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Manchester United have ruined former Man City transfer targets that Pep Guardiola would have improved – Manchester Evening News

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Harry Maguire and Fred were wearing sky blue in Saturday’s derby cruise against Manchester United.

Whether their performances for Manchester City were as effective as those of Ruben Dias and Rodri, as the Blues eased to a devastatingly one-sided 2-0 win, we will never know.

But the narrative from City fans is that they “dodged a couple of bullets” when Leicester’s asking price for England centre back Maguire strayed above the club’s budget ceiling, and when their talks with Shakhtar Donetsk for Brazil midfielder Fred similarly fell apart.

That may be harsh. Who knows whether the confident, assured defensive abilities, and decent left foot of Maguire that we all saw at Leicester would not have flourished and improved under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage?

And would Fred, who had taken over Fernanindho’s mantle at the Ukrainian club as a stylish, gritty up-and-down midfielder, have also developed into a different player if he had not set his sights on the glamour of Old Trafford rather than the glory of the Etihad?

It is tempting to think that Guardiola and his coaching staff would have done a better job of progressing both players, both in terms of their individual ability and their evolution as part of a team.

In reality, City refused to budge on both players and went elsewhere, eventually ending up with Dias and Rodri instead.

It is too simplistic to see the fact that Rodri was infinitely better than Fred – and arguably the best player on the pitch – on Saturday and that Ruben Dias was on a different plane to Maguire, and deduce that City missed out on two deadlegs and instead signed two top-quality players.

In the case of Dias, it was hard to compare him to Maguire, because the City centre back simply had to keep a careful eye on hurried, hopeful balls up to Cristiano Ronaldo, win any aerial challenges that came his way, and easily pass around the slack United attempts at a press.

The evidence of the eye was enough to tell you that Dias was unflustered, knew his role and his responsibilities intimately, and had bought into the extreme City work ethic, while Maguire was a hesitant, disorganised, bewildering mess, as part of a shambolic United team.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 06: Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City gives Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias of Manchester City instructions during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on November 06, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images) The fact that Maguire was one of England’s better players when they reached the Euro 2020 final in the summer indicates that the fault lies with the Reds’ coaching team and manager rather than the player himself.

We will never know, but it could be that had United not desperately trumped City’s bid for him two years ago, Maguire would be playing in blue and being considered as up there, alongside Virgil Van Dijk as one of the best defenders in the world.

The comparison of Fred and Rodri is much more clear-cut.

A year ago, there were plenty of City fans wondering whether Rodri was the right man for the difficult job of replacing Fernanindho in that key holding role.

The Spain star was being seen as a weak spot in this City team, a player who slowed things down, did not have the same range of passes, especially forward one, as the popular Brazilian veteran, and was found wanting when teams counter-attacked.

Do you think Pep would have improved Maguire and Fred, or did City dodge a couple of bullets? Have your say in our comments section here But he has matured in the Premier League – it is easy to forget he is still young, at 25, for that role – and in the derby he was superb.

His positioning was immaculate. Just about every time United were forced into a hurried “get-rid” by City’s pressing, the six ft three ins frame of Rodri was on the right spot to pick it up and launch another wave of Blue attacking.

That was never more important than when United hastily cleared as Ilkay Gundogan met Kyle Walker’s cross early in the game. Rodri was in the perfect spot, and his instant left-footed, half-volleyed pass gave Joao Cancelo the room he needed to hit the by-line and force the own goal from Eric Bailly.

Rodri controlled the game in the way Yaya Toure used to, circulating the ball intelligently, trusting his physicality to shrug off unwanted attention, and shifting the point of the attack with accuracy and ease.

It has been a key feature of his game from day one at City that he accepts the ball in tight spots and retains it, partly through excellent balance, touch and technique, and partly through being the biggest lump in the hurly-burly of midfield.

In his first season, plenty of City fans watched through their fingers as he diced with disaster, accepting passes in vulnerable areas, and playing his way out of them.

Now there is a trust in his ability that Pep Guardiola had from day one.

In the derby, his passing accuracy was 95 per cent, exceptional given that he was conducting the City orchestra, and at the same time reducing United to a tuneless cacophony by switching the pace, direction and rhythm of the play.

There has to be sympathy for Fred, playing on the back foot and constantly surrounded by City players. Like the rest of his team, he often looked like a careless beekeeper, swarmed by Blue shirts, being stung frequently.

He cannot come close to matching Rodri in any aspect of the game, racking up 84 per cent accuracy in passing, and managing 53 touches. Rodri had 110 touches in the game, more than twice as many as Fred.

The argument about whether Fred and Maguire would be better players had they joined City rather than United is unwinnable.

But the Reds have become a graveyard for plenty of talent in recent years, with stars like Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao looking like world-beaters, then stinking out Old Trafford before – with the exception of Sanchez – relaunching their careers after they had left Manchester 16.

So whether City have been dodging bullets by not signing Maguire, Fred, Sanchez, and Paul Pogba – who was also on their radar before Guardiola was in situ – or whether United’s managerial and coaching appointments have simply ruined good players, is hard to tell.

But Jadon Sancho looking like a fish out of water after excelling in the City junior ranks and then blossoming at Borussia Dortmund, and Donny Van De Beek going from huge promise at Ajax to unhappy forgotten man at United, the reality should start to dawn.

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