The build-up was more like that of a fight in boxing: two individuals, two heavyweights, the next contest in a bitter rivalry. Mourinho v Guardiola.
Oh, and Manchester united and Manchester City were also playing a football match.
Bragging rights go to the Spaniard but this was a much bigger win than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. City were miles ahead of their neighbours; 4 or 5-1 would not have flattered them.
This game was proof that United have flattered to deceive so far this season. The extent to which their early season ‘form’ has been heralded, only serves to highlight how dire they were in the last campaign.
Mourinho has brought a bit of grit and made the side more physically imposing, but the swagger that was once the hallmark of Manchester United is yet to return. Even the swaggering Special One has been a little muted and subdued since arriving in the Old Trafford dugout.
One man who presumably swaggered out of the womb is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede continued the excellent start that he’s made to life in the Premier League with another superbly taken goal. At the start of the season, I suggested that Zlatan’s Cantona-esque aura could even make United slight title favourites. I’m glad I haven’t risked any money on that prediction.
They will be a stronger force this time round, more feared and more ruthless, but already I see too many problems to be fixed before they become genuine title contenders again.
Chief among them is what to do with Rooney. If ever a man was living off his reputation then it’s Wayne. When was the last time Rooney dominated a game for club or country? I ask because I honestly can’t remember.
His commitment cannot be faulted but the spark is missing. Rooney is a number 10 and that’s pretty much it. When it comes to positional experimentation, he’s not really a Kama Sutra sort of a guy. He’s willing, but increasingly he’s not able.
Mourinho has a big decision to make: play Rooney at 10 behind Zlatan (and see if they can develop an understanding) or drop him. The captain is rightly a club legend but sometimes even club legends don’t get to choose when their time is up. That clock is ticking for Rooney and I think Manchester Untied would now be a more threatening and more balanced side without him.
The same is true of England incidentally.
Guardiola has already taken the bold step of axing club Legend Joe Hart, who is now off in search of love and redemption in Italy at Torino.
In his place, Guardiola has signed Claudio Bravo, who, unusually for a goalkeeper, is better with his feet than his hands. At least most of the time he is. On quite a few occasions on Saturday he played himself into trouble by taking an extra touch and unnecessary risks in his penalty area. He also managed to drop a cross under minimal pressure, allowing Ibrahimovic to score.
But he also showed just enough to demonstrate why his boss wanted him in his team again. City are already playing the ‘Guardiola way’ and it’s only mid-September. Be warned the rest of the league.
That ‘way’ requires everyone to be comfortable on the ball, including the goalkeeper. Bravo is. He helps to give City a platform to play out from the back and that platform will get more secure as he develops a better understanding with the defenders in front of him.
The evidence of training ground drilling was abundant in the angles that City’s players found, the subtlety of their movement, and the speed at which they broke. De Bruyne was the epitome of that style. He was man of the match and his opponents didn’t come close to figuring out how to stop him.
That too should worry Mourinho.
Guardiola has a footballing philosophy and his City players are showing themselves to be committed scholars. They will only improve further under the master’s guidance. If Pep’s style of play proves to be successful in England, it may be the most revolutionary development in the Premier League since Wenger’s arrival two decades ago.
Patience and quality of movement are not attributes typically associated with even the best Premier League teams. City fans may not now require much patience before they once again find themselves celebrating a league title.
Mourinho won’t give up without a fight and it is of course early days, but the early warning signs are there. City are going to take some stopping.
Don’t be fooled by the scoreline; this was a demolition derby.