MANCHESTER • The mere thought of Manchester City sealing the Premier League title with a home derby win fired up a lacklustre Manchester United at half-time on Saturday.
City had raced into a two-goal half-time lead thanks to goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan. But Jose Mourinho's men were completely transformed after their manager's stirring team talk at the interval.
Midfielder Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes to shock City and defender Chris Smalling volleyed home the winner from Alexis Sanchez's free kick in the 69th minute to seal a 3-2 comeback win at the Etihad Stadium to spoil City's anticipated title party.
Revealing what Mourinho told the players at half-time, Smalling said: "The first half was terrible, we dropped off, didn't play our game, and they could have been out of sight.
"He (Mourinho) said that we didn't want to be the clowns standing there watching them get their title. City have been fantastic here all season, but we stepped up and won the game."
Just 24 hours after City boss Pep Guardiola revealed he had been told by Pogba's agent that the France midfielder was for sale during the January transfer window, it was fitting that the United star was the spark for his side's victory.
NO LAUGHING MATTER
He said that we didn't want to be the clowns standing there watching them get their title.
CHRIS SMALLING, United's match-winner, on manager Jose Mourinho's half-time team talk.
Three memorable United fightbacks
BAYERN MUNICH 1
MAN UNITED 2, 1999
Arguably United's most famous come-from-behind victory. What transpired in the dying moments at the Nou Camp needs little introduction.
Bayern were a goal up in the Champions League final after six minutes, before two goals in stoppage time from substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave the Red Devils victory in the most dramatic fashion.
Manager Alex Ferguson provided an ever so succinct summary of the game afterwards: "Football, eh? Bloody hell."
MAN UNITED 3, 1999
Juventus had taken a 2-0 lead in the semi-final second leg after 11 minutes but Roy Keane kick-started the fightback.
United pulled level by half-time and Andy Cole's winner six minutes from time was no more than they deserved.
MAN UNITED 5
TOTTENHAM 2, 2009
Spurs had a two-goal lead at half-time but a penalty, which Cristiano Ronaldo converted, gave United impetus before Wayne Rooney equalised.
Further goals for Ronaldo, Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov secured the win and United went on to clinch their third straight Premier League title.
Pogba said it would have felt "like death" had City sealed the title with a home derby win.
"If they won, they are champions. For all the (United) fans, it would be like death," said the Frenchman.
"To lose against City and to see them celebrate, I couldn't let that happen. At half-time in the dressing room, we said we have nothing to lose."
Guardiola made a beeline for Pogba at full-time but claimed to have only congratulated him for the win and not mentioned his pre-match comments.
Mourinho was not keen to be drawn on the City boss' pre-match hand grenade and instead used his press conference to praise Pogba's display.
He said: "If the accusation from his agent is that he wants to go to other clubs, his price has gone up."
The Portuguese also felt that the critics should give United their proper due.
"We deserve a bit more respect than people give," he told the BBC.
"I think we are a bit better that what people think. The players are a bit better than what people think and I am a bit better than what people think.
"We're not as bad as people say we are. What we will try to prove is that we're the second-best team in the country."
Guardiola admitted that City had only themselves to blame for throwing away the two-goal lead.
"We were not good enough in the end. Our team tried to create and attack, that is what we have done all season," he said.
"A special day for United which is a pity. We did absolutely everything in the first half but then for 10-15 minutes, we conceded goals.
"United found their game, found their actions, they have spirit. We have to defend a little better in the second half."
City, 13 points ahead of United, could still be crowned champions this weekend if they win at Tottenham and United lose to bottom club West Bromwich Albion.
For now, Guardiola has to focus on restoring his players' morale for the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Liverpool tomorrow. They trail 0-3 from the first leg.
Inspired by Barcelona's remarkable comeback from a 0-4 round of 16 first-leg deficit to Paris Saint-Germain to win 6-5 on aggregate last year, Guardiola insisted that it is possible to beat Liverpool if City are clinical on the night.
"In football, anything can happen. It is the first time we have lost two games in a row, first time in the season it has happened and now we have to recover, try again, come back to basics and win games," the Spaniard added.
"I tell them we are going to try. I was a football player, I know how they feel and how uncomfortable a situation it is. Like all the season, I like to be with them and nothing else."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS