Manchester City – Manchester United: Hat-trick Hungry Haaland Has His Revenge (6-3)

Derby day revenge is a dish best served cold. In a clash whose bitterness runs deep, Manchester City’s new talisman avenged the family name to douse Erik ten Hag in another baptism of fire that reminded us all of the changing of the guard in one of England’s footballing strongholds.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

The Manchester derby had once pitted big brother with his junior in a clash for bragging rights. But, these siblings have matured into adulthood, transforming their relationship into a hegemonic struggle.

No longer the noisy neighbors of the north west, Manchester City are setting the soundscape for innovation. In their sixth year under the careful craft of Pep Guardiola, the club has managed to scale new heights. His men are in tune with the requirements of a complex system that has stamped a mark on the latest era of elite English football. Four Premier League titles, four Carabao Cups, and an FA Cup in the last half decade make for a merciless trophy haul that reads poignantly to their opponents.

A big brother’s stronghold over his sibling is not a given forever. To their detriment, Manchester United have rested on their laurels. The legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson has loomed over an institution that has not moved on from its most iconic figure. His exit in 2013, the year of the club’s last league title, marked a downfall where the toil of backstage politics mimicked the weathering of Old Trafford. Erik ten Hag is a man on a mission, but more permanent inroads on the champions are an aspiration.

The strains of the international break have gnawed away at City’s options. Kyle Walker is back from a muscle injury, but John Stones limped off the field in England’s 3-3 draw with the Germans. Nathan Aké duly filled in next to Manuel Akanji, while João Cancelo was on the left of the back four. The most glaring absentee was Rodri, whose calf strain ruled him out of the match. Ilkay Gündogan was now at the base of the midfield, where Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva made up the trident.

Ten Hag has found a starting eleven he trusts. His choice of defenders has been at the heart of this continuity. Tyrell Malacia has laid claim to the left back slot, flanking Lisandro Martínez and Raphaël Varane. Diogo Dalot completed the back four. Casemiro has also not ousted Scott McTominay in the middle of the park. Rewarding form over reputation, the manager let Marcus Rashford play upfront.

United trot out the same setup

Though Manchester United have made steps forward, ten Hag has noted how his men must still work on controlling affairs with the ball. The hosts’ dominance fell in line with expectations. Now, the task that lays with their rivals was to sharpen the tools that helped them secure a 3-1 victory over Arsenal.

2nd minute: pressing sequence from Manchester United. Rashford presses Aké with a curved run to force him sideways. Sancho briefly goes closer to Akanji, then shifts to his right. Eriksen covers the dropping Haaland, Dalot tracks Grealish’s inward movement and McTominay marks Bernardo.

The guests organized themselves in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Higher pressing sequences reflected their usual rules. From the front, Rashford was the primary man to try and initiate ball-sided pressure, closing down the central defender on the ball if possible. The wingers watched the fullbacks, jumping to get near the free central defender on the side away from the ball. Fernandes marked the lone pivot, Gündogan, while the other red shirts were tight to options supporting the ball carrier and stifle play.

City switch up their structure

City were cool and calm in their adaption to this system. As other ball playing goalkeepers have done against United, Ederson was on hand to support the buildup phase and find one of the fullbacks if the wingers tried to block one of the central defenders and help Rashford from the front. The central defenders opened the pitch ahead of him, driving forward with the ball to work around Rashford.

The fullbacks had adopted a different role from this campaign’s norm. Both have tended to move into the middle of the pitch, allowing Rodri to drop to create more fluidity from the base of their offensive structure. In this contest, on the other hand, Walker and Cancelo were in conventional, wide positions. If United’s wingers were too near to them to prevent progress from the flanks, Bernardo, de Bruyne, and Haaland could drop off into the three pockets of space between the row of four in the midfield.

United could not force many high turnovers, passively falling back as City’s passing wore on. Once Pep’s men had reached the final third, the varying combinations on the two flanks worked fluidly.

Different dynamics, devastating destruction

On the right edge, Foden served de Bruyne, who has recently had the freedom to overlap an inverting winger to hit deliveries from the flank. On the left were suitable rotations for the profiles of the three players. Bernardo’s underlaps vacated room for Grealish to come inside and flourish on the afternoon, while Cancelo’s inverted ball carrying paved the way towards the first goal of the game from Foden.

8th minute: buildup to Foden’s goal. Bernardo is wide and Grealish is inside due to a prior rotation. City circulate the ball to Cancelo, who drives diagonally inward as Bernardo moves further outward. McTominay covers inside, creating more space for the midfielder to drill a cutback into his teammate.

United lost order amid the adversity. In the 31st minute, Walker strayed free from Sancho on the right flank, setting away Haaland to tee up Foden and transition into open room. De Bruyne lashed a shot at goal, earning a corner from which Haaland headed home despite Malacia’s effort to clear the ball off the goal line. Minutes later, the hosts galloped forward again. The Belgian duly punished another ill-disciplined press, whipping a wicked delivery towards the back post. Haaland converted. 3-0 City.

The rampage had not ended for the first half. De Bruyne charged over the halfway line from a counterattack, slipping in Haaland to his left. The striker became assistant, squaring the ball into the path of Foden for a tap-in. A class above their rivals, City were gleefully easing to three points.

An elementary second half

Adding injury to insult, Victor Lindelöf replaced Varane, whose ankle took a blow in the firing line from Foden in the 40th minute. A four goal deficit drastically shrunk the value of risking his health, but United still looked to mount a comeback. Antony curled a strike outside the box past Ederson to ruin City’s clean sheet. Ten Hag then made a double substitution just before the hour mark. Casemiro came on for McTominay, and Anthony Martial was now the central forward instead of Rashford.

None of that mattered to City, who went back to toying with their visitors again. Sergio Gómez had entered the field as a left back in place of the injured Walker, picking up where Cancelo, now on the right, had left off. He and Grealish sliced open the left halfspace, eventually finding Haaland, who sealed his third consecutive Premier League hat-trick at the Etihad: the records kept tumbling. Foden soon profited once more from his teammate’s discerning eye to beat David de Gea for the third time.

6-1 Manchester City. Eleven years after the infamous rout at Old Trafford, United stared at history repeating itself. At least Martial could bail out his club from this embarrassment, scoring a pair of consolation goals. The forward nodded home the ball to punish Ederson for parrying a shot from Fred, then drew a foul from Cancelo inside the penalty area and slotted into the top right corner of the net. The final three goal margin had taken gloss off City’s triumph, but no one could doubt their authority.


An emphatic display from City affirms they remain the team to beat. Though a classic nine is at the head of the attack, stylistic similarities have carried over into the new season, and the output has been as one would think. Once more, Pep picked up on how his men’s work building through the thirds can get better, but the presence of Haaland within the final third ensures they can profit from such risk.

Manchester United’s character has come under severe scrutiny in a year where they have been on the wrong end of many humiliations. Ten Hag had to rally the troops to stir a reaction, but one cannot turn a blind eye to the opponents’ quality. City can and did punish the faults that others have revealed far more clinically. The manager can only seek to turn this reality check into fuel to raise the standards.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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