Pride of place drove Manchester City to victory over Manchester United
Fernandinho lauds his teammates for their turnaround in the Premier League after being down and out of the Uefa Champions League last week, as Pep Guardiola's men showed football watchers who the top dogs of Manchester were
Perhaps, in the final reckoning, the most pertinent comment came from one of the defining midfielders of the 1990s.
Not Roy Keane’s visceral, brutal attack on Paul Pogba, entertaining as it was, but when an altogether more measured Pep Guardiola who, around 30 hours earlier, had declared that going to Old Trafford was “not scary” any more for Manchester City.
In two words, he summed up much. Far worse sides than City no longer need to fear visiting Manchester United. Guardiola, in particular, can visit Old Trafford with confidence.
He is the first visiting manager to win his opening three Premier League games there. Since the start of last season, his team have 44 more points and 64 more goals than United.
Neighbours have been outgunned and outrun, out-thought and outclassed. Title rivals have simply been out of luck.
Liverpool could have looked at City’s fixture list, seen games against Tottenham Hotspur and United in a week when confidence could have been dented by their Uefa Champions League exit and spied a chance.
Instead, as Fernandinho said: “After the [European] 'defeat' against Tottenham, the way we played from the first minute, we showed the desire in competing for every ball like animals. It was a massive three points.”
So City cleared their two greatest hurdles. Only Burnley, Leicester City or Brighton & Hove Albion can deny them back-to-back titles. They dropped points at Turf Moor last season and lost at Leicester this.
“Burnley are always difficult,” Fernandinho added. “They have a specific way to play. They drew with Chelsea last Monday. It is always tough to go there.”
But while City have not dropped points since January, when they visited Newcastle United, the Brazilian pinpointed the New Year game against Liverpool as the pivotal match.
“If you look back to January, they could have been 10 points clear after our game,” Fernandinho said. “We didn't want that. We reduced the gap to four points and now we are one point up.
"That is the way the Premier League is going to be decided.”
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He could be a fundamental reason why City win it and yet his departure felt a factor in Wednesday’s derby victory. Fernandinho went off with a knee problem, which will be assessed, and, relocated to central midfield, Bernardo Silva capped his 100th City appearance by opening the scoring.
“His whole season was a masterclass,” Guardiola marvelled.
Silva struck on the day it was claimed by some media reports Virgil van Dijk had beaten Raheem Sterling to the PFA Player of the Year prize. The winger is the favourite to win the Footballer Writers’ award. Each is a deserving recipient and yet Silva has been similarly influential in golden year.
When Leroy Sane struck, City took their tally for the season to 157 goals; a new best for an English club. The displaced record holders included Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero and David Silva: City’s class of 2013/14.
David Silva cast his undistinguished form of recent months to one side to exude class.
He was the stylish starter, Sane the explosive substitute. The German has not begun against top-six opponents since his January winner against Liverpool. Guardiola’s policy of tough love bemuses some, but it is reaping a dividend.
“I was so demanding of him and sometimes I like to be critical,” the City manager said.
There were rather more grounds to find fault with United. As Sane sprinted through to score, a photograph captured the disarray in the home ranks. It made it appear as though United were playing a 1-1-1-1-3-3 formation, a shape that would be too revolutionary even for Guardiola’s liking.
Instead, there has been another kind of transformational change in Manchester. City, long the underdogs, are now top dogs.
Updated: April 26, 2019 11:26 AM