MANCHESTER UNITED VS MANCHESTER CITY
25.03.2014

After two wins in the last two games United went into the Manchester Derby with a contradictory mixture of renewed belief and some trepidation. Could they avoid a third home defeat in a row in this fixture and de-rail City’s championship challenge?

PERSONNEL

In: Ferdinand, Evra, Cleverley and Welbeck.
Out: Buttner, Young, Fletcher and Kagawa.

KEYPOINTS

  • United started this game very poorly conceding a goal after 40 seconds. They were asleep. After that start it was always going to be an uphill task.
  • Although they improved and made a contest of the game in the first half United were always stretched to make an impression on City, who in control after that start, could await their opportunity to strike again. City always looked more composed.
  • In the second half City reshuffled bringing on Garcia to play alongside Fernandinho and pushing Toure further forward. In the first half City had played through Silva, in the second they played through Toure. United had run hard to counter City’s composure and in an attempt to get back into the game. As United tired City picked them off and stretched their lead.
  • Moyes changed United’s shape here to counter City. This was the sort of thing Sir Alex did regularly and something Moyes hasn’t done very often so far. This is welcome but it didn’t really work and in truth it couldn’t. Unfortunately United are weak in the areas where they would need to be strong to counter City’s strengths.

FIRST HALF

Going into this match most United fans expected a tough game, but within 45 seconds it was an even tougher assignment. United were asleep and allowed David Silva free reign to run directly at their defence. A simple pass, a shot rebounded off the post and Dzeko turned the ball into United’s net with ease. This all happened before the game had developed any shape but it was symptomatic of what was to come in the opening 10 minutes or so.

United were slow and their passing was poor. They sat far too deep and allowed City time and space. City in contrast was on top of their game from the start. They passed crisply and early. With United sitting deep Toure and Fernandinho had time and space to pick passes and re-direct play. Silva ahead of them was full of running with subtle changes of direction in his passing and movement causing United constant problems.

abGC6Wcad8 United early in the first half

When the team was announced pre-match, speculation was that Moyes had decided to change the shape of the team. He hasn’t done this very often this season but the shape here was very clearly a 4-3-3 with Carrick at the base of the midfield, Cleverley further forward on the right and Fellaini further forward on the left. In attack Welbeck played to the left, Rooney stayed fairly central and Mata started to the right, (although as usual fairly narrow). The problem with all this was that Cleverley and Fellaini weren’t that far ahead of Carrick. It would seem that the plan was for Fellaini to push onto Toure and Cleverley onto Fernandinho. They didn’t do this initially and they didn’t do this particularly well throughout. As a consequence City not only took the lead but took control.

It took United about 10 minutes to wake up and by that point they could have been further behind. Then Fellaini and Cleverley did push forward and with Rooney dropping deeper they began to get a foothold in the game. Initially it was about putting a foot in and breaking up play but slowly this progressed to period of prolonged possession. For much of the rest of the half United competed and created a number of half chances. They did this by pushing higher, passing earlier and running harder. City continued to have the better of the game but United had their moments.  A number of points are worth picking out.

City were still the brighter side. They always had an extra passing option and their players looked more at ease in possession, their first touch and passing accuracy was better. As such they always seemed to have more time. Conversely United often struggled to retain possession; they worked harder to do so and so expended more energy. They did create a few good situations but City’s defence, whilst stretched at times was solid.

Fellaini and Cleverley were poor. Fellaini had a terrible game and at times looked really out of his depth. We have said this before but he does not seem to have a quick football brain or quick feet. In possession then he looks awkward. Out of possession he struggles to make an impact. Often here he resembled someone running for and missing a bus only to run to the next bus stop and miss that other bus as well. All too often he was late and City simply passed around him. Cleverley was anonymous.

Mata, Rooney and Welbeck worked incredibly hard. All three dropped back to harass City. They regularly won possession in midfield and then moved the ball forward looking to get at the City back line at the earliest opportunity. Unfortunately this stretched the play and meant that one or all of them found themselves stretched and isolated. United’s attacks looked better when these three were able to combine to hold the ball up until fullbacks and the midfield could get forward in support. When this happened United looked good although misplaced passes saw them particularly vulnerable to the counter attack. With a lead City were happy to sit and await an opportunity to pick United off.

As the half wore on it seemed as if Mata was playing with a free role. Such was his fluidity that it seemed that he was playing more as a number 10 than a right sided forward. He was having a great game and was probably United’s best player on the night. For City it all went through Silva. For United it all went through Mata.

SECOND HALF

Unusually United made a half-time substitution. Moyes removed Cleverley and introduced Kagawa. In the first half with Mata and to a lesser extent Welbeck both pushing inside United had been fairly narrow. This had left space for United’s fullbacks to push into which they did at times. United didn’t make the most of these situations as their crossing was so poor, (as it often is currently). Many people have since bemoaned Moyes choice of substitute. Not the removal of Cleverley who was having a poor game but rather the introduction of Kagawa instead of Valencia. This view is motivated by the lack of effective wide play. Kagawa has a tendency to play narrow of course, but it is perhaps for this reason that Moyes chose him ahead of Valencia. If United had strengthened in wide areas then they would have weakened the centre.

abGDfLcabk United early in the second half

This substitution really didn’t work however. Kagawa did tuck inside but his biggest area of weakness is perhaps his lack of defensive nous. After the substitution Toure and Fernandinho had more time.

Despite this the first ten minutes of the second half were fairly even. Both team had their moments, but again City looked the more comfortable in possession, especially around the edge of the box. Then after 59 minutes City scored again. This time City scored from a corner with Dzeko again getting the goal with a deft side foot first time volley. Why did he have so much space?

This goal knocked the stuffing out of United and they seemed to visibly tire. For a few minutes it looked like United would be overrun as they chased shadows. Then there was a series of substitutions. Firstly United removed Fellaini who was replaced by Valencia. Fellaini was removed to ironic cheers, (never something we want to hear; Fellaini was poor here but if a player is wearing a United shirt you have to resist the temptation, however strong, to show this sort of reaction). That change came on 66 minutes. Kagawa now moved to the left with Rooney dropping into central midfield. Wlebeck moved to centre-forward. Perhaps as a response, City introduced Garcia in place of Navas. Garcia moved alongside Fernandinho which allowed Toure to play higher up the pitch in the area behind the front line. City was now on top with play flowing through Toure who caused all sorts of problems. With the removal of Fellaini and playing higher up Toure was free to do what he liked. Carrick couldn’t compete.

abGDfOPamw United late in the second half

On 77 minutes Hernandez replaced Welbeck; in terms of position a straight swap. Welbeck along with several other United players was visibly tiring. Most United players had worked really hard and done a huge amount of running to contain City. Now this had an effect. City looked comfortable, United looked ragged. Then to seal the victory Toure scored a third in the last minute.

CONCLUSION

Don’t be fooled City were always comfortable here. United started badly, struggled to get back into it and then conceded more as they effectively punched themselves out. City’s comfort allowed them to wait their opportunity to pick United off.

We’ve said enough, let’s move on.