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Tactical Analysis

The Chalkboard: Man City 2-3 Man United

NOTE: This article was a combined effort by 3 of our writers: Arnab Ray, Razim Refai and Sami Faizullah. Click on their names to see their other articles. You can also follow them on twitter.

The Chalkboard

Kick off might have been an hour away but fans had their eyes peeled. With the season’s first Manchester derby around the corner, fans of both the teams eagerly awaited the line ups. As twitter timelines were furiously refreshed, the City team news was the first one to emerge from the Etihad. Playing in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, the only real surprise was the inclusion of Mario Balotelli in front of Carlos Tevez.

The United team news arriving a few minutes later had a couple of surprises. With Sir Alex Ferguson widely criticized for his defensive selection in the corresponding fixture in April, United fans were relieved to see the return of energetic young midfielder Tom Cleverley and winger Tony Valencia on the right. The inclusions of Valencia and Young meant that United would feature in a 4-4-1-1 formation and not the diamond midfield that has been seen on a few occasions.


MCFC MUFC line up


United Closing down

The early proceedings were dominated by City as United looked content to stay behind the ball and counter attack when the opportunity arrived. The likes of Carrick and Cleverley seemed to have clear instructions and were seen pressing the City midfielders with David Silva particularly singled out for close attention. So it was quite apt that the game’s decider was a direct result of a United player harrying an opposition player in possession. Danny Welbeck shortly after coming on stole the ball from Clichy  which eventually led to Rafael being brought down by Tevez. Van Persie and City’s “two and a half men” wall did the rest.

Rooney’s brace

After a slow start to the season, Rooney has found his form a little. He popped up once again in the Derby to terrorise City’s defence. It was his two goals that set the tone for the game as crucially United took an early 2 goal advantage and were able to dictate the play.

  • First goal

Rooney Goal

Some quick link up play in the middle of the park set up the first goal. Young and Van Persie combined well before he took on the City defence. Much of the City defence failed to pick up the run of Rooney who had an almost clear run into the box. Clichy (not seen in image) comes across from the left flank but rather aimlessly, Rooney was able to pass the ball into the back of the net

  • Second goal

Rooney's 2nd Goal

Rooney’s first was created by Van Persie dropping deep, his second was due to his movement into a deeper position. He made a late run into the box which no one picked up, while Van Persie was closely marked. Rafael played the ball into his path while the City defence stood and watched as the Englishman doubled his tally.

City maintained a high line

City started off on the front foot with majority of the possession. They forced United into their own half. City carried forth with a high defensive line pressing United back but United proved to be defensively strong, warding off the City attack. The first 15 minutes comprised of United trying to break down City’s play with early fouls flying everywhere.

Van Persie and Rooney dropping deep

United’s game plan worked out very well as they took the lead with their first meaningful counter. It is interesting to note that the goal was a direct result of Robin Van Persie coming deep. As mentioned before, United were playing in a 4-4-1-1 formation with mainly Rooney dropping into a deeper role.

Dropping deep

The first goal was a result of RVP coming deep and allowing Rooney to move further forward.. After a 1-2 with Young which involved a delightful chest pass by the Dutch striker, Young now had space to run into. Also RVP had drawn City captain Kompany out of his position, which meant Young had space to drive into and pick out Rooney in the centre. Kompany’s centre back partner Nastasic tried to cover for his partner which left only Barry and Clichy to deal with Rooney in the centre of the penalty box. This was a recurring theme in the first half with Ashley Young almost beating the offside trap to run through on goal. Striker comes deeper, runner from midfield. Simple and did the job for United yesterday.

When one of the player drops deep, either a defender follows him, leaving a gap at the back, or he’ll stay in defence allowing the player dropping deep time and space on the ball, especially between the lines. The other striker will make his run forward.

Clichy and Zabaleta got forward constantly

The two full-backs on either side of City’s defence were a constant threat to United. Both Zabaleta and Clichy regularly made runs forwards especially as United encouraged them to do so in a bid to absorb the pressure and counter. The Frenchman, Clichy was especially operating from a midfield positions. It was Zabaleta’s unmarked move that resulted in City’s equaliser.

Disappointing Balotelli

The decision to pick Mario Balotelli over Carlos Tevez was a rather strange one, and Mancini was quick to correct his error, removing the Italian early in the 2nd half.

Balotelli passing

Mario Balotelli managed just 2 shot during his time on the pitch. An early free kick saved by De Gea and another shot from inside the box which he should have done better with after some good work by Clichy. The above illustration shows Balotelli’s passing record in the game. As it can be seen, most of his forward passes into attacking positions failed to reach their intended target. All his successful passes were backwards and sideways.

