MANCHESTER UNITED VS MANCHESTER CITY
United win Championship of Manchester on away goals!
The Manchester Derby. With a fifteen point lead some suggested that there was nothing to play for here, but that is never the case when local pride is at stake. In addition and following a run of disappointing performances United would be looking to shake off the post Champions League hangover.
In: Rafael, Giggs, Young, Rooney and Van Persie
Out: Smalling, Cleverley, Nani, Valencia and Hernandez.
– United game plan was cautious. Sit deep and look to hit City on the break. It didn’t work because they did not get a goal and found themselves overrun in midfield, where Giggs struggled. The game highlighted United’s lack of a strong ball winning central midfield player and the current lack of form of the wide players.
– United failed to cope with the higher tempo of City’s play; a number of players looked sluggish, almost ponderous. Despite this they appeared generally able to cope with City’s movement and possession until the late introduction of Augero’s pace.
– City themselves were perhaps over cautious in not playing Augero. They looked so much more threatening after his introduction.
United started this game in a 4-4-1-1 shape with Giggs and Carrick in central midfield, Welbeck to the right and Young to the left. Rooney played behind van Persie. City set up as a 4-2-3-1, their usual shape, but with the surprise omission of Augero, Tevez played as the most advanced player with Silva centrally behind. Nasri started to the right and Milner to the left. Further back Toure stayed in front of the back four with Barry venturing forward to link with the four front players. Those front four were all very mobile.
For the first ten minutes or so the game was frantic with both teams attacking almost with a devil may care attitude. It was almost like two prize fighters trying to land an early knock-out blow. This couldn’t last and the game settled down into a pattern which then endured right up to half time.
As in the game at City earlier in the season United appeared to be prepared to sit deep and try to hit City on the break. As a consequence City had a lot of possession and with both Welbeck and Young playing fairly narrow City managed to work plenty of space in wide position, particularly on their left. This resulted in a series of crosses, most of which were over hit. Those that weren’t were easily dealt with by Jones and Ferdinand, (Jones had an excellent game here and was United’s best player by some distance across the 90 minutes). In truth City were unlikely to have great success from high crosses against United’s central defenders, all their front four being relatively small players.
There are a number of features worth highlighting from the first half.
United’s game plan required the team to remain compact. In the first leg of the Champions League tie against Real Madrid Jones was deployed on the right side of midfield to occupy space and restrict Ronaldo. This worked well, but with three central defenders injured Jones was needed alongside Ferdinand in this game. In the second Madrid game Jones was unavailable due to injury and Giggs was given the role of restricting Ronaldo. Until Nani’s send off this also work well, but in that game Giggs was playing as a deep attacking player and so supplementing the central midfield two. Against City Giggs was actually one of the midfield two, and struggled. Quite simply he could not match the pace of the game, (he was not the only one), with City’s mobile forwards, supported by Barry dominating the space just outside United’s penalty area. United were outnumbered in this area and City found it fairly easy to play around Giggs and Carrick. In short they failed to remain compact. A number of people have suggested that Carrick did not have a good game here, and he did not have much opportunity to create going forward, but defensively he was sound and along with Jones and Ferdinand he was a major part of the reason that United got in at half time on level terms.
If United were looking to hit City on the break, their efforts to do so were woeful. The ball out was simply too poor. The consequence of this was that United, by hitting long early ‘reachers’ kept giving the ball back to City. What United needed to do was retain possession long enough to get out and develop play. Instead they simply hit it long and early. It didn’t work.
The game plan worked at the Etihad because United carried a threat in wide positions. That game plan was also sustained by two fairly early goals. Here those goals never came. Perhaps one should have materialized from a break when Welbeck advanced through the centre, but he chose the wrong option and did not pick out Rooney. Welbeck and Young were disappointing in this respect, Young played narrow and cut further inside, Welbeck was more direct than the ponderous Young, but failed to link well with those around him. United’s best wide attacking threat came from the forward surges of Rafael on the right who hit the angle of post and bar with a shot late in the half.
Rooney’s role here was interesting. For the most part he played behind van Persie and in the attacking phase his role should have been to link and hold the ball whilst others joined in. This was only successful on a few occasions, notably setting van Persie up for a shot from the right hand side which he dragged wide. Van Persie worked very hard but was feeding on scraps. The other aspect of Rooney’s game was to mark Toure whenever City looked to move out from the back. Toure is a beast of a player and despite Rooney’s efforts he always seemed able to find space to collect from Kompany and direct play forward. Rooney’s become more attentive to this role as the half wore on, but with Toure sitting very deep this simply restricted Rooney’s ability to drop deep himself and help out Carrick and Giggs.
In view of this why did City fail to score?
Perhaps it was because Aguero wasn’t playing ahead of Tevez. When Aguero plays in front of Tevez his pace pushes teams back and creates room for Tevez in the hole. Here without that pace United centre backs were able to sit centrally. Aguero would have pulled people about with his running. All the movement was in front of the United defence and despite City playing around the United midfield, with Tevez and Silva playing well they never looked like overwhelming United’s back line in the way they were overwhelming the midfield.
Changes at the start of the second half were fairly subtle. Rooney dropped slightly deeper and Giggs moved slightly higher. The result was that United saw more of the ball in the opening five minutes and the balance of play was much more even. Perhaps Sir Alex had decided that United were too deep. Then Giggs lost the ball trying a back heel. After this transition United never recovered, they were out of shape and City worked the ball to Milner on the edge of the area and his deflected shot beat De Gea. The goal came in the 51st minute.
The key to any counter attacking strategy is to score first. Now United had to change plan and chase the game. Immediately after the goal nothing seemed to change, United did have a fair share of the game, but didn’t look like scoring. Then from a free-kick they scored. The delivery from van Persie was excellent delivering a cross from the United right. Boom! Jones met it powerfully and his header was deflected off Kompany into the net. The equalizer came after 59 minutes; City had held the lead for only eight minutes. Perhaps this was significant as it allowed United to continue with their original game plan. City continued to have the lion’s share of possession and United continued to sit deep and look to break. In the second half United didn’t sit quite as deep and were marginally more successful in working attacking breaks, but as the half wore on City became more dominant. Would Sir Alex do something to change things?
No, it was Mancini who made the change introducing Aguero for Nasri in the 71st Minute. Aguero now played in front of Tevez and Silva moved across to the left. Augero’s pace troubled United right from his introduction and with Silva seemingly threatening from the left and Tevez with space in the hole City looked menacing. Aguero’s movement pulled United this way and that and his combinations with Silva led one to believe that City was going to score with every forward thrust. They scored seven minutes after Aguero’s introduction when he ran left to right past a number of United players who seemed unable to get near him and struck a powerful accurate shot past De Gea from the edge of the area.
Thereafter United tried hard to get back into the game, but despite three late substitutions, (Valencia for Welbeck 80 mins, Hernandez for Rooney 85 mins, Kagawa for Young 90 mins), it all came to nothing.
This was a very disappointing performance from United. A similar game plan worked last time against City, but here without the early goals and with poor performances from the wide players it did not. The game also served to highlight United’s lack of a commanding central midfield player.
City looked so much more of a threat when Augero came on. His pace made the difference. One wonders why Mancini chose to start him on the bench and then leave it so late to bring him on. In fairness he may have had half an eye on the FA Cup Semi-final, but it appeared extremely cautious.
Why was Sir Alex so cautious? What did he have to loose with a 15 point lead, and why did he not seek to change things during the game?
United are still 12 points clear, this victory was in effect a consolation goal in terms of local and national pride.