There was a moment in the second half when Pep Guardiola paused in the midst of whatever torment routinely grips him during the course of a match to throw an arm around Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and briefly acknowledge the occasional absurdities of a life in this game.
The most famous manager in the world was watching his Manchester City team lose a grip on the Premier League title they have won for two seasons running with an aura of invincibility that has slipped badly of late. They have dropped eight points in their last five games but it is hard to put just a numerical measure on a defeat like this, when at times the Guardiola machine looked slow and vulnerable and – worst of all for their manager – were beaten by a younger, braver side.
This was a magnificent derby game on the pitch, where it was played right on the edge. Whatever came from the stands, both sides reflected the great longstanding rivalry, and the standard was high. Later Guardiola would suggest that United’s counter-attacking style was less noble than his approach to the game, and that his team had dominated the ball. But these are the challenges that champions face and the gap to league leaders Liverpool is now enormous.
No club have ever won an English top-flight title from 14 points behind, as City now are from Liverpool, and Guardiola was reminded afterwards that this is the lowest points return that he has ever taken in his managerial career after 16 games of a season. He is right about City’s dominance - 72 per cent possession, 22 attempts on goal - although there was still something missing, that old inevitability that they would find a way through.
They were skewered on a marvellous counter-attacking performance from United who scored early through Marcus Rashford’s penalty and then minutes later through Anthony Martial, before they fought their way through the final hour of the game. But what City lacked was in the fine margins: Aaron Wan-Bissaka largely controlled Raheem Sterling, Angelino lived in fear of the pace of Daniel James, and in the end they could not force United into a collapse.
For Solskjaer this was his first back-to-back league win since March, four days in which he has beaten the teams of Jose Mourinho and now Guardiola. He wants to convince the world that he has the right answers to the six-year problem of United but most of all he wants to convince his players. For the likes of James, Scott McTominay and Wan-Bissaka this was a breakthrough game. The same might be said for Fred, “arguably man of the match”, said Solskjaer against a side he routinely described as the best in the world.
In the VIP seats Sir Alex Ferguson applauded a great United win that was based on a fluent counter-attack against a City defence that was sufficiently hesitant to make such an approach worthwhile. It was a vintage first half for United, in which they played with the confidence of a side that had spotted a weakness in their old rivals and just needed to press in the right places. Later, Solskjaer was reluctant to call it counterattacking, preferring instead, “attacking flowing football with the right intent”.
They were a goal to the good on 20 minutes and the second came three minutes later when there were six blue shirts in the home area and not one could stop Martial turning and shooting. It came amidst a burst of chances which left City rocking. Guardiola would later talk about failing to “control the counterattack” but it was much more visceral than that in the moment. City were failing to control the game, and their defence looked shot. John Stones would come off injured in the second half for Nicolas Otamendi whose late goal set up a fierce finish.
Asked whether it was the best United performance of his year in charge, Solskjaer seemed to agree, “when you consider who we are playing,” he said, “and where we are playing”. He pointed out his team had one fewer day to recover from the midweek fixtures and what effect that had. “We have had to reshape the squad and change the culture – and change the way we want to play,” he said, looking back on the year. “When you prepare for these games to watch so many [past matches]... it’s not nice to see at City are so much better.”
This time United were at their best in the moments when they wasted no time. Just a minute after the first goal they went up the pitch in three passes – James, Jesse Lingard, Fred and then finally to Rashford, hitting the shot first time when he might have taken another touch. But that was the mood of United in that short period when it felt for them like anything was possible.
The video assistant referee Michael Oliver had given United the penalty which Anthony Taylor had inexplicably missed on 20 minutes. Bernardo Silva came in from Rashford’s left as the striker slipped through the penalty area traffic, his eyes on the United man and clipping the striker’s left leg. Rashford sent Ederson the wrong way from the spot for his 13th goal in 14 games for club and country. By that point Ederson had already made good saves from Lingard and Martial.
City wanted a penalty for a handball against Fred in first-half stoppage time but the official VAR verdict was that it did meet the criteria for a handball when a player is falling, as the midfielder was. It is not handball, according to the laws of the game, when the hand or arm is between body and the ground to support the falling body. “Next season we will be better – and luckier,” Guardiola said, suggesting that he thought it should be different.
Some City fans had already left when Otamendi headed in his fellow substitute Riyad Mahrez’s corner with five regulation minutes remaining. The Argentine had carried Wan-Bissaka along with him on his surge onto the ball, the United full-back caught out for the first time all afternoon and unable to get himself set to prevent the run. There had been a great David De Gea save from Rodri, and a Victor Lindelof block on a Kevin De Bruyne shot too. These are the moments in the past when City have come through to win but not this time, and not often enough in recent weeks.
