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MANCHESTER — Kevin De Bruyne put Manchester United to the sword at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, scoring two and providing another as Manchester City restored their six-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 4-1 win.
Having struck twice in an absorbing first half — one in which Jadon Sancho kept the visitors firmly in proceedings —De Bruyne turned orchestrator in the second, teeing up Riyad Mahrez for a magnificent volley that killed this game off after 68 minutes. Even that was not enough for City, with VAR judging the Algerian to have been onside by the tightest of margins as he thumped in a fourth in added time.
United, meanwhile, will have an ever higher mountain to climb in their pursuit of fourth place. Having played three games more than Arsenal they still trail Mikel Arteta’s side, 3-2 winners against Watford earlier on Sunday, by a point. Dropping points against these sorts of teams is rarely a death knell for a top-four hopeful but the tame nature of their defensive effort could spell seeds of doubt at Old Trafford.
With Cristiano Ronaldo (hip) and Edinson Cavani (groin) both missing from the matchday squad, despite the latter having been involved in the last three training sessions, Ralf Rangnick was forced to make do and mend with what he had, deploying Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba at the tip of a side that was aiming to disrupt City high up the pitch.
Perhaps that is because the German understood how easy it would be for City if they got through to the United defense. Under the slightest pressure the right flank seemed to collapse, a quick give and go between Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva releasing the latter to cut back to the penalty area. Alex Telles had spotted the danger De Bruyne posed but no one closed him down in time to stop the Belgian from slotting home his 50th Premier League goal.
It felt like it might be the beginning of City slowly crushing United’s resolve. Not quite. Certainly the visitors spent a lot of time pinned back as the blue machine whirred around them but give the ball to them and they could slice up the pitch with devastating effect. All it took was an undercooked Grealish back pass. Look up five seconds later and Pogba was cruising upfield, waiting until just the right moment to slip in Sancho. The England international was similarly composed, letting the City defense retreat beyond him before he bent a shot into the far corner.
Jadon Sancho scores against his former club. 🔴
(🎥 @NBCSportsSoccer) pic.twitter.com/5LOiB9w6TG
It was a high wire on which United were treading. When their transitions clicked there was space to exploit in behind but if City could cut the attacks off at source the defense looked all the more vulnerable. The hosts proved to be the beneficiaries of United’s commitment to get upfield quickly. Anthony Elanga tried to launch Bruno Fernandes over the top with a clipped pass. Instead it thudded against an unsuspecting Joao Cancelo. A magnificent flick by Phil Foden took him past Victor Lindelof and though his shot cannoned back off David de Gea, the ball eventually pinballed its way to De Bruyne.
Man City gain the lead back through a comedy of errors. 😅
(🎥 @TelemundoSports) pic.twitter.com/PdfGCrNohU
City continued to probe into the second half, a hat trick for the Belgian looking the most likely outcome as he rifled through the United defense at will. It was all Harry Maguire could do to send De Bruyne hurtling to the deck with a clunky tackle as he shaped to burst past him in midfield.
De Bruyne would ultimately be the one to swing the contest decisively in City’s favor, though not with a goal on this occasion. His corner from the left was delivered right into Mahrez’s sweet spot, with the Algerian stroking home a half volley that flew through the crowd of bodies and into the bottom left.
RIYAD MAHREZ THAT IS OUTRAGEOUS. 😳
(🎥 @NBCSportsSoccer) pic.twitter.com/gU5fIj6ayF
Any lingering fight swiftly vanished from United, though in truth it had gone earlier. They ended the second half without a single shot attempt across its 45 minutes, ground down by City’s excellence in a match that was about a faltering top-four push as much as local bragging rights. As if United were not humiliated enough, the game ended with Mahrez netting his second, smashing the ball into De Gea’s face as City secured the sort of convincing win that can add further ignition to their title charge.
No less than they deserve, a comprehensive win where they were particularly excellent in the second half. United had their moments but even when they were good that only saw them match the league leaders. When Pep Guardiola’s side move through the gears there are few who can live with them, least of all this extremely ordinary City team.
