LONDON – A double from Kevin De Bruyne. A double from Riyad Mahrez. The double completed by City over United in this season's Manchester derbies.
Just further confirmation of the divergent paths these one-time rivals are on in the Premier League.
The 4-1 victory on Sunday restored City's six-point lead over Liverpool in its quest to defend the title and pick up the trophy for a sixth time in a decade.
And where is United? Languishing 22 points behind City and now no longer even in the fourth and final Champions League place.
“They showed what kind of top quality team they have,” United interim manager Ralf Rangnick said.
It was being outclassed at home and losing 2-0 to City in the derby in November that precipitated the firing of Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The final blow was losing to Watford — the team that was beaten 3-2 in Sunday's other game that allowed Arsenal to dislodge United from fourth.
“I didn’t actually expect Arsenal to lose at Watford," Rangnick said. "So for us it’s clear, if we still want to have a chance to finish fourth at the end of the season, we can almost not drop any more points, and we also know that in those 10 games that we have to play, there are a few other difficult ones so let’s take it game by game.
“For us, it’s important we keep developing the team, which we did in the last couple of months.”
But United has been a work in progress since Alex Ferguson retired back in 2013 after the last Premier League title win.
Sunday's game produced only City's second home derby win in the league in seven attempts. But while United and City both have a net spend of around $1 billion on transfers in the last decade, the blue half of Manchester is the team regularly collecting trophies. United is enduring a five-year title drought since the 2017 Europa League triumph that can only be ended by winning the Champions League this season.
The European Cup is the priority trophy for City after losing the final last season to Chelsea, however sweet it will be to win the Premier League again.
United did have to cope without Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw through injury or illness on Sunday. That doesn't fully account for how ineffective United was or how susceptible Harry Maguire was in defense.
It took City only five minutes to go in front. De Bruyne connected with the cutback from Bernardo Silva and shot through Maguire’s legs and past goalkeeper David De Gea.
There was a glimmer of hope when Paul Pogba released Jadon Sancho and the former City player took on Kyle Walker before bending the ball into the net in the 22nd minute.
City took only six minutes to regain the lead. The move began with a moment of dazzling individual brilliance by Phil Foden flicking the ball over Victor Lindelof. While the shot was parried by De Gea, Bernardo Silva’s follow-up shot was only partly blocked by Maguire before United defender Alex Telles managed to knock the ball for De Bruyne to net again.
“They tried to press us and they played well in the first half," De Bruyne said. “In the second half we found more opportunities."
It was Mahrez’s turn to contribute the goals in the second half at the Etihad Stadium — starting with an assist from De Bruyne.
Mahrez connected with a corner from the Belgium playmaker with a half-volley that slightly deflected off Maguire before landing in the net in the 68th.
There was initially an offside reprieve for United in the 90th but then the VAR review did allow Mahrez’s strike to count, compounding the misery for United.
“If the second half is not our best I don’t know what we have to do, honestly,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “I’m such a demanding man, but I know my limits and I know the players’ limits and the second half in all terms (was excellent)."
Maguire was devastated as he tried to analyze what went wrong.
“When we had the ball," Maguire said. “We just gave it back to them far too cheaply, far too easily, we weren’t clean enough with our passing. And in moments where we did have chances to hurt them we weren’t clinical enough, we weren’t clean enough with the passing and the transitional moments in the game, especially in the second half.”
United took to the field knowing Arsenal had already won at Vicarage Road and gone fourth.
A cut-back from Bukayo Saka set up Martin Odegaard to slot in the opener in the fifth minute. Although Watford leveled though Cucho Hernandez’s acrobatic volley, Saka restored the lead in the 30th after a one-two with Alexandre Lacazette. Gabriel Martinelli's curling shot at the start of the second half extended the lead for Arsenal, which endured a nervy end after Moussa Sissoko's goal in the 87th but Watford couldn't muster a comeback and remains next-from-last in the standings.
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