by Victor Opone
WHAT IN THE HEAVENS WAS THAT?!!!!
It was there. It was out there for the taking! The wheel had been set in motion! How then did that slip away?!
How did a commanding display in the first half result in a second half capitulation? Should the magnificence of this ‘Citeh’ team be questioned now? More chinks in that shining armor, eh?
- The game started as anyone would expect. Forget all the pre-match talk between Pep and Mino Raiola. Forget Ibrahimovic’s claim that Mourinho had a plan to delay City’s title celebrations. Forget the questions being asked after Manchester City were roundly trashed at Anfield in midweek. The first half was Citeh all over. Manchester was blue through and through. Man. City fans greeted every pass, every tackle with an “ole!”
The gulf in quality between both teams was a clear as daylight! Mou’s men were being torn apart by a seemingly weaker City team and that was really morale dampening for United fans all over the world. No single attempt at goal, one corner in the first 45, it looked like Manchester City had come for some training before celebrating a league title they had easily strolled to.
- All that until Raheem Sterling decided to help United’s cause by spurning a hattrick of chances that really should have put paid to any hopes of a United resurgence. Ilkay Gundogan who had been criticized for being picked ahead of Sterling in the Anfield UCL defeat had gotten himself on the score sheet.
Sterling himself had also being involved in both goals. Playing him centrally was having the effect of tapping the spacebar multiple times between Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly, creating space for David Silva et al to run into. How he missed those chances are still baffling but despite that they were still in control. United fans would be forgiven for leaving the stadium at halftime.
- Questions have always being asked of Mourinho’s tactics in the big games, especially on away ground. Yesterday was no different. At halftime, critics were drafting justification scripts.
The team looked lost on the pitch and Mou was going to take the fall for it. Well, that was until The Special One brought out another trick from his magic bag. As Chris Smalling would later reveal post-match, the halftime team talk worked the magic.
- Alexis Sanchez’s transfer to Manchester United has been one of the most talked about in football since January. Plenty believe he’s been a needless buy, more because he limited the chances of Anthony Martial and Rashford in the first team. If there was ever a stage where he needed to show the difference between him and the two fan favourites, this was it! And boy, did he deliver?!!
Heavily involved in United’s three goals, two of those with moves he’s been trying to make since joining the team. Let’s just say it took Pogba some sacrifice and intelligent movement to make it work. Two goals to the good from that and then the waved instructions to his teammates in the buildup to the last goal. When was the last time United scored from a set-piece this season?
- Smalling who had been at fault for Kompany’s opener had his revenge with the third goal. Not the first time he’d score Citeh that way too. Ask Joe Hart. Not the first time Kompany would score from similar setting with Smalling clinging too. April 2012, folks! 6 years ago.
Six solid years and (barring one season under Luis Van Gaal) Smalling has not shown signs of improvements! He still looks very much the kind of player that shouldn’t be at a highly ambitious team competing for top honours!
- Paul Labile Pogba! Heavily involved in the prematch talking points between Mino Raiola and Pep Guardiola. Heavily criticized for not being that game changer in the big games. Heavily criticized for being flamboyant- especially that hairstyle! Missed the first leg due to one of those moments in the victory against Arsenal, it was only right he asserted himself right here.
Turned up in the second half combining with Alexis Sanchez as the much needed catalyst for a long-awaited victory. Selfless distribution of the ball in the second half. Fans would wish for more of the combination play displayed between him and Sanchez. Decided to bring some sh*thousery by riling the ‘Citeh’ players up later on. Contrived with Ander Herrera to show how the Manchester City players some dark arts.
- United’s Player of the Year last season, United’s forgotten bit-part player this season. Only Matic (67) had more touches of the ball than he did (62) of all United players in the match. Put his masterly display of sh*thousery and dark arts aside, his chest down assist for Pogba’s first goal was brilliant! Mourinho sure knows who to use when.
- David De Gea! Consistently making those saves that make a difference. Made that stunning save that ensured Manchester City had no way back in. Greatest goaltender presently?!
- And now to Martin Atkinson. Almost lost control of the game. A couple of non-penalty calls against Ashley Young of Man. Utd were highlights of his performance. Much has been said of the inconsistency of English refs this season and the last; this performance won’t put that to rest. More calls for VAR again.
- That aside, how on earth did Manchester City still contrive to lose despite being two goals ahead? Despite their manager trying so hard to deflect pressure off them? Despite being on a stroll to breaking some sweet records? Despite having the opportunity to defeat their city rivals in front of their own fans, at their own Etihad fortress, to clinch the title? Who else saw that Sir Alex Ferguson look when United were 2-0 down?
Pep Guardiola tried so hard for the past few weeks to remove every pressure from his players by deflecting but it all didn’t work in that second half. Reminiscence of last season’s capitulation. A week is a long time enough in football to end all claims of this side being the best ever Premier League team.
- Look what you’ve done!!! Manchester City fans actually did cry! They wanted this victory so much. They had it in their hands. They were already preparing the bants that those with bragging rights own. And yet, at full time all laughter and mockery from the first 45 minutes had faded into shock and tears. Mou had done them the unthinkable!
- The question now is, why didn’t other members of the Big Six pound more vehemently on Manchester City’s door earlier on in the season when everyone suspected they could capitulate? Questions have been asked of that ‘Citeh’ defence all season but no one attempted more than a few polite mild knocks asides Jurgen Klopp in January.
Is this going to have any bearing on next season? Markers set? The comments section is open for opinions and all. Fill up the space!! Leave me your comments and contributions. I’d love to hear from you.