By the barest of margins he is onside. The scoreline now reflects City’s utter dominance of the second half.
But it looks like it’s going to be ruled out for offside, the pass coming just too late to Mahrez as he thumps the ball at De Gea’s face. It deflects off the goalkeeper and goes in. VAR suggests it’s tight.
That was so nearly the goal of the season, a scissor kick very well saved by De Gea. He seems to have been the only person to have showed up for the visitors in this second half, one where City supporters are chanting “ole” with every completed pass and United scarcely have the will to chase the ball.
It has taken him 78 minutes to tinker with the formula. Why would you do so earlier when the machine is purring so impressively? Ilkay Gundogan is waiting to be introduced, the perfect player to quieten a game that has already come off the boil. It’s De Bruyne who makes way, a standing ovation from the Etihad welcoming him to the bench.
Here’s a look at the goal that made it 3-1 in favor of City. Mahrez makes fantastic contact on a shot that is so difficult to execute, and the ball touches Maguire and gets by the goalkeeper to put the hosts in full control.
RIYAD MAHREZ TAKE A BOW. @ManCityUS lead 3-1.
📺: @USA_Network, & @Telemundo #MyPLMorning \ #MCIMUN \ #ManchesterDerby pic.twitter.com/icz9iqV6Km
Wonderful from De Bruyne and Mahrez. The former delivers a corner on the six pence to the far corner where Mahrez meets it with a half volley that skids through the bodies and into De Gea’s bottom corner. That could be game over.
Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford are coming on. Making way are Elanga and Pogba, who has faded notably since a bright start. Rashford immediately goes into the center forward position with Lingard to his right and Fernandes just in behind.
Wonderful interplay by Foden and Bernardo. The former drops deep and his teammate dashes beyond to fill the space, a gorgeous first time flick releasing him in behind down the left. However Maguire is across in time to block the cross out for a corner. At the moment United are doing just enough to stay in this game but they certainly are not making it easy on themselves.
Standong ovation for Oleksandr Zinchenko as he starts his warm up along the touchline.
We’ve had plenty of pressure on the United half of the pitch early on with City really looking to test Wan-Bissaka. The right back is overpowered by Bernardo Silva down the byline but De Bruyne can’t direct the cutback towards goal.
City deserve their lead but this has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination. De Bruyne has ensured that the hosts have not let the chances that have come their way go to waste but United look like they can create some of their own, particularly if this game becomes stretched. We’re in for another cracking 45 minutes I suspect.
City really do have United pinned back and are getting into dangerous spots. De Gea comes racing out of his area to beat Grealish to the ball but in so doing he nearly clears it to Mahrez. You suspect it was more blind luck that a teammate found the ball rather than any anticipation.
Still United are just in this game thanks to some excellent goalkeeping by De Gea — who has just made a very smart save down the his right off Mahrez — and look like they have weapons at the other end as Sancho, Fernandes and Pogba continue to probe on the counter.
Here’s how City took the lead back, finishing from close after a masterful touch from Foden and an even better save from de Gea.
City re-take the lead!
On the third shot of the sequence, Kevin De Bruyne buries the ball into the back of the net for a brace! @ManCityUS lead 2-1.
📺: @USA_Network, & @Telemundo #MyPLMorning \ #MCIMUN \ #ManchesterDerby pic.twitter.com/JzM6Ed1Raj
It looks like something has happened in the crowd, medics and stewards are rushing over to the area behind David de Gea’s goal. There’s a round of applause from supporters in that section after a moment or two. I’ll bring you more as I get it.
What a game this is! United can’t launch their counter this time and City win it in their third of the pitch off a miscued Elanga clearance. A brilliant flick by Foden takes the ball over Lindelof but his volley is well saved by De Gea. The ball cannons around the box and for a minute you think this might be one of those City games before De Bruyne is on hand to turn it in, his 11th goal in his last 11 Premier League games at this ground.
