The victory required to earn the third crown of the Abu Dhabi-era seemed guaranteed by 30 minutes when skipper Vincent Kompany headed in and Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan adroitly found the bottom corner.
But wastefulness from the hosts was punished when unleashed France midfielder Paul Pogba struck twice in two second-half minutes and maligned defender Chris Smalling volleyed home.
EVERY POG HAS HIS DAY
For the first time in far, far too long churlish discussions about Pogba’s hairstyles and the undulations of his relationship with Jose Mourinho can be parked.
A pair of superb goals separated by 97 seconds silenced both Etihad Stadium and the pre-match scandal caused by Pep Guardiola’s revelations about Machiavellian ‘super-agent’ Mino Raiola’s flagrant scheming.
“Say what,” indeed.
Reward for Mourinho belatedly pushing his most-talented footballer 20 yards up the pitch after the break was the 25-year-old’s first club goals since November 18.
This was like watching great United men in full flow such as Duncan Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane.
Pogba has the ability to match them. If only he was always granted the freedom to do so.
TALE OF TWO CENTRE-BACKS
Kompany and Smalling share plenty of history when it comes to title tussles between the Manchester giants.
Rewind the clock to 2011/12’s classic race and you will see the pair playing pivotal roles.
When the Belgium talisman out-jumped Smalling for April 30’s 1-0 triumph, it confirmed the “noisy neighbours” had reeled in Sir Alex Ferguson’s men ahead of the eventual iconic victory on goal difference.
There seemed similar pertinence on Saturday when the dropped England defender was embarrassingly outmuscled again.
Kompany looked to have produced another grandstand moment to add his collection that contains others like February’s League Cup showpiece effort and 2013/14’s final-day top-flight clincher versus West Ham.
Except this time, Smalling had his chance to turn the tables and definitely delay City’s party.
This week has seen English football get back in touch with the power of raw passion.
It began with the fabled “Anfield Roar” knocking City down a notch to put Liverpool in utter command of their Champions League destiny.
United were then stunted, reactive and overrun in a chastening opening period on Saturday. Zero shots on target were registered by the interval.
Forced to look inside for a response, they charged back to regain personal and local pride.
If only disgraced supporters on both nights could have positively channelled these emotions.
The 231st Merseyside derby will not live long in the memory as Everton failed to capitalise on a weaker than usual Liverpool side in an uneventful goalless draw at Goodison Park.
With a Champions League quarter-final second leg, in which they lead 3-0, against Manchester City to come on Tuesday the visitors could be forgiven for being preoccupied and manager Jurgen Klopp’s team selection reflected the importance of that game rather than this.
Despite a late rally in which Seamus Coleman and substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin could have snatched victory the Toffees’ seven-and-a-half-year wait for a derby win was extended to 17 matches.
Here, we analyse the performance of Reds youngster Dominic Solanke.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 4
Shots on target – 1
Touches – 50
Passes – 28
Key passes – 1
Dribbles – 1
Bad control – 10
With Mohamed Salah not even making the squad and Roberto Firmino starting on the bench, it was left to Solanke and Danny Ings to spearhead Liverpool’s attack with Sadio Mane the only surviving member of Jurgen Klopp’s trio of terror.
Solanke, it is fair to say, has not enjoyed the smoothest ride into the first-team fold with the 20-year-old yet to score for the Reds since joining from Chelsea in the summer but fortune seems to have deserted him.
He was unlucky not to open his account against Everton, Jordan Pickford denying him from close-range from an instinctive strike. However, while he can’t control the athleticism of a goalkeeper who is sure to be England’s No1 in Russia, there are elements of his own game which he can command and didn’t impress with.
For a striker who stands 6ft1 and is beginning to fill out that frame with much more imposing physique, Solanke really struggled to hold the ball up. When he signed, the England international was viewed as a hybrid target man, a striker strong in the air but quick on the deck as well.
It was far from his best performance at Goodison Park but the reality for a forward is that momentum is fundamental to progression and without consecutive games, expecting impact from a young player still adapting to the rigours of senior football is a little harsh.
Lay-offs – His first-touch can be awfully heavy at times and with the way Klopp’s side ping the ball around the pitch, that’s not a great attribute. But on the occasions Solanke does grip possession, his lay-offs to players around him were sharp.
Movement – Everton’s midfield look painfully exposed at times and that is thanks in large part to the intelligent movement of the striker to drop in and create an overload. Off the ball, he’s very useful it’s just on it where he struggles.
Finishing – This goes without saying after finishing the game with four shots and only one of those hitting the target. He was denied by a solid stop from Pickford but he lacked composure when other opportunities arose.
Hold-up play – For a striker of his stature, he should be looking after the ball far better. Liverpool did look for the quick early diagonal ball out of the back but too often they were let down by poor control from Solanke.
Klopp letting Solanke, Ings and Clyne run around for 90 minutes is more valuable to him than a good performance here today.— Mootaz Chehade (@MHChehade) April 7, 2018
8th min CHANCE: Solanke makes progress down the left and cuts it back to Wijnaldum, who hits a shot miles, miles over.
11th min SHOT: Nice move from the visitors as Milner crosses and Solanke gets up well for a header but fails to hit the target.
15th min SHOT: Solanke is sharp to react to a deflected cross from the right and stab at goal but Pickford gets down well to deny him a certain goal. A really good stop.
Not a performance which will inspire a lot of confidence from a dubious Liverpool fan base but Klopp likes the 20-year-old and he has the physical attributes to offer a solid alternative to the guile of the trio of terror.
Was the closest in a red shirt to scoring but will be disappointed he didn’t make more of an impact on his rare start.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
A big day of action is set to unfold in the Premier League as under-pressure Manchester City have the chance to lift the title at Manchester United.
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