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Manchester City 0–2 Manchester United

Manchester United
Manchester United celebrates scoring their second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on March 08, 2020. AP
A touchline disagreement between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola ended with a fist bump Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola looked in a philosophical mood as he stood on the Etihad Stadium touchline with his arm around victorious opposite number Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer had every right to be elated after an outstanding display by Manchester United delivered a 2-0 win to end City's run of 21 consecutive victories in all competitions stretching back to November. The pair had been involved in a lengthy touchline debate during the match - albeit one that ended with fist bumps - but Guardiola's exchange with the smiling Solskjaer at full-time probably reflected the City's boss' knowledge this day had to come eventually.

Great credit must be given to Solskjaer and United, who made it 22 Premier League away games unbeaten. And it would be unjust not to recognize the impressive way they fashioned a win that puts them back in second place in the Premier League.

Manchester United put up a memorable win over the Blues. Photo: Gettyimages

They did the double over City in the league last season and clearly know how to disrupt the leaders with their lethal counter-attacking play - a ploy even more effective when they are ahead from the penalty spot within seconds of the start.

As for City, their run of victories before finally being overcome by United stands a remarkable feat. It was a run of form that changed the face of the title race to such an extent that, despite this loss, it would take a stunning collapse to see anyone other than City crowned champions.

When Guardiola and City last tasted defeat, at Tottenham on 21 November, it was Jose Mourinho's team at the Premier League summit and their vanquished visitors eight points adrift in 11th place. Now, at the end of this magnificent hot streak, City is 11 points ahead of United despite losing another Etihad derby.

In other words, City will be frustrated with their own sudden drop in standards but it is highly unlikely to disturb the short- or long-term prospects of the team on the hunt for four major trophies.

As well as enjoying a dominant lead in the league, City face Spurs in the League Cup final in April, Everton in the FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park later in March and look on course for the Champions League quarter-final after establishing a 2-0 lead over Borussia Monchengladbach with the home leg still to come.

There will, of course, be one or two areas for Guardiola to address after this setback. The city paid a hefty price for simply not getting out of the starting blocks. They were shocked by United's urgency and once they were behind so soon all the impetus was with the visitors, a maddeningly inconsistent team but one possessing undoubted quality.

City's struggle to assert themselves was typified by Kevin de Bruyne, who labored from the first whistle and showed even world-class players sometimes have days when they cannot find their touch.

In De Bruyne's defense - not that he particularly needs defending - he never retreated or hid from the action, playing with the belief of all great players that every moment is an opportunity to make a decisive contribution. It did not happen here but it will in the future.

It was intriguing that Guardiola did not turn to Sergio Aguero, the master marksman when his side so desperately needed a goal. Aguero cut a jovial figure as he took his seat a few feet from the press box before kick-off. He glanced towards the assembled media, flashed a beaming smile and asked: "Ready?"

The smile did not last too long as the club's record goalscorer remained seated for most of the game, unused in the sort of situation that looked made for him. Aguero, who has suffered from injury and illness this season so may not yet be at peak fitness, was ready but not required. It may be that Guardiola feels the Argentine will be needed for battles ahead but he also stayed on the bench as City fought for victory against Wolves in midweek and only lasted 61 minutes of the win against West Ham United before that.

Indispensable for so many years, Aguero now seems to be edging towards the margins at the age of 32, after stirring deeds stretching back to his bargain £36m arrival from Atletico Madrid in July 2011. This is the sort of occasion he relishes, scoring nine goals in 16 derbies in among his historic tally of 256 in 381 games for City. Was it significant he remained only an observer?

Only a fool would write off a player of Aguero's class, especially with so much to play for this season. He is still in a position to make the big contribution - but could this have been the last Manchester derby of his superb City career? In the final reckoning, this was a disappointing day for City with the added pain of their loss being inflicted by their neighbors.

Guardiola, of all people, knows how this strange game works and City still remain well on course for glory come to the end of the season.

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