The biggest game of the Premier League season finally lived up to the hype.
It was billed as Pep Guardiola vs. Jose Mourinho, good vs. evil, the philosopher against the pragmatist. In the end, City deservedly won 2-1, and the change of style and identity that Guardiola has affected at City in such a short space of time should put other coaches to shame.
Typically, Mourinho had nothing to do with the result, as he put the blame squarely on his players. “I told them at halftime that some of them were doing exactly what I told them not to do," he said after the game. "I think some of the boys felt the dimension of the game, everything around it, the derby, the focus, the attention. Maybe in the next big game I know who can accept that well; it’s very important.”
There were also some learnings for Guardiola: goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will take time to adjust to a new league, as he showed in his uneven debut. He flapped at a cross, which allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score, and he was lucky not to be sent off and concede a penalty for a reckless slide into Wayne Rooney while attempting to recover a ball he'd lost with a poor touch. He can take solace in the face that other goalkeepers–Hugo Lloris and David de Gea among them–have also started slowly in this league.
Even more significant is that City, such sharp operators in the final third, can clearly cope without Sergio Aguero, who has carried the team far too often on his own in previous seasons. In short order, Guardiola has already improved the team and its individuals. Kevin de Bruyne put in his early claim for the league’s Player of the Year award, while holding on for the win in the second half away from home showed a steeliness that has been questioned in the past.
City’s Champions League campaign gets underway Tuesday at home to Borussia Monchengladbach. In the past, City fans have had a distant relationship with the competition, as if believing that it doesn't quite belong in the top tier.
That could all change now. Guardiola has already lifted the team to another level.