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Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City: Tactical Analysis | City’s fast start and fluent play make lackluster United pay

The Manchester derby has grown in importance over the past few years with both sides battling it out near the summit of the Premier League table. It has become one of those 6 point games which is considered important enough for montages, special “pre-match” build-up and so on and so forth. The fact that this fixture has seen its fair share of drama means that it’s a game that isn’t likely to pass under the radar of the average Premier League fan.

This time around though, the priorities of the 2 sides were different. Manchester United’s league season was pretty much over even before the game with a top 4 spot seemingly out of reach but they had a chance to build on wins against Olympiacos and West Ham, not to mention spoil City’s title charge. For the away side, this represented 1 of their 3 games in hand over leaders Chelsea and a win would not only rub salt into the wounds of their old rivals but more importantly move them to just 3 points behind Mourinho’s men with 2 games in hand.

Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City

Line-ups

Created using Tactical Pad.

Created using Tactical Pad.

Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Cleverley (Kagawa 45′), Carrick, Fellaini (Valencia 66′), Mata, Welbeck (Hernandez 77′); Rooney.

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Toure, Fernandinho; Navas (Garcia 68′), Silva, Nasri (Milner 74′); Dzeko (Negredo 79′).

City’s fast start and intense pressing

The latest installment of the Manchester derby was not one to be late for. It took all of 44 seconds for City to assert their dominance as Nasri’s near post strike rebounded off the post straight into the path of Edin Dzeko who could hardly miss from there. Yet, City didn’t rest on their laurels and truth be told they could have been out of sight in the opening half an hour and an important factor behind their dominance was their intense pressing.

City were quick to put United under pressure when they had the ball in their own half. This high energy pressing was effective in the opening stages as they drew errors out of United players in their own defensive third. This also meant that United’s attacking threat was very limited during this time. The below snapshot of the game illustrates the point. After Dzeko (bottom left) had pressed Ferdinand, it was Toure’s turn to match up to Carrick. Under pressure, the Englishman tried to play a square ball which was duly intercepted by Navas. The willingness of City to commit men forward off the ball coupled with their crisp, quick passing meant that United struggled to keep them at bay.

City pressing high up the pitch making life difficult for United

City pressing high up the pitch making life difficult for United

United shift to plan B early in the piece

It was apparent when the team news came out that Moyes had chosen to bolster the central midfield area and seek out strength in numbers. The trio of Carrick, Fellaini and Cleverley were charged with matching up to the formidable duo of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho while also curtailing David Silva’s influence in City’s attacking ventures.

Created using Tactical Pad.

Created using Tactical Pad.

It was an understandable move that was supposed to provide protection to the back 4. However, after the early goal Moyes resorted to his customary formation with Mata moving into a more central attacking position and Cleverley moving out wide to the right-hand side. This left the 2 man midfield of Carrick and Fellaini to deal with City’s midfield. Carrick and Fellaini may boast of a variety of qualities between them but mobility isn’t either of their strengths. This led to the game being more open as City had more space on offer and United’s attack made their presence felt through a number of counter-attacks.

City enjoy the space on offer in front of the United defence

As enumerated above, United’s rejig was designed to try and claw back their opponent’s early lead. The flip side of this was that this opened up space for City to penetrate. The sluggishness displayed by the home side only added to their woes and as mentioned previously City could have been out of sight in the 1st half itself.

Fernandinho with plenty of space to run into.

Fernandinho with plenty of space to run into.

In the above image both Fellaini and Carrick have followed David Silva as he momentarily dropped into a deeper role. This in turn freed up space for one of the 2 central midfielders, on this occasion Fernandinho who was more than happy to bypass the out of position duo. Although this attack came to nothing, United played a dangerous game and were City at their attacking best then the scoreline could have been even more damning for the home side.

Navas’ contribution to the City set-up was apparent once again throughout the game. Pellegrini’s side usually like to line up in a asymmetrical formation with Navas hugging the right touchline and Silva drifting in-field from the left wing. While Silva occupied a more central role in this game, Navas did what he does best as he was a constant threat on the right. The Spaniard is not only useful in providing a different dimension to the City attack but also his very presence ensures that the opposition left-back cannot afford to stay narrow which in turn frees up space in the middle.

United’s counter attack threatens on occasion in the first half

After City’s initial dominance, United did look a bit better as the half wore on. Although they were still struggling off the ball and looked vulnerable whenever City attacked, they did manage to pose a decent threat on the counter as City committed numbers forward. One such situation is depicted below as United break with Mata on the ball. There are runners from midfield joining in and Mata has options including Rooney who he eventually picked out. Despite his absence from this attack, Welbeck’s pace also provided an outlet for the home side as he tried to take advantage of the space left  by an overlapping Zabaleta.

United created a few promising situations on the counter.

United created a few promising situations on the counter.

Despite getting into such positions, United rarely troubled hard Hart in goal. United’s general performance was below par and the final ball was no exception. Juan Mata had a poor game and most United attacks fizzled out due to a lack of cohesion between the attacking personnel. City came out the more positive of the 2 teams in the second half and made it count as they doubled their lead. The likes of Kagawa and Hernandez were thrown on in the hopes of igniting a comeback but quite frankly it never really looked like materializing.

City’s near post corner tactic bears fruit

City targeted the near post from corners. Via squawka.com

City targeted the near post from corners.
Via squawka.com

It was apparent as early as the 2nd minute that City had a definite plan when it came to corners. Samir Nasri was detailed to corner taking duty and Pellegrini’s men targeted the near post area in most of their corners. One of Demichelis or Kompany was assigned the task of attacking the ball at the near post and flicking it on into the danger area. This exact routine was carried out on a couple of occasions in the 1st half and indeed a few minutes before the goal when Kompany flicked on Nasri’s corner towards Fernandinho who couldn’t guide the ball on target. They eventually got their reward when a ball aimed towards Demichelis was neatly volleyed by Dzeko who had escaped the attentions of Ferdinand to double his and the team’s tally.

Where does this leave them?

First up, Manchester United. The side came into the game as second favourites and finished thoroughly so. The most damning fact is that they looked every inch a 7th place team. Essentially the match doesn’t change much for them, the league campaign is more or less over now. They still have Bayern to come in the Champions League but to be honest they’ll need a miracle to go through. After that, it’s all about rebuilding for the next campaign and perhaps face some hard truths regarding David Moyes’ suitability for the job.

For the blue half, they couldn’t have asked for a better night. They convincingly beat their rivals and yet gave the impression that they could still move up a couple of gears if need be.With the Premier League their sole focus now, City are definitely in control of their own destiny.

For more Tactical Analysis of the biggest games across Europe, head this way.

Arnab Ray

Arnab Ray

Arnab is an opinionated Bengaluru FC and Manchester United fan. Always up for a good football discussion/ petty argument.
Arnab Ray

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