Saturday evening was supposed to be all about Manchester City and Pep Guardiola in the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
If City could beat their neighbours they would secure the Premier League title, and everything seemed to be going to plan in the first half, even though Guardiola opted to bench key players ahead of their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Liverpool. City was carving United open at will, taking a 2-0 lead into halftime, when in reality they could have been out of sight.
You could say that United was powerless against a City side who were at their best in the first half. Jose Mourinho looked to have set his side up cautiously as they looked to contain Guardiola’s side over the course of the first forty-five minutes. United had looked shaky at the back and out of ideas further up the pitch, with many expecting City to put them to the sword at the break.
Mourinho and his players had other ideas though as they got back on level terms thanks to a great quick-fire double by Paul Pogba, before Chris Smalling completed the dramatic turnaround which saw United leave the Etihad with all three points. The 3-2 victory was one of the comebacks of the season, with many people questioning just how United had managed to pull it off.
There is no denying that Paul Pogba’s second-half showing was integral in the fight back. The Frenchman had cut somewhat of an anonymous figure in the first half, but he was arguably the best player on the pitch in the second half. A lot of criticism has been directed his way this season, but he showed just why he is considered as one of the world’s finest midfielders during the second forty-five at the Etihad.
Mourinho, however, spoke of how he instructed his wide players to get more involved in the second half and it this was the masterstroke that was needed to give United the ability to hurt City. Alexis Sanchez turned creator for both of Pogba’s strikes, first on the right-hand side and then from the left. This tweak by Mourinho went unnoticed by the majority until he himself pointed it out post-match.
It was also interesting to hear that Michael Carrick has had a direct influence on Paul Pogba since the Frenchman returned to Old Trafford from Juventus. Pogba spoke of how Carrick had been analysing games and suggested that he should use his physicality to make runs into the box, just as he did for both of his goals on Saturday.
This shows that Carrick is a major influence behind the scenes at the club, with his playing career coming to an end this summer. It’s expected he will stay on at United in some capacity and the fact that he’s having such a positive influence on players like Pogba can only be seen as a good thing.