COMEBACK IS JUST LIKE FERGIE TIME ONCE AGAIN
SIR Alex Ferguson was booed as he appeared on the Etihad big screen before kick-off and shifted uneasily in his leather-padded seat during an agonising first half for United.
City threatened to inflict a humiliation worse than the 5-1 or 6-1 and the trophy engraver must have started carving their name onto the Premier League crown for a third time.
True to Ferguson’s mantra, United did not make it easy for themselves. What threatened to be a capitulation became a captivating comeback dominated by the former Reds manager’s relics and cast-offs. It was a night which belonged to Paul Pogba.
Ferguson may have nodded knowingly at Pep Guardiola’s Friday revelation that Pogba was offered to City by his agent Mino Raiola. Ferguson was angered by Raiola during a stand-off over Pogba’s salary and Alexis Sanchez’s January arrival saw the Frenchman’s form plummet. The recovery began against Swansea last week and redemption was attained at The Etihad.
Pogba delicately volleyed on 53 minutes and chased after the ball – and a comeback. Two minutes later, he headed potently past Ederson and clutched the ball again, ballooning it into the crestfallen blue Blues behind the goal.
Pogba, berated by Mourinho during one first-half flashpoint, reemerged possessed. The derby redemption was not over.
Chris Smalling was beaten by Vincent Kompany for the opener and recovered with his own finish at the same end to complete a remarkable turnaround. It was Smalling whom Kompany outjumped for that decisive derby winner in 2012 and that memory, branded by Ferguson with his public criticism that April evening, may have partly elicited the atonement.
On an evening of parallels, this was Maine Road 1993, when City enjoyed a 2-0 lead at half-time only to be undone by Eric Cantona. If Pogba was Cantona then Smalling was matchwinner Roy Keane. One of those comparisons is credible. Amid doubts fuelled by the rapacious Raiola, Pogba reminded Jose Mourinho that he was the ‘captain’ midfielder he wanted two years ago. The armband may yet be his.
This was classic United. A stimulating and stirring comeback that harked back to the teams of Ferguson. This was the second time they have recovered from a 2-0 deficit in as many months and perhaps it is finally time to get re-accustomed with United comebacks. Hearts were in mouths at the finale as David de Gea beggared belief again to deny Sergio Aguero and City hit the woodwork. United do not make it easy for themselves.
Mourinho attempted to draw parallels with Chelsea thumping United to secure the Premier League 12 years ago and the symmetry seemed set to be much more painful.
The chastening sight City supporters blow up their inflatable league trophies must have been burning in Mourinho’s mind as he skulked back to the away dressing room 2-0 down.
Kompany met Leroy Sane’s out-swinger on 25 minutes to give City the advantage and five minutes later Ilkay Gundogan pirouetted away from the lumbering Nemanja Matic for match point. Sterling squandered presentable opportunities in a half where City had nine attempts at goal. United had none and a pitiful two touches in Ederson’s area.
Pogba had two in the second, and made them count.
Chris Smalling and Paul Pogba celebrate United’s third and winning goal