It was a rough day for Manchester United. Not only did they lose the derby, conceding two sloppy set-piece goals and offering very little themselves in the way of attack, but they now find themselves 11 points behind the league leaders and probably too far back for victory.
There’s a long way to go, but the prevailing message to come out of Manchester City is certainly not one you could disagree with: they’d rather be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind.
But if United can feel disappointed by their position and their attacking effectiveness in relation to their neighbours, they can probably also feel down about their own side.
Despite having paid hundreds of millions of pounds for Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, it’s these two players who arguably had the biggest impact on the derby from a United point of view. And that’s only because they were conspicuous by their absence.
Pogba’s absence is obvious. His suspension robbed United of a counter-attacking threat and a player with the ability to compete with City’s midfield three who ran the game.
Lukaku’s absence from the game certainly wasn’t expected, however. And even though he missed his side’s biggest chance of the game, the Belgian striker’s impact on the game was minimal at best outside of that moment.
With a grand total of two shots – one hit straight at Ederson from yards out, and with the goal gaping – and only 27 touches in the entire game, Lukaku clearly wasn’t in the thick of it. But more galling for the Red Devils was his passing stats. Over the whole 90 minutes, the former Everton striker attempted only 16 passes, and completed just 38% of them: that means only six times over the whole game did he find a teammate with a pass.
Indeed, even in the areas of the game where you’d have expected Lukaku to be effective against City, he simply wasn’t. Not only did the vast majority of his passes go astray, but he also managed to win only six of his 14 aerial duels – hardly what you’d expect from a towering 6’3” striker playing against Manchester City, one of the smallest sides in the league.
Lukaku’s involvement in both of City’s goals, as well as his miss in the second half, will draw most of the criticisms he’ll get this week. As will the fact that his record in big games is suspect. But perhaps the biggest negative was just how ineffective the Belgian was, and even when he did manage to get into the action, just how wasteful he was, too.
The defeat will hurt for United, but the fact that their biggest signing of the summer had such a bad game shows that Jose Mourinho’s side probably won’t lose the title because of the Manchester derby. They may well have lost it in the transfer market in the summer.