COMMENT: It was Manchester City's victory, but when the final whistle blew, who walked away the happier manager? And who was left with the bigger problems?
If we're to believe the pundits, Pep Guardiola just bestowed upon us peasants his wonderfully superior style of game. Never to be touched. Never to be challenged. You can read it all from those in the media box yesterday. Group-think at its pathetic worst.
Yes, City were magnificent for that first 35 minutes. Though the opening goal was strictly route one, with an assist from Daley Blind. But we'll skip over such an inconvenience. Manchester United - and by his own admission Jose Mourinho - contributed to City's dominance. The manager's two surprise calls, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, looked heavy-legged, slow, unfit. They just weren't 'at it'. And as Mourinho later conceded, the manager realised he'd got it wrong after just 20 minutes.
The pressing and the pressure from United didn't come until after the break. With Marcus Rashford thrown on, City were back-pedaling - both on the pitch and in the dugout. While those behind the glass were building up their match reports, waxing lyrical about how Guardiola wants everyone to play, including his goalkeeper, the manager was hauling off his striker, Kelechi Iheanacho, for the defensively-minded Fernando. So much for playing principles. But, again, we'll paper over this inconvenience...
If the first-half was City's, the second was dominated by United. Twice the ball was cleared off City's goal line. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while he did score in the first-half, had more shots this game than he's had all season. For all the fall-out from the press, this wasn't the performance of a team thoroughly played off the park.
Mourinho's reaction at the final whistle was calm, almost ironic. His team had just dropped three points at home. And to his great nemesis. Yet, he smiled. He shrugged. He pointed out the nailed on penalty - and red card - Claudio Bravo should've conceded. But there was no anger behind the comments. No spite.
United's manager put his hands up for his selection gaffe. He can control that. He'd just seen his team humiliated for 35 minutes on their own turf, yet claw and fight their way back. He can work with that. It was a defeat. But not the one the watching world were expecting from that opening half-hour. Paul Pogba still has another gear. As does Ibrahimovic. But the spirit was always there. The desire to find a way back into the contest. Mourinho now knows he has a locker room of fighters. It's a base he can build upon.
And as he stated in the post-match, everything could've been so, so different if Mark Clattenburg had blown for the Bravo penalty. Mourinho spoke of "consequences", but only consequences for that 90 minutes. If Bravo had seen red, the repercussions would've tested the resolve of everyone at City for not just days, but weeks, perhaps months, into the future.
Again, it's an inconvenience for the 'Pepitas' behind the glass, but this was a dreadful, calamitous performance from Bravo. Not since the Blind Venetian had the Old Trafford crowd seen such a display. His first two actions of note resulted in a goal and a shot being cleared off the line. He also needed his teammates to clear away two more United efforts in the second-half. And, of course, there was the penalty. Of course it was a penalty. He jumped in. He hit Wayne Rooney still in the air. An outfield player would've been shown a direct red card. This was a nailed on, cast iron pen. Yet, Bravo and Guardiola somehow dodged it.
And we say Guardiola because think of the ramifications if Clattenburg had blown up. Leading into the challenge, Bravo had offered no confidence as a goalkeeper. As a sweeper? Sure. Though even then he was nervy in possession at times. But as a keeper...? He's no Joe Hart.
A dismissal. A 2-0 derby lead blown. A lengthy suspension. A performance that made Massimo Taibi look like Peter Schmeichel. All done while forcing a club legend and England's No1 out of the country. Humiliating Hart in favour of this? Yeah, there would've been consequences. Big consequences.
But in the end, Bravo managed to stay on the pitch. And keep his goal intact. Though the best saves were made by those City players around him.
Premier League managers up and down the country will have taken note. Bravo's struggles in the air were obvious. But while the sweeper-keeper stuff dominates the reviews today, it has to be noted that his effect in possession reduced substantially after the break. That wasn't gasps of awe from the Old Trafford crowd for Bravo's passing in the second-half... the mocking Bronx cheers grew louder as the home pressure grew greater. That 85+% pass completion in the LaLiga looked a world away yesterday.
And the Premier League is another world. The sweeper-keeper might work for Barcelona and it's dominant possession game. Or in Germany for Bayern Munich. But English football is a different animal. The Premier League offers a greater contest. That was no one-off for Bravo yesterday. He'll be tested time and again. Week after week. Yeah, he's good with his feet. But he's no Joe Hart in the air. Nor between the posts.
On paper, with Kevin de Bruyne outstanding, this was City's result. A good three points. And the gushing adulation of the Pepitas in the media.
But it also left Mourinho smiling at the final whistle. The character. The heart. The hallmarks of his past great teams. They were all on display in that second-half.
And perhaps the grin was because unlike Pep, there is no doubts around his goalkeeper.
At the final whistle, Jose Mourinho's staff made a beeline for one City player. It was Kevin de Bruyne. And there were embraces and handshakes all round.
De Bruyne has made it no secret of his frustration with how he was treated at Chelsea. But there were no signs of resentment on the Old Trafford pitch yesterday.
This was De Bruyne's day. Scoring the first. Creating the second. The Belgian was outstanding on the big stage.
People have scoffed at comparisons with Gareth Bale. But if the Manchester City attacker maintains his progress, there's no reason why he can't be joining the Real Madrid star on the Ballon d'Or podium in the future.
Inside-left. Inside-right. Wide left. Wide right. Through the middle. He can do the lot. Power. Pace. And a big on-field personality.
If he was playing in Spain, we'd be romancing about a player of another level. Apparently the best don't feature in the Premier League. But De Bruyne's one. He proved it on Saturday. The Premier League is better for him being part of it.