Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku started together for the first time and fired Manchester United to victory in the first Manchester derby played outside the UK.
Clubs whose stadiums are separated by less than five miles recreated their crosstown rivalry deep in the heart of Texas and delivered an open, chance-laden International Champions Cup clash that saw United edge Manchester City thanks to sharp first-half goals from the young forwards.
United manager Jose Mourinho said he was pleased with the night’s work. “Good intensity - players tired - I’m really pleased,” he told reporters. “It was good. [City] have very good players, they play quality football, we had to play well.”
His City counterpart was pleased with the performance. “It was a physical test,” said Pep Guardiola. “I saw many, many good things,” he added, citing the runs his players made in attack. “We played quite well especially in the second half.”
After a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner - not something they’re used to in northwest England - the match got underway, with the official game ball presented by Drake, the rapper and singer-songwriter. Manchester’s symbol, a worker bee, was displayed on the players’ jerseys for the occasion in tribute to the victims of the May concert bombing in the city.
Even at a distance of nearly 5,000 miles from England, the 67,401 crowd at NRG Stadium - with most fans decked out in City blue or United red - did their best to make the teams feel at home.
Both managers picked strong line-ups. City included the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Stirling and Sergio Aguero and gave debuts to summer signings, the Brazilian goalkeeper, Ederson, and English international defender Kyle Walker.
Captained by Antonio Valencia, among United’s high-profile names were David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Daley Blind.
This was City’s first pre-season game but the third match of United’s US tour, following victories over MLS sides, Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. It wasn’t surprising, then, that United started the brighter, with Ederson called on to save a fizzing shot from Herrera and a stinging drive from Mkhitaryan.
But Guardiola’s men grew into the game and De Gea was twice called into action to deny Stirling, while 17-year-old homegrown starlet Phil Foden impressed going forward, his manager giving him a rave review afterwards: “I don’t have words,” he said. “His performance was another level."
After 30 minutes the best chance of the half fell to City youngster Patrick Roberts, who looked sure to score from close range but Chris Smalling made a vital block.
Lukaku gave United the lead nine minutes before the break. The costly new arrival from Everton beat the onrushing Ederson to a through-ball, rounded the goalkeeper and finished coolly with his left foot from an acute angle.
It was 2-0 moments later as another United breakaway was finished with aplomb, this time by Rashford. Set clear on the right he lashed his shot low into the net.
In the second half, Lukaku thundered a shot off the crossbar while at the other end Foden tried a lob that fell just over. Late in the game, substitute United goalkeeper Sergio Romero made a flying save from Fernandinho as City pressed for a goal.
It was not to be and the 13-time Premier League champions bested a team that finished above them in last season’s standings, with the strains of “Glory Glory Man United” echoing through the arena at the final whistle.
United now head to Santa Clara to face Real Madrid on Sunday, while City meet the Spanish giants in Los Angeles three days later as the ICC continues.