MANCHESTER: Holders Manchester City will take a commanding lead into the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final after outclassing neighbours Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford’s late reply will give United hope they can still turn this tie around in the return on Wednesday, 29 January, but it should not deflect from City’s overwhelming superiority for the vast majority of the game.
Pep Guardiola’s side stunned the home fans with three first-half goals, and in truth they could have had many more before the break, such was the gulf between the two sides.
City, who left Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus on the bench, started with a strikerless 4-4-2 system that saw Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne their furthest players forward.
It was Bernardo who broke the deadlock, with a superb strike from the edge of the box that arrowed into the top corner of the net.
Riyad Mahrez made it 2-0 when he ran on to Bernardo’s pass and rounded David de Gea, with the home side hopelessly exposed.
By now, United were chasing shadows and it was soon 3-0, as a swift breakaway ended with De Bruyne twisting Phil Jones inside out before seeing his shot saved by De Gea but ricochet in off Andreas Pereira.
United’s limp resistance and lack of threat saw them booed off by some supporters at the break but they at least showed some resolve when they emerged for the second half.
City seemed content with their advantage, and United at last began to enjoy time on the ball, although they did not force Claudio Bravo into any meaningful action before Rashford’s goal.
That came when the visitors, for once, gave the ball away cheaply and Mason Greenwood fed the England striker to run through and score.
United never threatened to deny City a famous victory however, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are left with a huge task if they are to stop them reaching their third successive final, and their fourth in the past five years.
City were torn apart in the opening stages when these two sides met at the Etihad in the Premier League last month, but this time it was United who were left reeling early on.
Guardiola’s line-up left many observers scratching their heads before kick-off but his system, a fluid 4-4-2 that saw De Bruyne, Bernardo, Mahrez and Raheem Sterling change position at will, worked like a dream.
In December, City had no answer United’s raw speed but here it was the invention and improvisation of the visitors’ attack that did the damage, time and time again.
City have made a habit of winning at Old Trafford in recent years but their sparkling first-half performance was impressive, even by their high standards.
Only 3,000 away fans were there to witness it in person, in a tiny pocket of the ground, because of a reduced ticket allocation after incidents in recent derby matches.
But for the supporters who got a ticket, this was a night they will never forget. They loudly revelled in United’s misery and their own side’s success before giving their players a standing ovation at the final whistle. While City’s fans celebrated pretty much throughout, United’s supporters endured a very different evening with all of their side’s shortcomings in evidence.
When United tried playing out from the back, they were not capable of passing through City, and repeatedly surrendered possession.
And while the home fans urged their side to press City, they were not able to get near them for much of the match.
It meant they were unable to lay a finger on the visitors until the hour mark, when they finally managed their first sustained spell of pressure.
Rashford’s goal aside, there were not many positives for Solskjaer to take away from this encounter but at least his side did not crumble completely, which looked likely at one stage, and finished the game showing some degree of fight.
Solskjaer’s side are, somehow, still alive in the tie but this game should be seen as a reminder of how urgently United need reinforcements this month, even if they are more expensive than the club’s owners would like. (BBC)