as the battle for minutes in the front spots for City are intensifying.
Guardiola is pragmatic, but in his own way. He doesn’t mind seeing his teams sitting on leads, but he wants to do it in a certain way. This isn’t a manager comfortable with his team defending. This is a manager who wants possession, 100% of the time if possible. That’s his philosophy, even if it seems boring or outdated to some. As the first 45 minutes showed, when it catches opponents out of position, the football is brilliant. Having Sergio Aguero in this case would have probably meant a much more comfortable second half.
Mourinho made a mistake with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who might need time adjusting to the differences from the German Bundesliga. Daley Blind as a central defender was a failed experiment under Louis van Gaal as well. Paul Pogba wasn’t bad signing, but one thing worth remembering is that his partners in the midfield when he played for Juventus were much better and smarter than Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard. Mourinho has other options, and against teams United don’t have a clear advantage against, he might need to use them, even if it means a less physical team on the pitch.