After being thumped by Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League tie on Wednesday, Saturday’s Manchester derby was the perfect opportunity for Manchester City to recover from such a humbling defeat while building momentum before next week’s second leg. The fact that a victory over their most hated rival, Manchester United, would also clinch them a Premier League title in front of their home fans only made things sweeter.
Except that’s not how things unfolded. Instead, it was United, fueled by an inspired performance from embattled midfielder Paul Pogba, who got the bounce back they so desperately needed, coming back from two goals down to stun City 3-2, and turn their foe’s already bad week into a nightmare.
For the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s game, it looked like it was going to be the Citizens’ day. Despite fielding a weakened side, Pep Guardiola’s team completely tore United apart. In the 25th minute, captain Vincent Kompany broke free of United defender Chris Smalling to joyfully thump a header past David de Gea. Five minutes later, Ilkay Gündoğan doubled the score with a move of complete class. High-flying City attacked at will, and had it not been for the horrible finishing of Raheem Sterling, they could have easily been up by four or five at the half.
But a United side that had been so meek in the first, grew into the game and in the 53rd, Pogba pounced on a chested pass from Ander Herrera and speared the ball past City keeper Ederson. Less than two minutes later the Frenchman had drawn his side level, getting his head on the end of a beautifully lofted pass from Alexis Sanchez to take the air of the Etihad. Guardiola and his men looked punch drunk, and for the next 15 minutes United continued to push forward, a period that culminated in a goal via Smalling, who calmly volleyed in a free kick from Sanchez for what would be the game-winner.
With the scoreline suddenly flipped on them, City tried to regroup, but a United side that looked as sharp in the second as they hadn’t in the first wouldn’t let them back in. A late flurry produced a controversial penalty no-call and a superb save from de Gea — what United victory is complete without one? — but it wasn’t enough, and when the final whistle blew it was Jose Mourinho’s side and their traveling fans who were acting as if they’d won the title.
Understandably so in a season where they have come up short of their crosstown rivals in every way. Not only did they get to ruin City’s day, but they turned in the sort of thrilling performance they can build upon. It may have only been for 45 minutes, but United finally played with the passion and skill of one of Europe’s top sides, something they haven’t resembled since former manager Alex Ferguson retired five seasons ago. Sure, with a lead of 13 points a top of the table, City should wrap things up next week or the week after, but what better way for United to remind their rivals that the city isn’t blue yet.
But most importantly for United, the game saw Pogba, easily one of the game’s most talented players finally live up to his potential in a red shirt. A day after Guardiola claimed that the Frenchman’s agent had tried to engineer a move to City in January, he responded in the best way possible, finally grabbing a big game by the proverbial scruff of the neck. For a fiery 45 minutes he did it all — propelling his team forward, scoring goals and staking claim to the entire middle of the pitch. Twenty-four hours prior, Pogba’s future at the club looked up in the air, but by the end of the game it was easy to wonder if this was the moment he truly became a Manchester United player.
Goal of the Week
Ilkay Gündoğan, Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United
City may have come out on the wrong side of Saturday’s scoreline, but let’s not forget the team’s second goal, a beautiful turn and finish by Ilkay Gündoğan that looked as if it had sewn up the game with an hour left to play. The move froze five United defenders, buying Gundogan all the time he needed to calmly place the ball past a diving David de Gea.
Late Heartbreak of the Week
Joshua King, Bournemouth 2-2 Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace have gotten used to losing points late to the some of the league’s best sides this season — most notably Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea — but none of those were quite as painful as what happened Saturday. Up 2-1 late, with three vital points practically in hand, Bournemouth’s Joshua King scooped in an uncleared ball off an innocuous-looking corner to earn his side a draw. Palace’s players looked distraught afterward and it’s easy to see why. With no room for error if they want to stay up in the Premier League, they have to stop doing this.