City strike first!
It’s Kevin De Bruyne with the goal 5 minutes into the #ManchesterDerby!
Jadon Sancho scores against his former club. 🔴
(🎥 @NBCSportsSoccer) pic.twitter.com/5LOiB9w6TG
A simply wonderful break. It all starts when Grealish undercooks a backheel in the area, aimed at Bernardo Silva. From there United explode down the other end, Pogba picking the right moment to slip in Sancho. As the City defense hares back he waits, holding the ball on the edge of the box and picking his moment to bend the ball into the far corner. A magnificent equaliser.
But Michael Oliver says free kick. De Bruyne is driving into the left side of the box after Pogba has his pocket picked in midfield. De Gea saves a low shot and the rebound falls into a dangerous spot where Foden and Maguire are vying for it. The Manchester United captain seems to have his hands all over his opponent and yet the foul is adjudged to be on Foden. I have to say that wasn’t my first impression.
They’re not giving this up though. United push up to the edge of the City area, where Fernandes plays a nice ball in behind to the onrushing Fred. He beats one man and another but Ederson is just about out quick enough That could have been something very special indeed.
It’s all too easy for City to cut through the United right, Bernardo darting in behind after lovely interplay from Grealish. He lets the ball run to De Bruyne, who does not really have anyone close to him as he rolls the ball into the bottom corner. The idea start for the hosts. You wonder what will happen to United’s gameplan now.
Away we go. A boatload of pressure from United’s forwards early on, testing their commitment to playing out from the back, which naturally City do not waver in. Meanwhile it looks like Rangnick has gone for something akin to a 4-4-2 with Pogba and Fernandes high up the pitch, leading the press. However when City get through those lines…
That’s the phrase both sides have emblazoned on t-shirts that they’re wearing over their usual pre-match attire as they take to the pitch. This will be by far the biggest Premier League game of the weekend in terms of global audience — perhaps even the biggest football game. Between those tickets and the players stood together in the circle, notably not delineated by their club allegiance. They truly are United.
Kick off is fast approaching and there’s a real buzz in the air as the Etihad fills up.
This is quite the statement from Rangnick, who says that Edinson Cavani had been involved in three training sessions but ruled himself out. “Edi trained well the last three days but in the end didn’t feel quite well enough to play,” said the Manchester United boss.
Now of course it’s important not to unduly strain players but three sessions is a reasonable number, enough that he might surely have been named on the bench. Equally he is not the only United player to take this course so far this season; both Ronaldo and Jesse Lingard have opted not to involve themselves in games.
A lovely moment as Oleksandr Zinchenko makes his way out to join the warm ups with Gabriel Jesus and everyone in our stand offers their applause for the Ukrainian international, who spoke so movingly about his feelings in light of Russian’s invasion of his homeland. Here’s what he told the BBC earlier this week.
“I’m just crying. So already a week, I’m not counting, but even I can drive the car from the training ground, or it doesn’t matter where, I can just cry from nothing,” he said.
“It’s everything in my head. Imagine the place where you was born, where you was growing up. And there is just empty ground.”
🗣 “People say they don’t watch but they obviously do.”
Jack Grealish admits that he keeps an eye on other results after Liverpool won last night pic.twitter.com/jg918LIUh2
A slightly nervy finish at Vicarage Road but Arsenal got three points, beating Watford 3-2. That takes them up to fourth, a point ahead of United having played two games fewer. Needless to say that only heightens the need for United to get something from this game.
There are a lot of them. Luke Shaw and Raphael Varane are out of the defense, both suffering with COVID-19, whilst for Cristiano Ronaldo its another hip issue, one that kept him sidelined in January too. Edinson Cavani, meanwhile, is still missing with a groin injury that has hampered him for the last month.
Center backs Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake miss out due to injury, with the Portuguese center back set for an injury layoff of over a month because of his hamstring. However, the team has gotten a boost in attack with Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus back and ready to go.
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