Threat from the wings

Wing play has always been a strong component of United’s attacking play in the Sir Alex Ferguson era and it was no surprise that each of United’s goals originated from the wings. The second goal was a result of a 2 on1 situation with Rafael on the overlap picking out the late arrival of Rooney and the United striker slotting home with ease. City will not be proud of their defending. Rooney had far too much space in the penalty area with neither a defender or a holding midfielder picking his run. David Silva, the closest opposing player to Rooney was guilty of ball watching. Leaky defences seem to be all the rage at the moment with even the table topping duo guilty of conceding soft goals.

United’s set pieces alteration

Set pieces were United’s main problem last weekend against Reading. Proving to be a major issue, corners and free kicks were handled differently. Throughout the game United decided to go for man to man marking from all corners. Their strategy paid off in all cases but one, Zabelleta’s goal where no United player marked the right back’s late run from just outside the box.

As for free kicks, United decided to go for zonal marking system. This system paid off quite well as City failed to have a height advantage with most of their attackers like Aguero, Silva, etc. being much shorter especially after Tevez came on for Balotelli.

Tevez and Silva, City’s best players

The two made the most telling contributions for the home side. They made it difficult for United’s defence with neat touches and constant movement.

Silva passing

The comparison can be made here with Balotelli. Silva’s passes found their intended target, especially in an attacking phase which resulted in constant through balls into the strikers. Unfortunately for them they couldn’t make use of it.

Tevez Action Areas

Tevez dropped deep and penetrated forward to great effect after coming on. As can be seen from the above graphy, he was in and around the box for much of the game. In addition to this he also managed to take 5 shots, most of which were from inside the box. Had Mancini opted to start with Tevez ahead of Balotelli (like always) we may have had a different game.

City found space between the lines

Although United did well to maintain a safe distance between midfield and defence, City found space between the lines on occasions. The introduction of Tevez especially helped in this regards, the Argentine dropped deep into midfield, unmarked to collect the ball and enjoyed freedom of space and time there.

Space between the lines

Zabaleta’s goal

Pablo Zabaleta, captaining City at the time, thought he’d done enough to atleast avoid defeat at home and maintain their unbeaten record in the league at the Etihad.

Zabaleta goal

The Argentine scored from a Tevez corner after United opted for a man marking system. It meant that all players tried to mark the City players around De Gea’s goal, but left those outside the box with acres of space. The ball feel sweetly for Zabaleta who wasted no time in smashing the ball through the crowd of players. Unfortunately for the reliable full-back, it wasn’t enough.


David Silva was the most efficient player on the pitch in terms of shots on target. He attempted 3 shot in total and all of them trouble De Gea. Van Persie was the most inefficient in that regard, attempting 5 and only 1 actually hitting the target (without including the post), but most importantly this 1 shot on target proved to be the winner.

Patrice Evra assured up the United defence making 5 tackles, more than any other player on the pitch. Valencia was close behind with 4.

Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were kept very busy at the back against the City attack. They made 10 and 8 clearances respectively.

Surprisingly Samir Nasri had the best pass completion rate with 90%. But Clichy attempted the most number of passes (which reflects his forward movement) along with David Silva, 59. Highest for Untied was Carrick with 58 attempted passes.

Turning Points

  • Wayne Rooney’s first goal proved to be the first turning point of the match. The goal let United operate more freely before which they weren’t shown much of the ball by City.
  • The second turning point was Vincent Kompany’s injury which forced him to be subbed off. City lost their captain after the first 20 minutes of the game and the injury combined with Rooney’s opener resulted in more fluidity in United’s play.
  • The next turning point in the game was Evans’ injury. The United center back was taken off in the second half and replaced with Chris Smalling. From that moment, United’s defence was questionable again with gaps opening up between the center backs.
  • The unimpressive Balotelli got the hook early in the second half and his replacement Carlos Tevez immediately had an impact on the game. Full of energy and eager to run at defenders, he added the directness that City needed to trouble United’s defence. It came as no surprise that he had a major role in City’s first goal. Running at United’s defence, he played a 1-2 with Aguero and eventually teed up Toure.


The season’s first Manchester derby was on the whole a pulsating affair with both the teams putting in good performances. Even without the high drama of an injury time winner, it was a good football match. City’s crisp passing especially in midfield was impressive and United’s characteristic quick attacking play was once again there to bail them out. Perhaps throughout the 90 minutes the 2 teams were equally matched but right at the death, the man who snubbed City’s overtures and joined United was perhaps fittingly the man who came up with the winner. United may be 6 points clear but the title race is far from finished.

Click here to view our other Chalkboard articles

Graphs were made at with their prior permission and based on their guidelines. Statistics were via and tactical illustrations made via

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