FULL TIME: City 1-2 United
City looked out of sorts and now, probably, out of the title race. They saw so much of the ball but, for once, struggled to create the gilt-edge chances they are famous for. They are 14 points behind Liverpool now and based on this performance alone - ignoring the points difference - look like having no chance of defending their title.
As for United, what a few days. That was in the words of Sky pundit Roy Keane a 'proper' United performance. A week ago everyone was deciding who Solskjaer's replacement would be. they've now beaten Spurs and followed that up with this brilliant win at their City rivals.
There's a lot to work on but McTominay and Fred were brilliant in midfield and ahead of them Rashford illustrated what fine player he is.
95 mins: City 1-2 United
Another corner for City, they go short and De Bruyne crosses and its piball madness in the box BUT that's it - UNITED WIN!
94 mins: City 1-2 United
Free kick to United as Walker lunges on the edge of the United box. Yet another chance to eat up time for the visitors.
92 mins: City 1-2 United
United are playing keep ball about a yard from the corner flag and, as so often when teams do that, lose the ball.
City attack but as has been the case for most of the match are unable to create a decent chance.
91 mins: City 1-2 United
Walker fires a cross into the area but United get it away and it's three against three, and United do well to win a corner to take some pressure away and eat up valuable seconds.
88 mins: City 1-2 United
There will be five extra minutes so City have time to get that all-important goal.
86 mins: City 1-2 United
City are now sensing they can get a result. The ball finds Mahrez inside the box and the winger comes in on his left and forces De Gea into a good, low save. That was a good chance for the Algerian.
Can United hold on and help their bitter rivals Liverpool?
GOAL!!!! City 1-2 United
For all their possession you felt that if City were to come back into it it would come from a set piece and so it does. Otamendi powers in a header unchallenged in the six-yard box.
GAME. BACK. ON
82 mins: City 0-2 United
United are looking as comfortable as they have all half. After some sustained possession Pereira plays a delightful ball into the area but Lingard cannot get on the end of it and thankfully, for City, the ball ends in the arms of Ederson.
79 mins: City 0-2 United
United keep a deep line as the ball finds Mahrez, the Algerian crosses but it's too high for Sterling, had he been able to get on the end of that it would have been an open goal.
Let's hug it out
76 mins: City 0-2 United
Here's a stat to warm some City hearts. They have scored 10 goals in the last 15 minutes this season, the most in the league.
They need at least two now...
73 mins: City 0-2 United
Martial's game is over as he is replaced by Pereira whose first involvement is to nearly play Rashford in on goal.
His second contribution is to deliberately foul Sterling and see a yellow card - that was a bit obvious, the last thing United need is to go down to 10 men.
72 mins: City 0-2 United
Yet more solid defending from United, they really are making City work hard for even a half chance.
City win yet another corner from which Otamendi nearly heads in - it goes wide, however, and United remain 2-0 up.
No joy for Raheem
69 mins: City 0-2 United
The corner ends up with City in attack and, once again, unable to create much. Sterling falls under the challenge of Maguire but there's no penalty and no VAR - phew...
68 mins: City 0-2 United
Another counter attack from United ends with Lingard firing in from a tight angle and Ederson again saving well. For all the possession City have had it's Ederson who has made the most saves.
The resulting corner is not taken as Fred is hit by something from the stands. This is getting heated.
67 mins: City 0-2 United
City are getting closer - Sterling fires in a shot that's deflected by the brilliant Wan Bissaka towards the far post but Mahrez cannot get a decisive touch.
64 mins: City 0-2 United
The ball comes to Rodri on the edge of the box and the midfielder is forces De Gea into a good, if regulation, save tipping the shot over.
62 mins: City 0-2 United
You get the feeling that if City can get a goal then victory is still a possibility BUT De Gea has yet to make make save and the minutes are ticking away.
60 mins: City 0-2 United
Sterling dances with ball right across the penalty area but is not able to get a shot in as Wan Bissaka intervenes. Great defending from the big-money man.
58 mins: City 0-2 United
Stones is injured and replaced by Otamendi.
54 mins: City 0-2 United
Chance for City. De Bruyne gets the ball after some messy defending from United, it looks like he'll definitely score but a brilliant sliding tackle from Lindelof deflects the shot over for a corner.
51 mins: City 0-2 United
Counterattack on for United, they had four attackers and Rashford makes the wrong choice passing to Martial who is up against a rapid Walker and the City full back induces a foul and sees off the trouble. But signs that for all City are likely to see the ball this half they will need to be weary of the United attack.
48 mins: City 0-2 United
David Silva twists and turns his way inside the left-hand side of the box but his shot-cum-cross goes behind without troubling the defence or De Gea. As with the first half City are seeing a lot of the ball but not creating much of an end product and considering their attack talent that has to worry Gaurdiola.
