Twelve games into the Premier League season and Manchester City are 12 points ahead of Manchester United. City have never enjoyed such a gap over their crosstown rivals at the start of a season. Asked after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium about being closer to 18th place Cardiff than City, Jose Mourinho said: “We are not going to be relegated.”
He's right, of course, but if it carries on like this then City, who have excelled despite being without their best player, Kevin de Bruyne, still nursing his way back from injury, for much of the campaign, will finish 38 points ahead of United, with more than last season’s 100 points and more than last season’s record 18-point gap between first and second. City are on course to shatter last season’s 106 goals – they might even get a 100 point goal difference if they keep up at the current rate.
It all makes grim reading for United fans. City kept up their average of three goals per game against United, condemning Mourinho's men to a fourth league defeat of the season. United, for all their exciting attacking talent, are the only team in the top 10 with a negative goal difference. “The way people that don’t understand football is analyse football with stats. I don’t go for stats,” Mourinho said.
He doesn’t – unless he’s listing his achievements and titles won. His strengths are his preparation, his attention to detail and his leadership. The Portuguese is still a formidable manager, and his double substitution in Turin last Wednesday as United came from a goal down to beat Juventus in a Uefa Champions League group match was inspired, but 10th place in the league and already out of one domestic cup competition at the first stage is no place for United.
Mourinho also maintains that the league table will look very different come the end of the year, but the title race is all but over for United. This will be the sixth consecutive season United have failed not only to win the league but to mount a decent challenge.
Teams as good as City won’t give up such a lead and Pep Guardiola is merely being magnanimous in stating that United are still in the battle at the top. It’s easy to be generous when you are miles ahead. City haven’t lost a game all season and not for nothing were United at their most unfancied to get a win there. Youth players seldom get a chance, Mancunians too, but wins are all that matter to the vast majority of football fans.
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United had scored late, match-winning goals in recent weeks against Newcastle United, Bournemouth and Juventus. Those goals lifted the mood, but without Paul Pogba, who had been so influential in United's comeback win at City last season, and with the out-of-form Nemanja Matic – or Nemanja Static, as some fans have started calling him – it was always going to be tough against such an accomplished side who move the ball quickly in midfield.
The problem for United is not the way they finish games, but the way they start. Too many goals are conceded early and the team leave themselves with much to do. United have gone behind in seven Premier League games so far. Mourinho wanted a central defender over the summer and it's easy to see why: United have conceded more goals at this stage of the season than at any time in the past 50 years. More stats, Mr Mourinho, but they are all relevant.
The comebacks make for exciting finales, but distort the overall picture - you don't need any stats to see that Ilkay Gundogan was in more space for City’s third goal than the International Space Station.
Little attention will be paid to the United players talking about bouncing back and being positive. The sentiment is understandable, but talk is cheap. It’s what happens on the field that matters and Manchester United have shipped a point per game to Manchester City so far this season.