Football

Impressive Goals Fail To Hide Where United & City Floundered

Impressive Goals Fail To Hide Where United & City Floundered

Chris Smalling appears a player quietly confident that he is where he belongs.

At the tail-end of his eighth season with Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all served to reinforce this belief.

Although the presence of David De Gea in the United goal covers many of the glaring issues that still plague Mourinho's side, they are nonetheless second (however distantly) in the Premier League. Before this afternoon's remarkable defeat of Manchester City, they had conceded only two more goals than Guardiola's championship-winning side; that deficit is now one.

After a fairly delicately poised opening twenty minutes, Mourinho's side fell apart. The cries of Olé were ringing out among the City supporters before forty minutes had elapsed. This, in what was supposed to be a test of City's character after the mid-week defeat to Liverpool.

While this incarnation of Guardiola's Manchester City stands higher already than the best Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pelligrini could create, one common-thread shared between that first Premier League winning side and this latest vintage was crucial in a dominant first-half performance.

As it was in 2012, so it is in 2018.

In what was a title-shifting win in late April 2012, Kompany lifted himself above an lackadaisical Smalling and headed the game's decisive goal. Almost exactly six years on, the Belgian, having been ravaged with injuries and a largely peripheral figure in Guardiola's side this season, arguably made Smalling look more inept still.

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Yet, while that solitary goal in 2012 signaled the fine, fine margins that kept Mancini's City and Ferguson's United apart, the ease with which Kompany converted Leroy Sane's cross this time round acted as the catalyst City needed to demonstrate the astonishing gulf that now separates both Manchester clubs.

In a matter of minutes, Ilkay Guendogan had got City's second of the afternoon, and, once more, Smalling's inability to handle David Silva in the build-up was glaring.

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An astonishing 90 or so seconds from Paul Pogba improbably hauled United out of their misery (a redemption story in and of itself), and yet, this served to highlight a broader question about the defending generally.

Although you would struggle to blame Kompany or Nicolas Otamendia for either of Pogba's two quick goals, the Belgian's flailing leg for the first, or their joint lack of spatial awareness for the second, demonstrated the defensive frailties in City's side that Liverpool so ruthlessly exploited mid-week.

While one senses Eamon Dunphy's mid-week tirade against City's lack of authentic, John Terry-esque defenders fails to take into the equation Guardiola's broader approach, both Smalling and Kompany were left looking like yesterday's men at various points.

And yet, their intertwined story had more left in it during the most exciting Manchester derby in recent years.

A wonderfully floated free-kick from Alexis Sanchez deceived Kompany, and vindicated Smalling.

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Over the course of a game with interchangeable heroes and villains, neither Kompany nor Smalling excelled at what one would expect of them however.

Superbly taken goals at vital times in the match, both players nonetheless highlight the wider issue of when it has mattered at moments throughout this season (albeit more regularly in United's case). As City rallied at the end, once again De Gea redeemed United when the box became a veritable free-for-all.

Although City are on a different level to United at this moment in time, in both Smalling and Kompany there are key indicators of where their shared fault-lines reside.

See Also: Jose Mourinho Has Responded To Pep Guardiola's Pogba Claims

Arthur James O'Dea

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