Loyalties were questioned ahead of the the midweek Manchester derby but when all was said and done, City beat United in a game both sides undoubtedly wanted to win.
Bernardo Silva’s 54th-minute strike was decisive and it’s fitting the Portuguese international made the difference, as he may well prove to be Man City’s advantage over Liverpool in one of the great title races of our time.
Gary Neville criticised Bernardo’s use of possession in the first half but the 24-year-old’s quick feet foxed Luke Shaw and David De Gea to open the scoring.
Leroy Sane doubled the visitors’ lead courtesy of De Gea’s error, but the first was the clutch the goal, one that drew United out and left them vulnerable to the type of counterattacks from which Sane scored.
In a season where the top two have been so rarely fault so rarely, Bernardo’s efforts in two huge fixtures (Liverpool at home, United away) must be recognised…
Man City vs Liverpool lived up to Sky Sports’ hyperbole and then some back in January.
Pep Guardiola edged out long-time adversary Jurgen Klopp in a game of ultra fine margins — 11 millimetres to be precise.
John Stones’ knife-edge goal-line clearance was the perfect microcosm of a captivating contest in which several players impressed to the extreme.
But Bernardo was a class above through sheer will and freakish stamina.
In a game that was almost immersive, watching the ex-Monaco midfielder slide in on Trent Alexander-Arnold in stoppage-time was enough to give some armchair fans a stitch.
The game’s postmortem revealed he covered more distance than any other player in a Premier League fixture this season.
13.7 kilometres of lung-bursting effort was thoroughly appreciated by his manager.
“He did everything,” said Guardiola. “He won all the duels.
“It’s a long time since I’ve seen a performance like he did in all terms – not just with the ball because he is precise, he is clean, he is clever.
“But he fought with [Virgil] Van Dijk and made him uncomfortable. Big compliments because Bernardo was incredible.”
Big compliments indeed.
Last season, Liverpool overpowered City in the Champions League quarter-final, largely through an industrious midfield.
However, the Reds failed to account for 5ft 7in Bernardo’s alter ego at Etihad — an inexhaustible hound dog who takes a sick and twisted pleasure from the build-up of lactic acid.
In a game (and season) of fine margins, every millimetre counts — 13.7km acquires perspective.
Bernardo covered a similar distance (13.65km) at Wembley back in October when City beat Spurs 1-0.
His endurance twice gave City the edge over the two fittest teams in the league, to the naked eye.
But it was Dr Jekyll, not Mr Hyde, who did the damage against United.
He is in possession of perhaps the best first touch in the league and his passing, dribbling and shooting has seen Leroy Sane become a regular substitute, with Raheem Sterling switching to the left.
Bernardo is perhaps the most 2019 player in the world — a tireless playmaker.
Given the ever-increasing demands of the modern game, in terms of intensity and physicality, it is no surprise classical No10s are dying out.
The age of the lethargic, technically-gifted creative midfielder are numbered — just look at how much grief Mesut Ozil endures.
These days attacking midfielders need to be magicians in possession and muggers without it.
And Bernardo is leading the way — what a player.