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The last time Manchester United faced Manchester City at Old Trafford, it was an absolute loss on a Saturday night.
We had all spent many tedious hours during the lockdown, but this was really teasing.
Even Roy Keane, generally so shy and withdrawn when it comes to expressing his opinion, was furious.
The former Manchester United midfielder lashed out at the absence of yellow cards and the presence of hugs (not a COVID-related concern, he was also incredulous at the smiles and talks shared).
It was a game that personified the confinement: flat, banal, monotonous.
United were fresh from their disappointing elimination from the Champions League, while City constantly struggled to reach their irresistible form from previous seasons.
Fast-forward less than a month and Manchester’s rivals are suddenly two of the fittest teams in the Premier League, serving up an entertaining 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. It was from end to end, intense and of great quality.
City were victorious thanks to goals from John Stones and Fernandinho and it was worth their place in the April final. For the second time in four days, Pep Guardiola’s men were absolutely outstanding.
On Sunday, City were back to their best, sharp and effervescent, as they confidently dispatched Chelsea in 34 ruthless opening minutes.
United put up more of a fight Wednesday night, but eventually succumbed to City class.
The central defensive partnership of Ruben Dias and Stones was so strong that United were largely limited to half chances from range. The duo have conceded just one goal in their eight starts together: Dias brought a defensive maturity far beyond his tender 23 years, and Stones playing with true newfound confidence.
Building on this strong defensive foundation, City have begun to return to their creative and exciting attacking best. Phil Foden, having seen his playing time restricted a bit longer than expected this season given his post-lockout form and David Silva’s departure in the summer, followed up his impressive performance at Chelsea with another striking performance.
It is a pleasure to see the way the product of the city academy can see the sharpest angles and choose passes. Everything is so crisp and crisp: his low center to find Ilkay Gundogan on marginal offside within the first five minutes personifying his keen eye for a pass and a perfect centimeter delivery to match.
Driving the City forward again and again was the imperious Kevin de Bruyne. When he was prowling forward with the ball, you were always confident that he would pick the right pass, make the right decision, and cause trouble for United.
An incongruous inconsistency has been a revealing theme for most Premier League teams this season, understandable given the congested match schedule and the unique circumstances of the pandemic. That City have turned into two full performances in the space of four days is a true declaration of intent on Guardiola’s part.