First blood, then, to Guardiola. The Manchester edition of his rivalry with Jose Mourinho has begun in City’s favour after Saturday’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Despite the cinematic prematch billing of a battle between managers, it was the players who held the attention throughout a pulsating derby.
Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho gave City a deserved two-goal lead before Zlatan Ibrahimovic capitalised on Claudio Bravo’s error. In what a then-resurgent United will consider the game’s turning point, City goalkeeper Bravo should have been dismissed by referee Mark Clattenburg for a foul on Wayne Rooney early in the second half. Clattenburg waved away the appeals as City held on.
There is no shame in being outmanoeuvred by a Guardiola side. De Bruyne’s opener, though, could have been conjured by far less sophisticated opposition. There was little nuance to Aleksandar Kolarov’s 60-yard ball upfield, but Iheanacho’s flick on caught the home defence cold. Daley Blind hesitated fatally, allowing De Bruyne to nick the ball past him and run through on David De Gea. The Belgian had started the game slickly; his low finish never looked in doubt.
United could barely lay a finger on De Bruyne, and he was instrumental in City’s second, nine minutes before half-time. Picking up a blocked shot on the right side of the area, he turned inside Blind and Jesse Lingard far too easily and drilled a left-footed effort against the far post. Iheanacho tapped in the rebound; it took the striker a good couple of seconds to realise he had, correctly, not been flagged offside.
City were almost untouchable. It would need something quite out of step to give United a route back in, and it arrived in the 42nd minute. This one stemmed from Bravo, too: a deep Rooney free kick, given after David Silva had been booked for scything Antonio Valencia, should have offered no problem for the goalkeeper but, perhaps distracted by John Stones jumping with him, he fumbled the ball. Ibrahimovic, hitherto as sluggish as his teammates, still had plenty to do but lashed a crisp half-volley past the men on the line.
Ibrahimovic instantly had two chances to level the game, heading another Rooney delivery straight at Bravo and then seeing Stones positioned more conveniently to stop a weak shot on the line after Bravo had again fumbled.
If there was to be no controversy in the dugouts, a flashpoint always seemed likely on the pitch. It came in the 56th minute when Bravo, trying to dribble past Ander Herrera, overran the ball. Rooney was there first, and Bravo, lunging in to make amends, went in with his studs showing. He took the ball, but the challenge looked dangerous and United can feel aggrieved that Clattenburg did not award a penalty and red card.
There was to be no comeback, though. That imperious first half by City proved more than enough to end United’s 100 percent record and further their own.