Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City opened up an eye-watering double-digit lead over rivals Manchester United after Nicolas Otamendi fired Pep Guardiola’s men to derby victory.
The much-anticipated 175th Manchester derby was comfortably the biggest game of the Premier League season, such was the need for Jose Mourinho’s Reds to claw back their swashbuckling rivals.
But the gap between table-topping City and second-placed United grew to 11 points on Sunday as City triumphed 2-1 at Old Trafford, where Otamendi volleyed home a second-half winner after Marcus Rashford had cancelled out David Silva’s opener.
The untimely end to United’s club record-equalling 40-match unbeaten home run strengthens their rivals’ grip on the title after just 16 matches – of which they have won the last 14 in a row.
A clash of titans – Mourinho Vs. Guardiola
Cameron Mooney, an ex-Australian rules footballer and divisive legend, once told reporters gathered that a narrow and brutal win was worth more to him than a clear and juggernaut like win. The players were heroes for managing a win despite being second best all through.
Sometimes ugly makes you proud.
On a cold wintery evening in Manchester as he put his team through the ropes for a derby against the once ‘noisy neighbours’, Jose Mourinho might have heralded the same words. He built a legacy on that – the underdog, he would first ensure that they didn’t lose. And then they won. April 2010 cemented that. A rear-guard defensive effort by Inter Milan, thoroughly outclassed by a rampant Barcelona, managed to ensure that Il Nerazzurri went through the crucible and eventually emerged as European champions.
Always know how to be David when facing Goliath even if you were Goliath, Mourinho would have sagely nodded even as club after club went to him for glory and success. To either build empires, or demolish ones that have proven too monopolistic. And he gave them what they wanted.
Though one may always have asked – did he take it too far? Become so mindful of protection, that the excitement of the battle faded away. When did survival become more important than triumph?
There is no shame in loss to a Manchester City side which evokes the legacy of a legendary Barcelona, from its star-studded attack to the man opposite Mourinho in the dugout. ‘The Special One’ knows Pep Guardiola well. In fact, it was the same two people who stood in the dugout that April as Mourinho created dark magic. It’s a rivalry still going on.
Only it seems Mourinho is now losing and there’s more at stake than just titles and trophies. With Manchester United, a club he confessed deep love of even during his time in opposition to them, having lost the aura of Sir Alex Ferguson some time back and going through a troubled face – Mourinho knew he had a task to be their savior. To actually herald a new era for one of the biggest clubs in football history.
Mooney said winning was everything – and sometimes ugly is more beautiful than anything else. It shows fortitude. Resolve. Tonight, as Mourinho reflects on an incoming Christmas 11 points behind the still rampant City, he knows that losing ugly is a sad reflection for everyone involved – one unworthy of love from anyone.
The season isn’t over. But tonight, it just became a little more impossible to continue that dreamlike state once felt in Camp Nou. That smile when after a 1-0 loss, Mourinho knew he had won.
Years later, standing in the Manchester United dugout turning around to retreat into the sanctity of a silent stage – standing where Sir Alex Ferguson once stood, he must have paused. What is his legacy to be? The mercenary? The tactical genius? The one near yet so far?
Pep Guardiola is his nemesis in more ways than one. The great footballer turned coach, the man who seems more to be ‘one of the boys’ than a master in the dugout – while Mourinho remains the pretender, with a fragile football history and a route given to him through education and discipline. Did the boy of Porto ever grow up?
Tonight Guardiola smiles. He has as much points now as the team which finished 8th and secured the last European spot had all season. 15 wins, 1 draw – Manchester City is shaping up to finally become England’s Barcelona. There is no equal, atleast on a domestic scale where this weekend exposed fragility and decline in all of the competitors. Even their geographical rivals succumbed to me. And now a gaping chasm has formed between them and the rest.
Manchester United was supposed to be Mourinho’s true frontier. Becoming the inheritor for once of a legacy. Instead what he surveys is ruin and rebuilding. He has done it before, but age is merciless.
Injuries are there. So are suspensions. And Jose may smirk and wonder what would have happened with more snowfall and a postponement scenario. But the problem is deeper, the rot goes further. And unless Mourinho once again learns to reinvent himself, the entire fruit will die.
And so will all the possibilities of Jose proving that ugly continues to be useful.
Man of the Match
Kevin De Bruyne continues to be the X-factor in the Manchester City lineup. He created chaos in the United defense again and again, forcing mistakes that led to the first goal. A constant threat, he keeps cementing his claim of being the assist king in the Premier League with 9 in 16 appearances this season.
- This ends Manchester United’s 40 match unbeaten at home, which is their joint record in history
- Manchester City becomes the first Premier League team to have recorded 14 successive victories across a single league season. Arsenal also won 14 but it was across two seasons.
- Manchester City’s 46-point total after 16 games this season was enough to secure 8th position in the Premier League at the end of 2016-17.
- Nicolas Otamendi has scored more goals this season in the Premier League than he managed in the last two combined. Overall he has 6 goals in 74 appearances in the League, with 4 in 16 this season.