Premier Analysis: Manchester derby exposes weaknesses in both City and United
This was a game of three thirds. An intriguing tactical battle until Chris Smalling's gormless 38th-minute second yellow, it became merely a question of time before Sergio Aguero's inevitable goal… but soon afterwards, the champions retreated into their shell and only just survived a spirited comeback from a makeshift United side.
The visitors' line-up had always smacked of the ersatz. With Rafael and Phil Jones injured, Antonio Valencia filled in at right-back; meanwhile, Wayne Rooney played in a midfield three (with Daley Blind and Marouane Fellaini).
It is to their credit that those players performed impassively in those roles, and it was hardly scrabbling down the back of the sofa for coins – by some calculations, this was the most expensive starting XI in Premier League history at £241 million – but it does make you wonder what a difference it would make for Louis van Gaal to have a fit and balanced squad.
To begin with, however, United had more of the ball – although usually too far back to worry City. And on the half-hour, as the champions started to come into the game, Smalling made a decision that will haunt him all week, if not to the end of an Old Trafford career he may have unwittingly foreshortened.
By blocking Joe Hart's attempted drop-kick (leading to the furious City goalkeeper curiously leaning his head into referee Michael Oliver's face), Smalling picked up a yellow card that led many to wonder how he would cope with an hour against Aguero. They needn't have worried.
Meantime United had to reshuffle, with Marouane Fellaini dropping into the backline until Adnan Januzaj was sacrificed for another makeshift centre-back, Michael Carrick, who duly became the 31st player Van Gaal has used in this league campaign.
But not before Fellaini had felled Aguero in one of a number of penalty claims turned down by Oliver, possibly still blinded by the Head & Shoulders in his eyes.
That might have been the cue for City to destroy their eternal enemies, who now had to come out of their desperately defensive shell. Instead, the champions ceded control, not helped by Pellegrini's changes: first sacrificing the savvy Milner for the tentative Samir Nasri, then linkman Jovetic for frontman Dzeko, then goalscorer Aguero for Fernandinho (to predictable hoots of derision from Chelsea fans who remember the Chilean's jibe about "playing like a small club").
Over in the west of the city, there are other worries. After spending £122m net in the summer, United have earned just 13 points from their first 10 league games – their worst start since the one that got Ron Atkinson sacked, 28 years ago on Thursday.
The injuries don't help but £60m Di Maria's showing provoked disdain on social media, while their sometime talisman Robin van Persie barely touched the ball for the middle third of the game and was later replaced by another teenager. Van Gaal still has much work to do.
- No Premier League team has had more players sent off in 2014 than Manchester United (5, level with Newcastle, Spurs and Swansea).
- Chris Smalling was sent off for the first time in the Premier League, becoming the 26th United player to be sent off in the competition.
- Smalling’s red card was the earliest in Premier League Manchester derby history.
- Only against Liverpool (9) have Man United had more players sent off than they have v City (6) in the Premier League.
- Man United’s first shot on target came in the 70th minute (Van Persie). City had had 6 by that point.
- Sergio Aguero has scored 11 goals in his last 12 Premier League games.
- The Argentine striker has also scored 5 in 6 league games against Man United.
- Man City are only the second team in Premier League history (after Liverpool) to win 4 consecutive games against Man United.
- Man City have won 6 and lost just 1 of the last 7 Premier League Manchester derbies.
- The Citizens have won 4 consecutive league games against the Red Devils for the first time since December 1970.
- 13 points from 10 games is Man United’s worst start to a campaign since 1986/87, when they had eight at this stage and finished the season 11th.