Manchester United – Manchester City: United Outclassed As City Take Initiative In Title Race (0-2)
Manchester City found it tough to create clear chances against United’s deep defense in the first half and had some minor scares on the counterattack due to the speed of United’s strikers. However, once they found the breakthrough in the second half thanks to Bernardo Silva, City had relatively little trouble seeing the game out, helped by a second goal from substitute Leroy Sané.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Manchester United came into this Manchester Derby in terrible form, having lost six out of their last eight games in all competitions since their dramatic victory at PSG. Ole Gunnar Solskjær reverted to the 3-5-2 formation seen in recent games away at Wolves and at home to Barcelona, with Jesse Lingard coming back into the side to partner Marcus Rashford as a striker.
The stakes for City could hardly have been higher, as they needed a win to go top of the table with three games to go. Pep Guardiola made three changes from their crucial win over Spurs at the weekend. Firstly, Vincent Kompany came into the defense ahead of John Stones. Meanwhile in midfield, Fernandinho and David Silva both came into the side in place of Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden in City’s usual 4-3-3 formation.
All twenty-two outfield players depicted in their nominal positions, including general movements. Notice the distance between United’s fullbacks and City’s wing-backs.
City establish possession
Aside from a few nervous moments from City in the opening spells of the game, City had relatively little trouble progressing the ball into United’s half against the home side’s pressing. This was in large part due to the ease with which City could escape pressure through their fullbacks against United’s 5-3-2 defensive shape.
Protecting the center of the pitch is a priority against all teams, but especially a team with such strong positional play as Manchester City. Guardiola’s side are very good at finding angles to receive behind each opposition line of pressure and do not allow defending teams to get away with being careless when it comes to compactness and covering passing lanes.
Rashford and Lingard would start off trying to screen passes into Fernandinho to prevent City progressing centrally. The natural choice for City then was to use the fullbacks. Being able to press City’s fullbacks became an issue for United as their own wing-backs were pinned back by City’s wingers stretching the pitch high and wide as they always do.
It was complicated for the left and right central midfielders Andreas Pereira and Paul Pogba to pressure City’s fullbacks, as they would risk opening up gaps in the center and halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. which would be exploited by the likes of İlkay Gündoğan and David Silva. Instead, they were forced to allow City to play out of pressure through their fullbacks and advance forward.
United’s defense frustrates City chance creation
So, United didn’t do well in terms of keeping United off their own half. But once it came to defending in a low block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. City were met with fierce resistance, befitting a city derby. United’s 5-3-2 shape offered them a strong presence in central areas through the midfield three screening forward passes and the fact that they usually had at least one spare center-back to step into defensive midfield areas if required.
City then usually found themselves attacking the corners of United’s penalty box from wide areas, trying to slide passes into central midfielders making underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. runs in behind the defense or looking to exploit the one-versus-one abilities of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, which was difficult due to the numbers United had in their penalty box.
United’s intention was to frustrate City’s attacking efforts and launch counterattacks through direct passes to Rashford running in behind City’s defense. This looked to be a promising avenue for them at some points early in the first half, as Rashford’s speed, supported by Lingard, seemed to worry the City defenders somewhat, especially Kompany who is not the most mobile defender. United were unable to create anything too substantial from this though, and found themselves getting pushed back more as the half went on.
United unthreatening in possession
When they were not trying to reach Rashford with long balls into the channel, United did make some attempts to build up from the back. Largely unsuccessful, however. They formed a 3-1-4-2 formation when bringing the ball out from the back with Fred as the deepest midfielder, Pereira and Pogba acting ahead of him.
Against this, City shifted from their nominal 4-3-3 into a 4-2-3-1 shape as David Silva stepped up onto Fred to make it harder for him to receive. City’s wingers would try to press United’s center-backs, while the fullbacks would step up onto United’s wing-backs where appropriate.
United’s preferred way of trying to play out was using the triangle between wide center-back, wing-back and central midfielder to try and find a free man. They also liked to switch play a lot in possession and find the opposite wing-back. Their attempts to build up from the back resulted in some ball losses in their own half though, and City were generally not often threatened by United’s own possession game.
City find eventual breakthrough
For City, the second half did not start especially well, as key player Fernandinho was forced off through injury after just a few minutes. He was replaced by Leroy Sané, meaning that Sterling switched to the right wing and Bernardo Silva to central midfield, so that Sané could slot in on the left wing.
Although losing Fernandinho is a clear negative for City, the addition of Sané at least gave them a boost, as he had a positive impact on the game. He looked dangerous running in behind United’s defense in his typically direct fashion, opening up more space for the midfielders just behind him in the process.
There is a reason Guardiola likes to field so many technicians when playing against a low block like United’s. City’s first goal came from a moment of individual quality you need to carve open a tight defense. It came from Bernardo Silva, who is arguably City’s most consistent player this season. His low, left-footed shot to the near post after cutting inside Luke Shaw caught David De Gea off guard and ended up in the back of the net to give City the lead.
Soon afterwards Sané had his decisive impact on the game by adding a second goal. United had no choice but to attempt to chase the game and commit men forward, which suited Sané well, thanks to his profile as a strong counterattacking forward. The goal featured embarrassing defensive scenes for United as Sergio Agüero’s diagonal run in behind the defense dragged Matteo Darmian out of position and left Sané in acres of the space in the left halfspace for City. De Gea was unable to do enough to divert Sané’s shot off-target as the ball found the back of the net, to make it 2-0 for City.
United never looked like coming back after this point. Their play in possession had been thoroughly predictable all game long, and they could not endanger United from it. There was some obligatory pressing, but to no avail, as City were able to keep possession for long spells at times. And when United were on the ball, City always threatened to counterattack if United overextended themselves in attack. City in the end ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.
The result marks United having lost seven out of their last nine games for the first time since 1962. Luckily for them, their top four rivals have also found it hard to pick up points recently, meaning they can look to this weekend’s game at home against Chelsea as an opportunity to get something out of this season still.
City now have three gigantic games coming up in the Premier League, topping Liverpool by one point. Their schedule looks tougher than Liverpool’s, even though Liverpool have to play Barcelona twice in the next three weeks, while City are freed from the burden of European football. City need to play the FA Cup final, but that is a week after the Premier League ends.
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