Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho went through his full range of brave faces as he looked at Manchester City disappearing into the distance at Old Trafford.
City’s 2-1 win in the derby on Sunday, more convincing than that scoreline suggests, means they are now 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League after ending United and Mourinho’s 40-game unbeaten run at home.
Mourinho, understandably, said United would continue to fight for every point in the battle to peg City back – but the body language of everyone inside the ‘Theatre Of Dreams’ at the final whistle suggested something else.
So has City manager Pep Guardiola finally won the battle for supremacy in Manchester with his old adversary from their La Liga days at Barcelona and Real Madrid?
Mourinho will have known the huge significance of this Manchester derby – and all the old tricks were on display to at least keep their rivals in sight, even at this early stage of the season.
It was the suggestion that City’s players go to ground too easily: “A little bit of wind and they fall.”
It was the suggestion they practise dark arts as he talked of City committing “tactical fouls”.
And there was even the questioning of Guardiola wearing a yellow ribbon in support of those fighting for independence in his native Catalonia.
Mourinho’s mischief, particularly from a manager more than happy to trade on gamesmanship in the past himself, did not put any doubts in the mind of referee Michael Oliver.
Indeed, it was Mourinho himself who was left bemoaning a decision when United midfielder Ander Herrera fell under challenge from City defender Nicolas Otamendi in front of the Stretford End in the second half and Oliver was unmoved.
It was City who last inflicted defeat on Mourinho at Old Trafford in September 2016 and the Portuguese drew the comparison as he suffered the pain of that non-decision.
“It is like last season. Exactly the same, you can speak about anything you want, you can bring any football theory, you can bring the stats, the ball possession, you can bring everything you want – but like last season it is a huge penalty in a crucial moment of the game,” he said.
“But I have also to say that I feel sorry for Michael Oliver because I think he had a good game, I would say very good game, assistants the same. I think they come with the intention to make the perfect work, which they almost did.”
It was City who showed the calm defence, decision-making and street wisdom that Mourinho likes in his own teams, running down the clock in a scrappy final period, unusually helped by Bernardo Silva’s uncanny ability to win throw-ins off United players.
On and off the pitch Guardiola was the winner and for all Mourinho tried to unsettle Manchester City and set the match’s agenda, he and United came up against opponents who were simply too good.