After a week full of abnormal headlines, normal service resumed. Manchester City showed all the controversy from Football Leaks didn’t actually affect the team, as they also showed their obvious superiority over Manchester United.
Through that, and a mostly easy 3-1 win, Pep Guardiola remarkably got his first derby victory at the Etihad. Jose Mourinho’s flat side meanwhile at last suffered the defeat that has looked like it has been coming for some time. It could be said that United finally didn’t get the luck or the bounces of the ball that they did in so many recent matches, but they were actually fortunate that this was not worse than 3-1 and that City inexplicably slacked off for long passages of the game. Guardiola's side were still that much better.
The table meanwhile looks that much worse for United. They are still eighth, and now with a negative goal difference. The table meanwhile looks that much worse for United. They are still eighth, and now with a negative goal difference. With just three clean sheets in 17 games this season, their defence has suffered more leaks than City's email security.
That revival didn’t go that far, and Mourinho has much to consider.
His starting line-up in fact reflected a core source of confusion with this United side.
Although Mourinho had started with the tallest and bulkiest midfield he possibly could, putting in Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini in the absence of injured Paul Pogba, it was their lack of mobility that told rather than the amount of space they take up. Really, they weren’t occupying enough space. City were just able to play through them at will, picking passes in an area that was so strikingly open, even though Mourinho had clearly been primarily concerned with closing it up.
There was one moment in the second half when Ander Herrera - notionally the most nimble of the three central midfielders - just stood there as substitute Leroy Sane danced around him. The problem had been building up for a while, though, and initially led to a lightning City start that made the first goal inevitable. It still shouldn’t have made individual errors from United so predictable. Luke Shaw was once again caught out as Raheem Sterling found Bernardo Silva, who fed David Silva, who so casually picked his spot.
The only surprise at that point was that City really slacked off when they were so on top, and so superior, but that also put the focus on what United were doing. Or, rather, what they were not doing.
This is why that choice of statuesque midfield is so relevant, and maybe why United’s performances vary so wildly within individual games. Mourinho doesn’t really know whether to stick or twist, to sit or stand. His natural inclination - particularly in games like this, away to a side as good as City - is to defend deep, but he has a squad that is just so much better suited to attacking openly. It feels like it’s why they look better when matches descend into chaos, like what happened with Martial’s penalty.
Before then, City had the game in complete control, having upped it in the manner they failed to do straight after the first goal. It naturally led to the second goal coming quite quickly, although the speed of Aguero’s shot was almost unnatural.
After United had again so sloppily lost the ball in the middle of the field, in a problem that was becoming chronic, City responded to it with a contrasting force. Riyad Mahrez fed the ball back to a surging Aguero, who then thundered the ball past De Gea and right into the roof of the net. It wasn’t so much a finish as a detonation. It might also have looked like the goalkeeper could have done better, but not in real time. The power was just too much.
The goal did nevertheless mean that United were on a negative goal difference, reflecting how De Gea is genuinely making fewer saves than the last two seasons - and thereby bailing the side out less - but he still wasn’t as culpable for the strike as Ederson was for United’s. For the second game in a row, the Brazilian gave away a stupid penalty by needlessly coming out and taking an attacker down.
The attacker was in this case Romelu Lukaku, who had just made his first contribution to the game, having come on as a sub. It led to Martial’s seventh goal of the season, and the fifth successive game in which he’s scored, as he slotted it past Ederson.
The derby at that point looked set to fall into the oddly customary pattern since both these managers arrived in Manchester, with City displaying their clear superiority for long stretches only for it to end up unnecessarily nervy and tense, but the home side finally broke the pattern for Guardiola to break his duck in these fixtures at home.
It was United that actually responded worse to their goal. They never made City nervous, with the latter’s confident assurance shown in that luscious 44-pass last goal. After a move that began with centre-halves John Stones and Aymeric Laporte casually passing it among themselves in their own half, Guardiola’s side worked and weaved their way through for Ilkay Gundogan to calmly seal the game.
Not that everyone was calm. Guardiola actually lengthily berated Raheem Sterling for wastefully showboating in the final few minutes.
These are the standards he’s set, that City’s billions that saw such focus this week have so facilitated. United are extremely wealthy themselves, but are very far off such standards, and are now very far off in the table.
That that now feels normal for Mourinho’s team says it all, and as routine as City's excellence.