New York Derby tactical MLS analysis

New York Red Bulls – New York City FC: Intense Red Bulls Triumph In New York Derby (2-1)

The New York Red Bulls’ intense approach made this game a battle of attrition at times. New York City FC were able to take the lead early on, yet the pressing of the Red Bulls subdued the City attack for much of the proceedings, and the Red Bulls were able to fight their way back into the game and came away with the win. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley

Aside from being a New York derby, a matchup between New York Red Bulls and New York City is a direct confrontation between two football ‘franchises’ with seemingly contrasting approaches to the game. Clubs run by Red Bull tend to cultivate a playing style focused more on pressing and fast transitions, whereas those owned by the City Football Group seem to favour an approach based on a controlled possession game. 

The two teams came into the game with only one point separating them. The Red Bulls drew 3-3 away at Atlanta United in their previous game. They made two changes to their starting eleven compared to that game, as Aaron Long and Michael Murillo came into the defensive line, replacing Sean Nealis and Kyle Duncan in their 4-2-3-1 formation. 

City meanwhile had lost their previous game, a 1-0 defeat at home to Portland Timbers. For this game, manager Domènec Torrent switched to a 3-4-1-2 shape instead of the 4-2-3-1 formation that had been used against Portland, as Maximiliano Moralez started as the number ten behind a forward partnership of Valentín Castellanos and Héber.

Overall positioning and general movements of all twenty-two outfield players when City had the ball.

High tempo first half

City took the lead early in the game. The goal was very well worked and was one of the rare occasions where City were successfully able to outplay the Red Bulls’ pressing. 

In the build-up to the goal, Red Bulls were disorganized, after having shifted heavily to their left side to pressure a City throw in. Eventually, City switched the ball to the other side, away from pressure. Sean Davis stepped up onto Keaton Parks as they tried to re-establish pressure on the ball, and Moralez found himself free in the pocket of space behind him. He worked the ball out to the overlapping Anton Tinnerholm on the right, who crossed for Héber to make it 1-0 after seven minutes. 

Generally though, such clean sequences of possession play were not often seen from either team. The intense counterpressing approach from the Red Bulls helped create a high tempo game in which long possession phases were uncommon, and there were plenty of turnovers.

City found themselves trying to bypass the press through more direct passes to the wings or to the front three, in order to compete for second balls in these areas, as they found the compactness of the Red Bulls difficult to break through.

Red Bulls – as we have grown familiar to when watching Red Bull teams – tried to generate attacks through transition situations. This was the case in the lead up to them earning the penalty which allowed them to equalize at 1-1. A turnover of possession in Red Bulls’ favour on the halfway line was quickly turned to attack, as Alex Muyl’s chipped pass picked out the run of Brian White behind the defense. He was brought down, and Daniel Royer converted the penalty to make it 1-1 at half time. 

Both teams therefore had been able to score a goal in their trademark style, yet lacked the consistency to impose their style on the opponent. No team dominated the game as a result, and a level score at half-time reflected that. 

Red Bull’s direct play churns out passmaps like these.

Red Bulls take the initiative

Much of the first fifteen-to-twenty minutes of the second half was played in City’s half, as the Red Bulls imposed themselves on the game further. In possession, their front four played in relatively close proximity to each other, as well as shifting strongly to the side of the pitch the ball was on as they looked to combine their way into dangerous areas from the flanks against the 5-2-1-2 defensive shape of City.

Their overloading When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. of areas close to the ball meant that they had players close to the ball for counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. if they lost it, and as such, could pin City in their own half. Red Bulls also used direct passes to create second balls around City’s box, which they could then counterpress with large presence in advanced areas.

The Red Bulls managed to capitalize on their promising spell at the hour mark, when Royer headed his second goal of the game, to make it 2-1 to the Red Bulls. The goal came in controversial circumstances, as during the buildup to the goal, the Red Bulls put the ball back into play via a throw-in when the assistant referee had signalled for a corner to be taken. No decisions were altered, meaning the goal stood and City had twenty minutes left to look for an equalizer. 

After the goal, the Red Bulls played slightly less aggressive and City took a higher possession share, in an attempt to chase the game. The Red Bulls still had an influence with their pressing though. They found good pressing triggers A pressing trigger is a specific pass or movement by the opponent that draws out a coordinated team press. to press the back three of City, with the Red Bull wingers able to come into narrow positions and prevent the wide center-backs of City from playing out, while the Red Bull fullbacks also engaged aggressively in the press. They were able to force good turnovers by squeezing the play in wide areas on a couple of occasions. 

They did become progressively more passive as the game came closer to the end. The wingers of Red Bull dropped off a bit further, leaving the number ten and striker to cover a wider radius of pressing against the back three of City.

In the end, the Red Bulls were able to hold onto their win without serious trouble as City tried and failed to push for an equalizer.


A solid performance from the Red Bulls who were largely able to make their opponents play the game on their own terms, dragging City into a counterpressing and transition battle that City probably did not want to be in.

City’s second defeat in a row leaves them sixth in the Eastern Conference. However, they have played eighteen games this season, while everyone else in the league has between twenty and twenty-two games played, so there is plenty of opportunity for City to make up some ground on the teams around them. 

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. 

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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