46 mins: City 0-2 United
De Bruyne forces an early corner but United defend well and Angelino is forced to shoot high from long range.
45 mins: City 0-2 United
We're back underway and this is a huge 45 minutes as far as the title race goes. We're expecting wave after wave of City attack...
United's to lose!
2 - Man Utd have never lost any of the previous 170 Premier League games when they have been 2+ goals ahead at half-time (W167 D3), while Man City have never won any of the previous 51 matches when trailing at the interval by such a margin in the competition (D1 L50). Mountain. pic.twitter.com/GEe1taVrv3— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2019
Close but not close enough
HALF TIME: City 0-2 United
The scoreline may shock some but it is no more than United deserve. Bar the last 10 minutes United were completely on top and could have easily been 4-0 up.
They were scintillating in attack and looked as far from the dull, listless lot so regularly seen this season. They attacked at pace and with purpose, Rashford and James in particular impressed.
As for City, they saw a lot of the ball and the last 10 minutes gives them hope BUT De Gea is yet to make a 'proper' save and one can only wonder just how animated Guardiola is in the City dressing room right now.
47 mins: City 0-2 United
Penalty shout for City. Walker gets to the byline and hits low cross which hits the arm of Fred sliding in.
It goes to VAR and the video guys say...NO PENALTY...
44 mins: City 0-2 United
De Bruyne again at the heart of City's attack, he floats in a ball which United do well to get away. The big-money defenders Maguire and Wan Bissaka are both having good games at the moment.
41 mins: City 0-2 United
Better from City. The past 10 minutes have been the their best of the match. They've dominated possession and stopped United's counter-attacks.
A David Silva free kick is easily gathered from De Gea who is yet to make a meaningful save.
Here's a stat
2 - Manchester United are the first side to be 2-0 up before the half hour mark of a Premier League game away at Manchester City since Liverpool in November 2015. Shocked. pic.twitter.com/ffaGOTsRbK— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2019
39 mins: City 0-2 United
Free kick from De Bruyne on the edge of the box but De Bruyne hits it just over. You get the feeling that City's chances of getting back into the match rest on his shoulders.
37 mins: City 0-2 United
Great ball from De Bruyne gifts Jesus a brilliant chance in the six-yard box, but the striker heads wide with the goal at his mercy. City need the Belgian to get more of the ball and create just like that.
Cool as you like
35 mins: City 0-2 United
City are seeing a lot of the ball but are struggling to create clear-cut chances and to get De Bruyne in the game. The second point probably explains the first.
31 mins: City 0-2 United
The United fans are singing Solskjaer's name and all the talk of his possible sacking before the match seems a lifetime ago. What's that phrase '10 minutes is a long time in football' - or something like that...
GOAL!!! City 0-2 United
It's no more than they deserve...United look so comfortable in possession they are toying with the City backline - all the attackers see the ball, James passes to Martial who fires with his left and beats Ederson at the near post.
I haven't seen any side do this to City at the Etihad in the league in ages.
13 - Marcus Rashford has scored 13 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions this season - equalling his best goalscoring return for Man Utd in a single season (13 goals in 47 apps in 2018-19 and 13 goals in 52 apps in 2017-18). Composed. pic.twitter.com/G9qjibOh31— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2019
25 mins: City 0-1 United
City are getting battered on the counter. James and Rashford's pace is causing problems galore for City. Rashford shoots from outside the box and his shot hits the crossbar.
Guardiola does not look a happy man and it's not hard to see why.
24 mins: City 0-1 United
Another. Big. Chance.
Rashford is played through by Fred and he has a glorious chance to make it 2-0 but a first time shot goes wide when he had the chance to take a touch and his time.
United could easily be 3-0 up by now.
22 mins: City 0-1 United
That was Rashford's 10th goal in his past 11 appearances.
If he was nervous it didn't show - but he had every right to have the jitters, United have missed four penalties so far this season compared to two combined by the other 19 sides in the league.
GOAL!!! City 0-1 United
Rashford makes no mistake, sending Ederson the wrong way and coolly slotting home from the spot.
Well deserved lead for the visitors.
19 mins: City 0-0 United
Bernardo Silva crashes into Rashford. The referee does not give it. It goes to VAR. VAR 'points' to the spot.
You cannot have a go at VAR there - the video guys got that right.
15 mins: City 0-0 United
The pace has just dropped a little after the rapid start. United see some sustained possession, the ball ends up with James on the right who plays in Rashford on the edge of the area and the England striker forces another save from Ederson. The City keeper is easily the busier of the two so far and there is a nervousness about the hosts at the back.
12 mins: City 0-0 United
Shouts for handball from the City players as the ball hits Lindelof's hand low in the area. VAR does its job and the game continues.
