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Pogba inspires dramatic comeback win
For a long while Manchester City had it sewn up. Or, at least, they thought they had. Blue smoke bombs were being let off. The first euphoric chants of “championees”,
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could be heard and the Etihad was overdosing on schadenfreude given the history of these teams and the prospect of a title-winning victory that would have meant so much in this divided city.
What followed was extraordinary. Manchester United scored, quickly added another and then one more to complete an
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improbable feat of escapology against the Premier League’s champions-in-waiting. From 2-0 down to 3-2 up in the
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space of 16 second-half minutes – the game had been turned upside down and, at the final whistle, the television cameras even picked out a few home supporters in tears.
Reminder: City are 13 points clear at the top of the table. Mourinho congratulated them afterwards for winning the title.
It was a wild, eccentric derby and one of the stirring United comebacks from a team, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s day at least, that used to make a habit of these kind of thrilling recoveries. United, to put it bluntly, were abysmal in the first half. Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan had both scored for City and it could easily have become a rout if Raheem Sterling had not been having one of those days when he seemed to confuse the measurements of David de Gea’s goal with a particularly troublesome barn door. Sterling’s misses did not feel so consequential at the time, with City winning 2-0, but they did by the end.
United certainly rode their luck bearing in mind the two incidents when penalties should have been awarded against Ashley Young – the second one, at 3-2, a studs-up lunge on the substitute Sergio Agüero that should also
have resulted in a red card – but it was a triumph, ultimately, for the
strength of personality within Mourinho’s team and if City defend this way against Liverpool on Tuesday their chances of reaching the Champions League semi-finals are somewhere between minimal and non-existent. This is the first time in Guardiola’s coaching career that one of his teams have conceded three goals in successive matches and Nicolás Otamendi, in particular, was badly exposed during the period of the game when Paul Pogba scored twice and Chris Smalling turned in the winner.
Until that stage, Pogba was part of a midfield that was being over-run and Alexis Sánchez had found it difficult to make any kind of favourable impression.
Yet the game swung on the moment, five minutes into the second half, when Gundogan’s shot flicked off the angle of crossbar and post. After that, United’s A-listers seemed to remember they were supposed to be elite performers. Pogba demonstrated his more attractive qualities and Sánchez – involved in all of his team’s goals – chose a good day to remind everyone why United made him the best-paid footballer in the land.
For Guardiola, it must have been startling to see the way City unravelled once Sánchez had drawn Otamendi out to the right wing and then swivelled away from him to help create Pogba’s first goal. Ander Herrera chested Sánchez’s cross into Pogba’s path and once the Frenchman had aimed his shot beyond Ederson it was remarkable how quickly the game swung United’s way.
Two minutes later, Sánchez crossed from the left and Pogba eluded Otamendi to equalise with a precise header. Smalling’s goal was another cross into the penalty area, this time from Sánchez’s free-kick, and the centre-half was completely alone as he side-footed his shot into an exposed net.
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