One moment, in Manchester City’s decisive 3-1 victory over Everton on Saturday evening, encapsulated – more than any other – what this seasons’ champions-in-waiting are all about. And what their neighbours are so distant from. A stray long ball from Wayne Rooney found itself at the feet of Ederson Moraes, City’s keeper who is about as adept with the ball as anyone in the league. Spotting the on-rushing Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ederson set himself, took a touch, and about 30 yards out from his goal, coolly walked the ball past Everton’s young striker. He then proceeded to, all in the same ten-second time frame, pick out Leroy Sane on the left-hand side of the pitch with a wonderful forty-yard pass.
The ten seconds or so rather summed up how Pep Guardiola has got this Manchester City team playing. The football is simple yet effective: find space, create overloads, repeat. This makes for beautiful viewing, when it comes off, as evidenced not only on Merseyside on Saturday but also for most of the season. Guardiola, frankly, has got City playing a brand of football that has never been seen on these shores. A testament to the style is the glaring statistic that is that City have beaten every single one of their fellow Premier League sides at least once.
The football has made a mockery of the club they share the city with, the same club that used to refer to them as the ‘noisy neighbours’. If the season were to be measured by noise, City are performing in a packed, vociferous stadium. Whereas United, by contrast, are merely singing in the shower.
This brings us to Saturday. Manchester City have the chance to do something that has never been done before in a Manchester derby: winning the league by winning the fixture. Guardiola has played down the importance of it, stating that it is merely another game in the calendar that he hopes to win. Such comments were only made to keep the press officer happy: the former Barcelona player knows full well what a win on Saturday evening would mean. So long have City remained in the shadow of Manchester United that despite the Qatari money, or the fancy new players, City fans still find more joy in getting one over United than anything else. For some, I am sure, they would rather win on Saturday than knock Liverpool out of Europe and progress in that competition.
Much is often made of the relationship between the Manchester City coach and Jose Mourinho, but, after a tumultuous few years, the acrimony that was so pertinent during their tenures in Spain seems to have rescinded somewhat. Their philosophies, however, have done anything but.
Something can certainly be made of how they reflect their sides, indeed, how their fundamental ideas and beliefs echo through their respective clubs. Raheem Sterling – perhaps the player that has improved the most under Guardiola – has spoken glowingly of the City manager, stating that ‘Pep has been fantastic with me’. A stark contrast to the relationship Mourinho enjoys with his young star, Paul Pogba. Both parties appear to have leaked stories to the press in recent weeks, with Mourinho then compounding the sourness by refusing to play Pogba in his preferred position. In a decisive game against Sevilla in the Champions League, Mourinho then went one further by dropping him altogether. Pogba’s career is flowing in a very different direction to that of Sterling’s. The same comparison can be made for their managers.
City more than deserve to win the league, be it on Saturday or a week later. They have been scintillating right from the outset; a pace Manchester United could only keep up with for a matter of weeks. Saturday’s Manchester derby will only be further evidence of gulf between these two footballing heavyweights.
In a fixture steeped in history, it seems only one of Saturday’s participants are heading in the direction of a dynasty. Unfortunately, for Manchester United, it is the blue half and not them.
By Julian Bovill