8 mins: City 0-0 United
Another BIG chance for United who are countering very well and making City look very vulnerable at the back. Lingard is played in on the inside left channel by Rashford and Ederson is forced to save low. Will Solskjaer's side rue these missed chances?
6 mins: City 0-0 United
Sterling plays in David Silva whose sides slides wide...
Did I say this was a fast start?! End-to-end stuff so far .
4 mins: City 0-0 United
First corner goes to the hosts - they go short before Sterling floats the ball across the box, Nunited cant get the ball away and it's incessant pressure from City. United finally break clear and Martial is nearly in one-on-one with Ederson, Walker clears the danger - it had to be him, only he had the pace to catch the Frenchman.
This is a very quick start from both sides...
2 mins: City 0-0 United
First chance of the match goes to United. A classic counterattack sees James free on the edge of the box and he forces a good save from Ederson. The ball then immediately goes the other end and De Bruyne forces some last-ditch defending from the United backline.
Both sides already looked better going forward than defending, are we in for a high-scoring match?
1 min: City 0-0 United
We're underway at the Etihad and City look dangerous from the start, Sterling seeing a lot of the ball, but United defend well and already seating a bit deeper than you'd expect.
The teams are out
City have to be the favourites but United have shown glimpses, just glimpses mind, this season that they can perform well against the bigger clubs. Will this be one of those days?
Home comforts not brilliant for City
At least when it comes to the derby.
Of the past five clashes at the Etihad Guardiola's side have won just twice, drawing once and losing twice...
City 3-1 United
City 2-3 United
City 0-0 United
City 0-1 United
City 1-0 United
Blasts from the past
Here are a few memorable derby-day goals from the past decade.
A penny for Pep's thoughts...
The Man City manager on the threat facing his side today.
They are fast up front and have a lot of quality so we need to control the match and make sure we can get on top of Rashford and Martial.
Guardiola on how his side needs to approach the derby.
It is special for the fans and the people but you need to control the emotion on the pitch.
On Luke Shaw's first league start since August
Luke is ready, he played in Astana and is sharp enough. Hope we'll see the best of him.
On the task facing United
We'll need to be at our best today. If you give City too much of the ball they can beat anyone. We are a threat from counter attacks so we want to feed our forwards as much as we can. We know we're playing a fantastic side on their home ground.
On what the win against Tottenham means
Wednesday was a fantastic result and we deserved to win. It was a confidence boost and hopefully we can see that today.
Ole is clearly feeling confident after the win over Spurs
How else can you explain his bravado ahead of this match? The under-pressure manager gave it the 'big we are' this week claiming that despite the recent differing fortunes of the two sides that United are still the bigger club.
United's start XI is...
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Shaw, Fred, McTominay, Lingard, Rashford, James, Martial
That starting lineup sees two changes to the side that defeated Spurs on Wednesday. Luke Shaw comes in at left-back for Ashley Young, while Anthony Martial returns after injury in place of Mason Greenwood.
Just the one change..,
...for City who have named John Stones for Nicolas Otamendi who drops to the bench having played in their 4-1 win at Burnley.
City name their side
Here's how we line up for the 179th Manchester Derby...— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 7, 2019
XI: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Angelino, Rodrigo, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, G Jesus.
SUBS: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.
�� #ManCity#MCIMUN �� pic.twitter.com/Q8hdQQbpvz
As big a must-win match as there can be?
No side likes to lose a derby. It's a fierce battle for bragging rights (does anyone use that phrase other than in sport?!) which can see families divided and passions overflow.
But this Manchester match up, the last of the decade, is for vastly different reasons a must-win for both Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
For the United manager it's a case of simply trying to keep his job.
It seems to happen that as soon as one club decide to sack their manager that a load follow suit. No sooner than Tottenham sacked Pochettino than Arsenal (Unai Emery), Waford (Quique Sánchez Flores) and Everton (Marco Silva) all followed suit within the next two weeks. Even by the standards of the bonkers Premier League owners - moneybags men who always want success yesterday - that's some going. So for that reason alone Solskjaer needs a result at the Etihad today - sacking the boss is clearly the festive fashion this year and Ole will not want to add his name to the sorry list.
United have made their worst start to a season since 1989 and with every defeat the death knells surrounding the Norwegian's place in the dugout grow louder. A loss to their city rivals could be too much for a twitchy board to take.
Guardiola also needs a win.
With Liverpool 3-0 up over Bournemouth they look like they are about to enjoy a 14-point lead at the top of the table. Not wanting to be Scrooge and spoil the fun, but, let's face it, if City cannot cut that advantage back to 11 points this evening then the title race is done and dusted - give the trophy to the Reds and lets focus on the duller race for Champions League spots - joy!
City looked back to their dominant best at Burnley on Tuesday and will look to take the game to an inconsistent and, at times, fragile United.
Stay here for all the pre-match news and analysis.