MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, April 7, (AFP): Paul Pogba spoiled Manchester Citys anticipated Premier League title party by scoring twice in two minutes as Manchester United came from 2-0 down to win a thrilling derby 3-2 on Saturday.
Chris Smalling completed the comeback that looked so improbable when City were well on course to round off a resounding march towards the title by racing into a 2-0 first-half lead.
Goals from captain Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan put the hosts in a commanding position, who were left to rue huge missed chances from Raheem Sterling to extend their lead.
City manager Pep Guardiola added more spice to an already hotly-anticipated clash when he claimed on Friday he had been offered the chance to buy Pogba two months ago by the players agent Mino Raiola.
Pogba has endured a desperately disappointing season having often been dropped by Jose Mourinho for Uniteds biggest games.
But after so much criticism, Pogba showed why he was the worlds most expensive player when United splashed out #89 million to bring him back to the club from Juventus in 2016 by hauling United back into a game that looked lost at half-time.
Guardiola kept his pre-match promise to prioritise Tuesdays Champions League quarter-final second leg against Liverpool with City needing to overturn a 3-0 first leg deficit.
Kevin de Bruyne, a leading candidate for player of the year awards, was left on the bench alongside Gabriel Jesus and Citys all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero.
Guardiola and Mourinho have a long-running rivalry dating back to their time in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
And the game quickly settled into the usual pattern when the two face off with City dominating possession and United happy to get plenty of men behind the ball.
Yet, for all Citys possession, just like when City won 2-1 at Old Trafford in December, it was from a set-piece that United were undone.
Citys Abu-Dhabi owners have splashed an estimated 878 million euros over the past decade to assemble a squad that has tilted the balance of power in Manchester from red to blue.
Kompany was one the Emiratis first purchases, and he was a fitting scorer on what seemed destined to be a historic day.
The Belgian outmuscled Smalling to power home Leroy Sanes corner on 25 minutes.
Five minutes later City doubled their lead in a style that has characterised their season as Gundogan brilliantly turned onto Sterlings pass before slotting into the far corner.
City should have been out of sight by half-time as Guardiola screamed in frustration after Sterling fired two glorious chances well over the bar.
Unlike in many big games this season, Mourinho played Pogba in his favoured role on the left of a midfield three.
Like the rest of his teammates, Pogba was overrun in the first 45 minutes, but came alive to slot home from Ander Herreras cushioned pass with his chest to get United back into the game eight minutes after the break. That goal was the first Mourinhos men had scored away from home against top-five opposition in the Premier League all season.
And they soon had two in two minutes when Alexis Sanchez picked out Pogbas late run into the box and his header beat Ederson low to his right-hand side.
Citys Champions League hopes were likely ended by conceding three times in 19 minutes at Anfield in midweek.
And United took just 16 minutes to complete an incredible turnaround when Smalling capitalised on some slack City marking to turn home Sanchezs free-kick.
Guardiola threw on Aguero, Jesus and De Bruyne in an attempt to prevent just a second league defeat of the season.
And City should have had a penalty when Ashley Young somehow escaped without punishment from a knee-high lunge on Aguero inside the area that sparked a bad-tempered finale.
Aguero was denied by a brilliant De Gea save two minutes from time and Sterling then hit the post as United somehow held on for a famous win.
Meanwhile, Liverpool were rendered impotent without Mohamed Salah as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Everton in Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
Egypt winger Salah, the key figure in Liverpool’s impressive campaign, was left out due to a minor groin injury as Jurgen Klopp tried to give his main man a chance to be fit for their decisive Champions League clash against Manchester City on Tuesday.
Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke looked rusty as they were given rare starts, with the latter failing to take either of two early chances.
Roberto Firmino appeared as a late substitute in an attempt to find a winner, but third placed Liverpool had to settle for a point. They did, though, extend their unbeaten run in Merseyside derbies to 17 matches, as Seamus Coleman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both failed to take late Everton chances.
Klopp had a big decision to make regarding his team selection, with Liverpool three days away from the second leg of their quarter-final against City following Wednesday’s 3-0 victory
The fact that he made five changes showed where his priorities lie at the moment.
Ings was starting a league match for the first time since Klopp took charge two-and-a-half years ago, having fought back from two cruciate knee ligament injuries, while Solanke was making only his fourth league start for the club.
In addition, Nathaniel Clyne began a match for the first time in 11 months after recovering from a serious back problem, while central defender Ragnar Klavan was pressed into service at left-back, having played just 11 minutes since New Year’s Day. Inevitably, given those changes, Liverpool did not click as they usually do.
Solanke lacked the kind of sharpness that Salah and Firmino have made second nature.
Presented with two good chances in the first 16 minutes, he took neither.
First he glanced wide from James Milner’s angled delivery, and then, when Coleman made a mess of clearing Clyne’s cross on the run, the striker could only steer his first-time shot straight at Jordan Pickford.
Pickford looks increasingly likely to be England’s goalkeeper at the World Cup later this year, having grown in confidence as the season has gone on.
His shot-stopping has rarely been in question, and he produced a fine flying save late in the half to turn away a shot from Milner, who had cut in from the left.
Liverpool enjoyed the bulk of possession despite their disjointed look, which was partly down to Everton’s lack of adventure.
Sam Allardyce had written in his programme notes about derbies being occasions to be inspired by, but his team lacked spark until the final 10 minutes and gave away the ball too often.
Even though Everton did enjoy bursts of pressure, Cenk Tosun was a frustrated figure up front for the most part.
Yet Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius still needed to be alert, making perhaps the save of the first half when he tipped away Yannick Bolasie’s 25-yard curler, bound for the top corner.
The home side might even have won the match at the end, as the Turkey forward headed Theo Walcott’s cross towards the far post, where Coleman just failed to turn the ball in.
Calvert-Lewin then steered over with only Karius to beat.
Liverpool were prepared to show aggression, with Ings involved in a confrontation with Coleman that needed the intervention of referee Michael Oliver and both captains to sort out.
It got the crowd going, but they would not have a goal to cheer.