Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, three derbies (well, three derbies that people actually care about) were played out in Merseyside, Manchester and Madrid. These games ranged from the outright boring to the shouting-the-house-down kind of exciting to the unusually quiet.
Merseyside: Everton v Liverpool
A stalemate that really doesn’t deserve much mentioning but for the sake of hitting the word count, I will insert my ramblings. I naively thought that the Reds, fresh off their pummelling of Manchester City, would be bashing the Toffees left, right and centre. Until, the lineups were released, that is.
Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke leading the front line was some sort of belated April Fool’s joke. The former hasn’t started a game in over two years and the latter, well, isn’t that good to be playing at Prem level at the moment. It was quite clear that the duo were going to struggle and struggle they did.
Ings first touch evaded him and he is still hiding somewhere in Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane’s pockets. But, in all fairness, the lad has endured torrid luck with his injuries at Liverpool so to struggle in his first start in 916 days is completely understandable. Unfortunately, it also looks like his future first-team chances with Liverpool are numbered unless he moves someplace else or is perfectly contented playing second fiddle to the Egyptian magician, that is Salah.
Solanke missed from five yards out. Might be appropriate to add that he won only 3 of 17 aerial duels too, considering he is very sizeable in stature. On Saturday, he showed glimpses of flair but not enough to secure three points for his club. Either way, Solanke is a young chap with miles of potential and maybe a loan move away from Anfield next season would be on the cards to further mould him into the player he is slowly becoming – a strong, target forward with a little pace to burn.
Ragnar Klavan starting also gave me a bit of a laugh. Thankfully, he did not clown about and put in a decent performance (by his standards) to keep the Everton boys at bay, misplacing only two of his fifty passes. He is capable of so much… worse.
It was great to see Nathaniel Clyne back in action and Georginio Wijnaldum get some minutes in by dictating play in the middle of the park. The Reds lacked that cutting edge to claim victory over their rivals and I blame it partly on the fielding of a frail-looking front three.
Come Tuesday night, Jurgen Klopp cannot afford to lack and lag in any aspect and so, he would probably field his trio of terror – Salah, Firmino and Mane – to finish off the Citizens and go within reach of European glory. Who are we kidding, though? Liverpool winning the Champions League? Get your head out your pants.
Manchester: Manchester City v Manchester United
What a derby this was. Manchester City 2-0 up at half-time (and en route to the title) then the Red Devils turn up the heat and take the game down to the wire. Boom, United win 2-3.
This game kept me on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen. Pep Guardiola’s troops started brightly whilst Jose Mourinho’s boys toiled a tad bit and played safe. A little too safe, if you ask me. It was honestly deserved when Vincent Kompany beat Chris Smalling to open the scoring. Ilkay Gundogan grabbed the second goal when turned beautifully and poked it past David De Gea. The first 45 minutes was all City’s for the taking. It was their half.
Half-time must have been the turning point for United because they came out looking refreshed and ready to salsa. Paul Pogba scored, assisted by Ander Herrera’s chest, leaving the City defenders and Ederson looking bewildered. Truth be told, Ederson always looks bewildered. Could be his eyes, his brace face or THAT hideous neck tattoo.
Before I could even take another bite of my instant ramen, blue-haired Poggy scored the equaliser, courtesy of the underperforming Alexis Sanchez. Game on. At this point, City were starting to show signs of desperation and were cracking under pressure, a plight they aren’t too familiar with this season.
14 minutes later, Smalling nods it past Mr. Brace Face for the winner and it had me almost spitting my ramen out. Who would’ve thought Smalling would be the one that takes three points back to Old Trafford and make Manchester red (for a day)? Nobody. Not even himself, I’d bet.
On comes Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero as City try to salvage a point to save themselves some blushes. They may not have been in this predicament if Raheem Sterling had converted a bunch of gilt-edged chances in the first half. He was lively but his finishing, for some reason, was so bad at the Etihad that day.
I was surprised to see Ashley Young come away without a single booking. That tackle on Aguero was a penalty and red card. Period. Studs up and right into the Argentinean’s right leg. No wonder no Premier League referee is headed to the World Cup. They are all equal parts shambolic and inconsistent.
Whistle blows. City fans cry. City have to wait another weekend to get their hands on the trophy. Me oh my, what a derby.
Madrid: Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid
Shame how this El Derbi, a usually feisty affair, was strangely quiet, apart from Ronaldo and Griezmann scoring and a bunch of yellow cards being dished out. I was betting on a red card or a fight from either side. No, mum, calm down. I’m speaking figuratively. I don’t actually bet.
Real Madrid were in control for most parts but as we expect from any Diego Simeone-managed side, Atletico were more than happy to just sit back, soak up pressure, move nicely off-the-ball and launch a counter when an opportunity presented itself.
Jan Oblak was Atleti’s hero, saving shot after shot as Real relentlessly pressed for a winner. Might I add that his 90th minute saving of Sergio Ramos’ free-kick was top drawer?
Mateo Kovacic had trouble keeping up with Thomas, who ran the midfield down and completed 85% of his passes without ever being dispossessed. Diego Costa was muted, managing only two shots and failing to win eight duels. Marcelo put in a very offensive display, which had me questioning why he was even fielded as a defender. Marco Asensio hit the crossbar. Stefan Savic was composed and did very well to deal with the constant offensive threat of their cross-town rivals.
Ronaldo converted a Gareth Bale cross and at the other end, Vitolo sliced the ball back for Griezmann to score. Overall, it was a derby that had rooms of potential in terms of action and highlights but the spoils from the Santiago Bernabeu are shared, leaving Real in fourth place (15 points behind Barcelona) and Atletico in second. Onward to the mother of all (Spanish) games – El Clasico at Nou Camp in May.