But it has not, as yet, been able to burn off United. The inferiority complex that once marked City’s relationship with its neighbor has gone — mostly — and in recent years it has felt as if the blue half of Manchester is in the ascendancy and the red in decline.

Still, it would be a stretch to say that, even in the worst period of United’s history for three decades, the balance of power in the city has inverted. United has won three titles since City came into wealth, and made a couple of Champions League finals.

Photo

Pogba’s second goal, on an acrobatic header, tied the score, 2-2.

Credit
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It has proved to be the only team in England truly capable of matching, almost, City’s spending in the transfer market. Its hegemony may have disappeared, but its potency has not. It has not gone quietly into the night.

Finally, this year, City — and Guardiola — seemed to have done it, and the second Manchester derby of the season, for a time, appeared to offer proof. United might sit second in the Premier League table, but it is a distant second: as much as 18 points behind at various points of the season, and 16 back before kickoff on Saturday. City was going to win the title earlier than anyone had ever done it, with more points, by a bigger margin, having scored more goals and won more games.

Worse for United, perhaps, is that its coach, Mourinho, has long had the air of a man at odds not only with the club’s vaunted attacking traditions, but also with its self-confidence, its indomitable pride.

He has set his team up a little too often to stymie high-caliber opponents, rather than to impose United’s style. He has talked a little too often of how United is a faded power, not quite what it once was, a team that should by now be accustomed to not winning championships, or to crashing out of the Champions League, its “football heritage” one of misses, near and not so near.

Photo

Defender Chris Smalling completed the United comeback when he slipped behind City’s defense to turn in a free kick.

Credit
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

City has always been the Manchester club consumed with self-doubt, and United the one with the peacock strut and the frontman swagger, whatever the weather.

This season, they seemed to have swapped roles, and there were moments on Saturday, in that first half, that encapsulated it all. City pressed and United panicked, the reversal of roles in microcosm, a little window into what the future held: City racing clear, and United playing catch-up.

And then, almost out of nowhere, everything snapped back. In the locker room at halftime, Mourinho warned his United players that they did not want to be the “clowns sort of standing there, watching them receive their trophy.” His team responded.

In the space of two minutes, United was level, two goals created, at least in part, by Alexis Sanchez and scored by Paul Pogba, his hair dyed blue and white. Not long after, Mourinho’s team led, with Chris Smalling tapping home another Sanchez delivery.

It was, just for a moment, a reminder of how things used to be, of what the real “football heritage” of these two teams is: City managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, what they used to call Cityitis, and United never quite understanding the concept of losing, able to win when other teams would be lost.

In the short term, of course, it changes little, or nothing. Manchester City will still win the Premier League title. It will simply have to wait a little longer than it had hoped. It cannot claim a third championship in six years against Tottenham next week; it may, in reality, have to wait until the end of April to receive its prize, but it will get it. “They deserve it,” Mourinho said.

In the long term, beyond this season, it is a reminder. “Never again, never again,” Guardiola had said, on the eve of this game, when asked if City would be able to dominate the Premier League next year, and the year after, the way it has over the last nine months. This season has been an exception, he said; it should not be seen as a rule.

At the time, it felt like modesty. During that first half, it felt like misinformation. City was the future; United was just the last relic of the past. The plates had not just shifted, they were drifting apart. Now, though, it looks anything but. This has been City’s year; that will be confirmed soon enough. But United, like Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal, will gather again next year. The future is not quite so clear as it once appeared.

Continue reading the main story

Source

NO COMMENTS