What did we learn from the Manchester Derby

I believe in transparency, which is why in an effort for full transparency I should disclose right at the beginning of this post that I am a Manchester United fan. A very big one actually.

Now, let me start off by saying Manchester City are a very good team. Better then I thought they would be heading into the season. They are the real deal and were absolutely incredible in Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford in the 172nd Manchester Derby.

The Manchester Derby was a game of two halves. Manchester City completely dominated the first half, jumping out to a 2-0 lead that frankly could have and should have been up by more. The second half saw the momentum change with Manchester United constantly knocking on the door but unable to get an equalizer.

For neutrals this was a great game to watch, for Manchester City fans it was even better. But when the final whistle blew and the dust settled, did we actually learn anything from this match?

Other then learning that Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho can in fact put their differences aside for one afternoon and not make it about them, the answer is, we didn’t really learn anything.

Now of course the fourth game of the season was never going to be a title decider. Just because United lost to City at home doesn’t mean they can’t win the title. Winning the title isn’t always about beating your biggest title rival during the season, you just need to beat everyone else. So please forgive me if I’m not ready to declare Manchester City title favorites because they won at Old Trafford on the fourth game of the season.

On the field, we really didn’t learn much either. It’s hard to come out of this game and say Manchester City are a much better team then Manchester United because frankly, Manchester United gave that game away.

Don’t get me wrong, City were unbelievable in the first half and there is no doubt that the better team on the day took home all three points. But there’s a difference between being the better team on the day and being the better team overall.

United were playing catch up right from the get-go Saturday. It started when Jose Mourinho got his tactics completely wrong. He started a two man midfield that allowed Kevin de Bruyne to pretty much do whatever he so pleased. When Mourinho changed that at halftime, the entire game changed.

While Mourinho may have gotten things wrong tactically, it’s hard to put the blame solely on him when United were still very much in the game at halftime. Individually, nearly every player on the team let their manager down.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United is challenged by Bacary Sagna of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 10: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United is challenged by Bacary Sagna of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It started with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard each making their first start of the season for United and seemingly holding a contest over who could play worse. While Lingard was essentially invisible, Mkhitaryan was worse. The Armenian was careless in possession, and never seemed to be interested in working hard defensively. The two wings were a major reason why City dominated the first half as every time United did get the ball, Lingard and Mkhitaryan gave it right back, leaving the defense no time to recover.

Behind them, fullbacks Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw were far from at their best. Both were caught up the field numerous times, though admittedly a lot of that had to do with the aforementioned wingers inability to keep possession. Shaw was beaten by Raheem Sterling several times in the first half and United were lucky he didn’t score. Getting forward, neither fullback was close to their best.

It wasn’t just on the outsides where United were poor but the middle as well. Paul Pogba, United’s ₤89 million midfielder, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were invisible. When United introduced Marcus Rashford at halftime, chances began coming for Zlatan but his finishing was uncharacteristically poor.

Other then Rashford and Ander Herrera who came on at halftime, it’s hard to say any United player played a good game. The passing was horrific as many United players failed to even be able to make simple five yard passes. Several times with the ball in the air all that was required was a simple three yard flick to an open teammate who could settle it down, instead they would head it seven yards in front of them where the only people there were wearing blue shirts.

As always, captain Wayne Rooney drew the ire of fans and the media, but in the first half Rooney was the only United player that looked like he understood the importance of this game and wanted to win. He was the only one trying to make something happen.

City were very good in this game, but United were exceptionally poor. Part of that was certainly do to the speed and quality that City were playing at but it’s certainly hard to definitively say City are the better team when the game completely changed at halftime.

For as bad as United played all game, the game completely flipped around at halftime, forcing Pep Guardiola to make a very Mourinho like substitution, when he removed his striker for an extra defender with 40 minutes left. With that change Guardiola admitted that United were going to win, and his only chance was to shut down and kill the game.

City were the better team on the day, but this is the second straight game where City looked unbelievable in the first half, and very vulnerable in the second. On another day, when United weren’t all having the worst games of their lives, this could have been a very different result.

We knew coming into this match that the two Manchester clubs were the best in England. We didn’t know if one was definitively better then the other. After this match, we still don’t.

About Pauly Kwestel

Pauly is a Producer for WFAN in New York and the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has been writing about the beautiful game since 2010 and can be followed on twitter @pkwestelWFAN