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This week there was one match dominating discussion around the English Premier League. Many felt it would provide definitive answers in relation to the city of Manchester and the two teams seeking to claim possession of the football bragging rights.
The City of Manchester Stadium hosted the much-anticipated derby, with both clubs presented an opportunity to stamp certainties in the minds of their fans. City have little to prove to anyone, yet the perception of a vast chasm between themselves and their cross-town rivals was there to be confirmed.
For United, it was a chance to lay claim to having made ground on the record-breaking City side after a slow start to the season. It was also something of a personal Everest for Jose Mourinho, as he lined up against his managerial nemesis.
The collective wisdom of the footballing world suggested United were still well off the pace being set by City, Liverpool and Chelsea, all undefeated after 11 Premier League rounds. Sunday night was a chance to hurl an enormous spanner into the works and shake up the championship race.
In the end it was nothing of the sort. Off the back of dominant possession and an astonishing number of successfully completed passes that sat near 90 per cent, City started well and rarely looked in real danger against Mourinho’s men. Their passing was crisp and purposeful, whilst the defensive pressure they were able to mount was consistent and claustrophobic.
It is what City do and as brave and committed as any opposition may be, moments of calamity are inevitable. All three goals were ‘deer in the headlights’ moments. On each occasion, Red Devil defenders were left stunned and forlorn; wondering exactly what had just happened, as City players ran into the distance to celebrate.
David Silva found the back of the net after an incisive cut back from the byline fell at his feet after 12 minutes and a poor David de Gea clearance saw Sergio Aguero blast through his gloves from an acute angle to seemingly seal the deal in the 48th. In between, it was artistry from City.
Romelu Lukaku’s entry to the game did bring the visitors some hope after he was brought down in the box by Ederson. Anthony Martial made no error from the spot in the 58th minute and despite City’s statistical dominance, I guess United may have held some hope of a point.
An 80th-minute goal to Ilkay Gundogan that saw defenders in red shirts once again unsure of their assignments, confirmed the result. City did nothing extraordinary and that is potentially their greatest attribute; the fact that what is normal to them is quite astonishing to everybody else.
The questions were answered emphatically. City are the class of the league, United are well off the pace and Manchester is right now, as blue as it has ever been.
Saturday’s action saw vital wins for Cardiff and Newcastle, with both teams looking destined to face relegation battles as the season progresses. Both Brighton and Bournemouth will be annoyed with the respective losses and the missed opportunity to take three points to sure up their own position on the table.
There were draws at Southampton, Huddersfield and Leicester with tales of missed chances and controversy involving officials. On Sunday, Liverpool kept pace with City after a 2-0 win over Fulham, with Mohamed Salah on the scoresheet again, yet some in-form teams let points slip.
Chelsea were held scoreless by Everton and Arsenal failed to dismiss the challenge of Wolves, scoring late to pinch a point. After a one-week hiatus, the league will return on the 25th of November, with City back in action against West Ham.
The match of the round looks to be Chelsea’s trip to Tottenham, with a loss to either team seeing them slip well off the cracking pace being set by the top two.
As for now, the blue side of Manchester celebrates and the fall out on the red side is yet to play out. I wonder how Jose Mourinho will attempt to spin this one, on a day when his team was soundly beaten?