The latest edition of the Manchester derby was special in more ways than one. Not just did it pit two of the strongest teams in the Premier League against one another, it was also a new chapter in modern football's greatest managerial rivalries – Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola.
Eventually it was the Spaniard who took the spoils in the Mancunian battle as his Manchester City side emerged 2-1 winners over Manchester United after a frantic ninety minutes.
The titanic clash though broke records even before it was kicked off. The combined line-ups of the Manchester giants were the most expensive that a game of football had ever seen if their respective transfer fees were taken into account.
Surpassing the El Classico of 2015 which totalled £562 million in transfer fees of the players, the Manchester derby on Saturday amassed a combined transfer fee of around £570 million. With Manchester United and Manchester City spending £149.5 million and £168 million respectively in the transfer window that went by, the statistic hardly comes as a surprise.
However, as entertaining and intense the derby might have been, the fact remains that it was an error-strewn game. If one looks back and decides to pick out the highlights from the match, there would be more cases of glaring errors from players than flashes of brilliance.
The basic highlights in any football match are the goals that are scored and if one analyses the three goals that were scored, it wouldn't require a football genius to suggest that they were products of some school-boy errors than top-notch football.
Manchester United were quick out of the blocks at the start of the game, but the early game fervor lasted only a few minutes as a Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City began to assert themselves on the game. There were instances when City got behind the United defence in the opening exchanges, but the home side managed to cope.
However in the 15th minute, United were undone in one of the most straight-forward manners. Alexander Kolarov thumping the ball towards the City forwards, Kelechi Iheanacho flicking it on in Kevin de Bruyne's path, and the Belgian beating his marker to the ball and a cool finish.
This entire City move went through as if there wasn't any opponent trying to stop them, like it was just a part of a training routine. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was preferred over Juan Mata for his work rate, put no pressure whatsoever on Kolarov, who had all the time in the world to pick his pass. Then, Iheanacho won the header almost unchallenged before De Bruyne glided past Dailey Blind who was caught completely flat-footed.
The first goal didn't just silent the Old Trafford faithful, but it provided City with the impetus to completely take charge of the proceedings. There was a spring in their step, the passing became crisp and City found their mojo. United on the other hand became more subdued.
Guardiola's team was all over Mourinho's men. The second goal was coming, but United survived some scintillating moves from City, until it the Citizens eventually doubled their lead, albeit with a little ounce of fortune.
De Bruyne's shot from inside the box came off the far post, only to fall kindly for Iheanacho who bundled it in from close range. But the young Manchester City striker only celebrated after making a nervous glare at the linesman who had kept his flag down.
The linesman was right as Dailey Blind played Iheanacho onside. Blind was once again caught completely off guard and it cost his team another goal.
Just as it felt that it was going to be a case of how many for Manchester City, their debutant goalkeeper Claudio Bravo gifted their beleaguered opponents a way back into the contest. The former Barcelona shot-stopper came off his line to collect a looping Wayne Rooney free-kick that seemed a regulation take until he spilled it, allowing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to fire home and give United a lifeline just before half time.
It was a real howler from Bravo and the timing of the error completely changed the complexion of the game. United came out in the second half feeling a lot better and Jose Mourinho's changes had a great impact on the game as the home side looked a lot more threatening as compared to the first half.
United's best chances though came through a series of errors from Bravo who was slightly lucky not to have given away a penalty and received a red card for a challenge on Rooney.
City found plenty of joy on the counter attack, but new signing Leroy Sane who found himself in good positions in more than one occasion seemed to lack the sharpness to help his side increase the lead.
Eventually, the visitors survived a Claudio Bravo-inspired Manchester United onslaught late on to claim all three points and maintain their hundred percent record.
For the fans and neutrals, it was a delightful game. End-to-end, intense and in the balance till the final whistle. The game lived up to the hype in terms of entertainment quotient, but barring a few, the big money stars failed to produce the fireworks.
Paul Labile Pogba, world's most expensive player had the least impact on the game for Manchester United. In fact, Pogba's indiscipline and lack of tactical acumen was left exposed. With City playing two attacking midfielders in David Silva and De Bruyne, it was required for the Frenchman to pick out one these two players throughout the course of the game.
But often, Pogba was caught horribly out of position. The result, De Bruyne and Silva had a field day in the middle of the park and the City midfield duo cut through the United side with ease in the first half. With the lack of a quality defensive midfielder, Pogba's inability to contribute defensively hurt United really badly.
Another summer recruit, Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a horrible day at the office. He was guilty of giving the ball away too cheaply on more than one occasion in the first half. Moreover, he showed little desire in closing down his opponent or trying to win the ball back once he gave it away.
Ibrahimovic was at times too slow get the ball away as hard-working City players were quick to surround him and take the ball off him. The Swede also missed some great chances to score and level the game for United. Bravo has the Manchester United striker to thank for making his afternoon less miserable.
Jose Mourinho admitted after the game that he was let down by some of his players who according to him performed way below their abilities. "Honestly, I had two or three players in the first half, that if the game is now and I know what is going to happen, obviously I don't play them," Mourinho told Sky Sports after the game.
The Manchester City players on the other hand did justice to their price tags, but could have easily found themselves with just a point at the end of the game. Claudio Bravo's blunder late in the first half paved way for Manchester United into the match. It also flushed out the swagger in City's play and the visitors then had to dig deep to preserve their lead.
Newcomers Nolito and Leroy Sane were slightly wasteful in the second half as City failed to put the game to bed.
Kevin de Bruyne was perhaps the only player who displayed quality worth his price tag. He made City click all afternoon and was unlucky not to score when his shot went agonisingly wide coming off the inner side of the post. With a passing accuracy of 83 percent, six chances created and seven crosses (stats courtesy – squawka.com), De Bruyne was deservedly the man of the match.
However, the final result was a lot closer than how the game actually panned out and City failed to translate their superiority into goals. It could have been lot worse for City had United capitalised on Bravo's mistakes.
For a match worth players around £570 million, a bit more quality was expected. The superstars on show were capable of lot more. Rarely did we see the £50 million, £100 million players at work. The big moments all stemmed from glaring errors that you don't associate with these players and the price tag that they come with. They are known for magical moments that turn a game upside down and we didn't quite see a lot of it.
In fact, it was the likes of Iheanacho and Marcus Rashford who made a positive impact on the game. Both of whom are products of the youth set-up of their respective clubs and have cost them negligible transfer fees. So despite spending almost a combined fee of £400 million, it was their home-made starlets that were among the better performers on the day.
The most expensive football game of all time wasn't lit up by fireworks from these superstars, but characterised by errors that dictated the nature, flow and outcome of the game.
First Published On : Sep 11, 2016 09:17 IST