Manchester City struck an important blow in their pursuit of a second successive Premier League title with a convincing derby victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola’s side knew anything but a win would leave Liverpool at the top of the table and in charge of their own destiny with only three games left.
City were anxious in a goalless first 45 minutes but turned up the heat after the break to take them one point clear at the top of the table.
They have played the same number of games as Liverpool, performing with control and composure to eventually outclass United.
Bernardo Silva’s low drive went inside United keeper David de Gea’s near post after 54 minutes and the keeper was at fault again when Leroy Sane’s drive went straight through him.
Liverpool must now respond at home to relegated Huddersfield Town at Anfield on Friday, while City travel to Burnley on Sunday.
City’s players showed nerve as well as quality to come through what many felt would be their toughest assignment between now and the end of this enthralling title campaign.
They could have been forgiven for fearing the worst after a goalless first half in which they were superior but saw chances get away and also demonstrated a tendency to over-elaborate.
Instead, they moved through the gears after the break to run out easy winners in front of their jubilant fans, who clearly recognised the significance of winning this game in hand to move ahead of Liverpool and stay in control of their own destiny.
Sane’s introduction after Fernandinho’s injury gave City extra cutting edge but it was the magnificent Silva who made the breakthrough when his low shot went past the pedestrian De Gea.
City never looked back, although in truth they barely had a moment’s trouble defensively all night.
Sane’s second – proving again what an attacking weapon he is – merely gave the scoreline a greater air of reality and the closing stages resembled a training exercise as City kept possession and United chased shadows.
Guardiola and his players celebrated at the final whistle after their second big win after edging past Spurs on Saturday. Two big questions. Two big answers from Manchester City.
The biggest question of all – who will be champions? – remains to be answered, but at least City know it remains in their hands.
Man Utd look lost
If United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were looking for a crumb of comfort from a chastening night, it was that they at least performed with a little more respectability than when they were trounced 4-0 at Everton on Sunday.
And that was about it.
In every other respect, the flaws which make the gulf in class between these two clubs so huge was brutally exposed by City.
United were outmanoeuvred in all areas of the pitch, with De Gea’s current decline emphasised by his questionable role in both goals.
Whether it is ongoing contract negotiations or a malaise from this troubled season at Old Trafford, De Gea is light years away from the keeper who had earned such a glittering reputation.
United sank fast after City went ahead, Old Trafford a sea of thousands of empty red seats as City went through their party pieces to close out the win.
Paul Pogba was again poor, even suffering the ignominy of losing a straight aerial challenge to the diminutive Raheem Sterling, while Fred had a nightmare alongside him.
City supporters responded to the Stretford End chants of “Ole’s At The Wheel” with “The Wheels Are Falling Off”, although United are still in the hunt for a top-four place.
The away fans had a point after United’s seventh defeat in nine games in all competitions and are now without a clean sheet in 12 games, their worst record since August 1971.
United are currently not even in City’s shadow and the scale of the task facing Solskjaer is becoming ever more stark with each defeat.
‘They are the best team in the country’ – what they said
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to BBC Sport: “We play with a lot of pressure. They were playing for Champions League qualification. After their 4-0 defeat by Everton, we knew their players would be committed.
“We lost some balls in the middle of the pitch in the first half and they had counter-attacks. We did well to win the game in the second half. Fortunately we made an incredible second half.”
Could Fernandinho have played on? “Maybe but he had a problem at half-time in both legs. When he went down we made the change. I thought of putting Leroy Sane in – left foot on the left and right foot on the right. He helped us a lot.
“We increased the level for the Premier League last season with 100 points. That’s the level.
“Liverpool are chasing. What they have done is incredible but it’s in our hands. Going to Burnley will be tough and trying to play our game.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking to BBC Sport:“We got a great reaction from the players and the supporters.
“You could see from the first minute that they wanted to show the crowd, who were incredible again.
“The first half was decent. We held our own and created chances with some efforts. Going into half-time, we know there was a lot of work to be done, but they won deservedly because they had too much for us.
“They are the best team in the country. They have set the standard in the last two seasons and I don’t know how many points they’ve taken.
“What Pep Guardiola has done with his players is remarkable and we are so close to it – in the vicinity – so we feel it every day.
“We are disappointed but you can look at yourself and say we gave everything.
“We need to do that tomorrow and the next day. It’s about doing everything you can to close it [the gap].”
Man City break scoring record – the stats
- Manchester City have won seven away Premier League against Manchester United at Old Trafford, more than any other team.
- United have now lost seven of their past nine games in all competitions (W2 D0 L7), after losing only one of their first 17 under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (W14 D2 L1).
- City have scored 157 goals in all competitions this season – the most by an English top-flight side in a single season.
- City boss Pep Guardiola is the first manager to win three consecutive away Premier League matches at Old Trafford against United and only the third to win three away matches there, along with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and Liverpool’s Gerard Houllier.
- United are without a clean sheet in 12 consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since August 1971.
- In combining for the second goal, Leroy Sane (10 goals, 10 assists) and Raheem Sterling (17 goals, 10 assists) both reached 10 goals and 10 assists in the league this season. The only other player to do so is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.
- This is the 28th time the Premier League lead has changed hands at the end of a day, the joint-most in a season (equal with 2001-02).
- Vincent Kompany received his 10th yellow card in the Manchester derby in the Premier League, becoming the third player to receive 10 bookings in a single Premier League fixture (also Jamie Carragher in Liverpool v Man Utd, and Mark Noble in Tottenham v West Ham).
City travel to Burnley on Sunday at 14:05 BST, while United face Chelsea at Old Trafford at 16:30.