In 188 editions of the Manchester derby there have only been four hat-tricks scored by Manchester City players – and two of them were scored yesterday.
Erling Haaland and Phil Foden joined Francis Lee and Horace Barnes – 1970 and 1921, no less – in City’s annals and this was certainly an event that will live long in the memory of all who were there, no matter on which side of the red and blue divide. For the reds it will have been as painful as it was joyful for the blues, who were so comprehensively superior that the 6-3 scoreline – Anthony Martial pulled two back late, a header following in, and another from the penalty spot, which he won – actually flattered the losers.
As for Haaland and Foden, having entered the second-half on two apiece, both got a third to confirm the gulf between these so-called rivals. For Haaland, it is his third straight Premier League hat-trick at home – a feat never before performed in the modern era.
His was first to three, his last goal coming after 65 minutes, a quite lovely build up that involved the magnificent Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, De Bruyne again, before Sergio Perez – on for the injured Kyle Walker in another admirably front foot move from Pep Guardiola – crossed for Haaland to finish first time, almost bursting the net in the process.
Eight minutes later, Haaland threaded the ball through to Foden who sprung a United offside trap that appeared to have been abandoned at the planning stage, before finishing smartly. Thank heavens for Arsenal, the one team that are keeping City from making this a procession even before winter sets in.
There were times during the first-half when it was hard to keep from laughing. Not at Manchester United, but at the sheer exhilarating thrill of Manchester City in full flow. This was an amazing gameplan, hatched by Pep Guardiola, and it is hard to imagine any coach attempting one so positive. To then see it, not just work, but tear the opposition apart was a euphoric experience.
Guardiola challenged what is considered possible; certainly against elite opponents, and rivals no less. He played Manchester United, a team on a run of four straight league wins, pretty much without a defensive midfield. Having lost Rodri through injury, Guardiola chose to replace him with…well, nobody really.
Ilkay Gundogan hung in there, unless City were attacking, when he broke forward as hungrily as any forward. On the occasions when United had the ball he received help from full-backs Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo, and sometimes from Kevin De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva dropping deeper. Then the ball would be retrieved and – trumpet fanfare, charge. And apologies if that makes City sound unsophisticated. They most certainly are not. The football is arguably the highest standard this country has seen from a club side.
Yet there were times when they simply swarmed over United, their pace, their ambition, their physicality so utterly superior it defied logic. They should not be this much better. United have good players, too. Yet where were they? Diogo Dalot was booked after two minutes, Tyrell Malacia followed him after 24 – but with both United full-backs on yellow cards, City didn’t do anything as obvious as come down the wings.
They came through the middle, teased along the flanks, their dead balls was a menace, it was if they opened up half a dozen fronts. No wonder United appeared rattled. Sir Alex Ferguson was the last of the club’s managers to win his first derby game – in March 1987 – and the television cameras found him looking as miserable as hell in the directors’ box. And while five consecutive United managers have lost first time out to City, it is hard to imagine any have felt the hot flush of embarrassment quite like Erik ten Hag. United will have fancied their chances going into this. Their form is good, the ten Hag regime has been winning plaudits – yet this was a humiliating dismantling.
It began when Dalot was booked for crudely taking out Foden. That was the warning sign. Now he couldn’t touch him again for 88 minutes, and just three later it was Grealish’s cross that picked out Erling Haaland at the far post. His header across goal was cut out by Scott McTominay, falling to De Bruyne whose shot was saved by David De Gea. Back out to Bernardo Silva is came, and McTominay got in the way again. Yet it already looked merely a matter of time before City led.
And it was. A lovely exchange of passes ending with Silva cutting the ball back for Foden after eight minutes. He shot first time and De Gea didn’t even get the chance to move. It looked ominous for Manchester United, and so it proved.
Much had been made of the disparity in height between United centre-half Lisandro Martinez and Haaland and after 18 minuites, Martinez chose to pick on someone his own size. He kicked Grealish up in the air and Gundogan hit a post with the resulting free-kick. Just three minutes later Gundogan came close again – he’s the defensive midfield, don’t forget – going just wide again when set up by Silva. In the 31st minute, De Bruyne had a shot tipped over by De Gea. But it was all just postponing the inevitable: which is that Haaland scores.
In the build up to De Bruyne’s shot, United wanted the game stopped for an injury to Raphael Varane. The defender went off for treatment and, while this was happening, Haaland took advantage. Was Christian Eriksen really the man who was meant to pick up Haaland at corners. If so, ten Hag needs his bumps felt. The strike lost him as easily as one might baffle a two-year-old in a game of hide and seek, and De Bruyne put the ball straight on his head from the corner. Haaland outjumped McTominay and Malacia could not retrieve the ball before it crossed the line. The outcome was no longer in doubt; just the margin.
Which continued to grow. In the 38th minute, De Bruyne sped forward. A shot was on, but difficult. Feeding Foden on the overlap to his right was another option, and easy to achieve. De Bruyne tried plan C – an incredible curling ball to Haaland, who had checked his run to stay onside, and was haring towards the far post. De Bruyne had no right to find him, Haaland had no right to get there. But he slid and a giant boot meant he got the better of Varane, too. Soon after, the Frenchman left the field injured. He would have paid to get out of there by that stage.
And still City were not finished. De Bruyne and Haaland were a lethal set-up and finishing team, but this team they both combined in the service of Foden. De Bruyne put Haaland away and his cross fed Foden at the far post for his second of the game. Even when United got one back in the second-half – a fabulous shot by Antony after a crossfield ball by half-time substitute Luke Shaw – the noise level did not drop. The locals in blue knew more was coming, and so it was.