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Tactical Analysis

Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis

Line ups created using our own tactics creator app. Click here to use it.

Line ups created using our own tactics creator app. Click here to use it.

The Manchester derby is a game that is always filled with drama and excitement. In recent times owing to City’s new found wealth, it’s become a fixture about more than bragging rights and 3 points alone. With both sides battling it out in the upper echelons of the Premier League, the fixture has taken on even more significance. Both Moyes and Pellegrini experienced their first taste of the rivalry and had an early chance to lay down that much talked about early marker.

With Clichy injured, Kolarov started in the left back role and somewhat surprisingly Negredo was preferred to Dzeko up front. James Milner who was pretty much a fixture in the derby teams of Mancini missed out with Navas and Nasri occupying the wide positions. The major talking point in United’s line up was about Robin van Persie whose name was absent from the starting line up due to injury. Welbeck was drafted into the team in his place in what was an otherwise unchanged starting line up from the Leverkusen game mid-week.

Numerical advantage in the centre

City’s record against United in the past couple of seasons has been good with 3 wins out of the last 4 league games. Much of that was owed to their superiority in the middle of the park. Despite the addition of Marouane Fellaini to United’s squad, today was no different. United opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation meaning that it was up to Michael Carrick and Fellaini to not only stem the tide of attacks but also provide supply to the attack. Eventually they couldn’t do either as they were simply numerically overpowered. With Fernandinho sitting deep, Yaya Toure was given more of a license to play up field. Nasri was intent on cutting in-field and the ubiquitous Sergio Aguero wasn’t shy of both dropping deep and making runs behind the United defence. All the above points lead to an overload in the centre of the park for City.

United looked a more balanced team after Cleverley came on via

United looked a more balanced team after Cleverley came on via

United did eventually change their system to accommodate for this bringing Tom Cleverley on for the ineffective Ashley Young and pushing Fellaini a bit higher up the pitch. Admittedly City had taken their foot off the pedal by this juncture but still United just looked a more balanced outfit with 3 in midfield. A fact that will provide little consolation to United fans as United were 4 goals down before the change happened. A case of closing the stable door well and truly after the horse had bolted.

No outlet for United’s attack

United's unsuccessful crossing in first 50 minutes via

United’s unsuccessful crossing in first 50 minutes via

Traditionally United have always been a force to be reckoned with in terms of attack. They were not so today, far from it in fact. As mentioned above, due to the dominance of City’s midfield, United found themselves penned in for large parts of the first half. The first half was shockingly one-sided with United’s attacking threat virtually non-existent. United are used to playing around packed defences by using the full breadth of the pitch. Regular watchers will know that United’s go-to ball is to shift it out to Patrice Evra on the left wing and build attacks from there. However, with City full backs flying down their respective wings, United’s wingers were forced into doing more defending than attacking. (in theory at least. What on earth was Valencia doing during City’s first?!)  Robin van Persie’s absence cannot be used as an excuse for the red half of Manchester because as good as he is, even he would’ve struggled with the lack of supply. To reinforce my point, Danny Welbeck had only 15 touches in the first half, the same as the hardly troubled Joe Hart. The little threat that was provided from the wings was wasted with Young and Valencia’s carelessness in possession. In the period up to around 50 minutes i.e. City’s 4th  goal and Cleverley’s subsequent introduction, United attempted 7 crosses of which 0 were successful! As shown by the graphic above, a majority of them were hopeful crosses from deep positions with Young the main perpetrator.

City Shape

Manchester City lined up in what looked like a 4-2-3-1 on paper, with Aguero behind the front man, Negredo. However, in the game, it was more of a narrow 4-1-3-2. Aguero was basically pushing on, and running in behind the defence, with Negredo doing a lot of the leg work. Aguero made a lot of runs from deeper areas. In midfield, Yaya Toure had the license to push on from deeper areas, and Fernandinho was left deep tasked with negating the threat of Wayne Rooney. The full backs were pushing on as well, with Kolarov especially making a lot of overlapping runs. Kompany and Nastasic were at the back, with both of them doing a good job keeping United out for long periods of the game.

Later in the game, towards the end, City added Javi Garcia to the mix, and took Aguero off. This was to add yet another body to midfield, and absolutely cut any chance of United making a comeback. It was in response to the domination United had found in midfield after getting Carrick and Cleverley to play there just behind Marouane  Fellaini.

Aguero and Nasri positioning. via

Aguero and Nasri positioning.

Defending Deep

United played Young and Valencia on the wings, in order to keep a lot of pace and work rate there. The idea was to try and get in behind City’s overlapping full backs as a form of attack. City are also usually a team that play pretty high up the pitch, and this tactic made sense as a counter attacking one. However, City did well to stop the counter attacks. Every time United managed to gain possession of the ball, City dropped deep, marked their opposition players well, and stopped United scoring. With neither of Carrick or Fellaini really pushing on either, United couldn’t really penetrate, and didn’t really have numbers in attack either. Fernandinho in particular had a fantastic game, making 5 interceptions, and playing a huge role in stopping the build up of momentum for United. A lot of the interceptions and tackles that City made were quite deep. It was in response to this that Moyes decided to push Fellaini up, and have him charge into the box behind Wayne Rooney.

A lot of the interceptions were made in deep areas. via

A lot of the interceptions were made in deep areas.


City basically controlled the game in the first 60 minutes, and did enough damage in this period to be able to stroll to victory in the last 30. They managed to keep United on the back-foot and dominate the game so comprehensively because they played with the ability to change the tempo. It was quite noticeable that the speed at which the ball was moved increased considerably when City had managed to get their full backs forward, and flood the opposition half. This speed ultimately proved to be the undoing of the United defence. Aside from that, City also managed to counter at great speeds after winning the ball at the back. There were a number of occasions when the likes of Negredo and Aguero found themselves in space, and running at the United defence. For the 4th goal, Navas had a great chance to stretch his legs, and then pick Nasri out.


From City’s point of view, it was just about the perfect day. They played with a higher tempo, intensity and just looked more up for the game. After a satisfactory win in the Champions League, they’ve capped off a good week with a resounding win against their rivals. United on the other hand will be smarting after this loss. Handed a tough opening sequence of fixtures, they’d been abreast with City and Chelsea but a loss of this magnitude would’ve hurt them. It’s early days yet but Moyes’ men have to learn from this and improve quickly. They have a relatively easy run of fixtures coming up and you get the feeling that capitalizing on them is now vital for their title challenge.

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