MANCHESTER UNITED vs MANCHESTER CITY
12.04.2015

Having gone above City after the previous weekends games, United went into this game looking to stretch that advantage and put another nail in the coffin of their title defence.

PERSONNEL

In: Smalling.
Out: Rojo.

KEYPOINTS

  • Pellegrini sprang a surprise by changing his team shape. He put Milner on Carrick and Aguero dropped deep. This worked for about 15 minutes and then City lost their discipline, as expected, and United took control.
  • Thereafter Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini and Mata dominated the midfield and asked all the questions. Toure and Fernandinho were overrun.
  • United had a lot of success down the inside left channel where City are theoretically strong. All four goals came from a United initiative down that side. Zableta, Toure and Navas could not subdue Fellaini, Blind and Young.
  • Fellaini was excellent; this was probably his best United game and after initially looking off the pace for the first fifteen minutes so was Herrera. Carrick, once he had escaped the attentions of Milner was a superb calm influence on the tempo of United’s play.
  • United dominated City who looked vulnerable whenever United moved the ball forward quickly. Unfortunately they didn’t do this often enough for if they had they may well have scored more. United played too many square passes when a forward pass was on, especially in the first half.

FIRST HALF

Ironically United started this game well given that since the final whistle everyone has praised City for their excellent start. United pressed City from the kick-off and City looked flustered. Unfortunately this only lasted for a couple of minutes. Then City took control.

abIRWwWaet  Manchester United v Hull City - Premier League

Shape of the game for most of the match and Michael Carrick, freeing him was key to United’s success.

United started in the now default shape, but City changed their shape going to a 4-2-3-1. Pellegrini’s new found tactical flexibility paid dividends with City taking the lead in the 8th minute. This shape was effective because Milner was positioned in the middle of the three and was detailed to sit on top of Carrick minimising the United mans opportunity to get on the ball and dictate tempo. Augero dropped deep into the space on Carrick’s left and City relied on their wide players, Navas and Silva to make forward runs. This led to the goal with Silva feeding a square ball into the path of Augero who scored easily from close range. Smalling and Jones had lost Augero; ball watching and seemingly mesmerised by City’s quick passing and movement.

But then the whole match changed in one moment when United scored. An under hit back pass was rapidly cleared by De Gea as Augero charged him down. The ball reached Fellini in the inside left channel and he out jumped Zabaleta freeing Blind to race on and cross in the direction of Young. He needed two bites at the cherry but made sure with his second chance and scored from close range. Boom!

United now seemed to grow immediately after having scored the goal. City wilted. City have developed a reputation for a lack of discipline and application and if this match is anything to go by it is well deserved. The tactical plan at the start was sound but they didn’t stick to it. Milner left Carrick and Aguero pushed higher. This left Toure and Fernandinho in the middle of the pitch surrounded by Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini and Mata. Mata was playing very narrow and deep on the United right. They were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Toure was too high and often caught out of position.

United average player positions. Note how narrow Mata is.

United average player positions. Note how narrow Mata is.

Returning to the goal it illustrates a couple of key points about United’s play in this game. Firstly United had a huge amount of success in the inside left channel; in fact all United’s goals came from moves generated from this area of the pitch. Blind, Young and Fellaini were excellent with Fellaini and Young vying for man of the match in many people’s views.

Secondly Fellaini in particular had a great game. He dropped deep at times and at other times played high. When he went high Kompany picked him up but never looked comfortable. Fellaini was always prepared to take the pass even in the tightest of spaces and he usually retained possession. Dropping deep he occupied the space to the side of Toure and in front of Zabaleta. Toure was too high and did not seem to have the appetite to compete with Fellaini’s physicality. When United hit a high pass towards Fellaini Zabaleta was never sure whether to come or stay and looked decidedly uncomfortable in the air. He always seemed concerned about the ball beating him and dropping behind him, with Young and Blind pressing high and looking to surge into that space. When he dropped deep Fellaini was too far from Kompany and so caused havoc and Rooney stayed high to occupy the centre backs. Rooney didn’t touch the ball much but his presence did an important job.City never squared this circle; it was Fellaini’s use of space as much as his physicality (usually considered one of his main strengths) that hurt City.

Fellaini operating in the inside left channel

Fellaini operating in the inside left channel

But it wasn’t just on the left that United dominated, after the goal everyone seemed to grow. Herrera who had looked off the pace in the first fifteen minutes was now all over City like a rash. On the right Mata played narrow and both he and Herrera pressed Fernandinho. Valencia often pushed on and in combination with Mata gave Clichy a torrid time. Jones and Smalling, who had started the game looking very shaky now looked solid.

In the opening fifteen minutes Augero, Navas and Silva, especially Silva looked a potent threat. Now they saw little of the ball. Toure was still too high.

Then on 27th minutes United scored again. Again this came from United’s left where a series of passes between Blind and Young created an opportunity for Blind to cross to the far post where Fellaini lurking behind the ball watching Clichy was able to head home. Boom!

Fellaini arriving behind Clichy to head home

Fellaini arriving behind Clichy to head home

United could and should have scored more from here. That they did not was largely because they often delayed their pass forward choosing instead to play a square ball. Carrick, Mata, Herrera and Fellaini were all guilty of this in the first half which was especially galling when a forward pass was on. What this did though was to ensure United retained possession and this in turn seemed to demoralise City who rapidly lost a belief that they could compete. The other side of this issue though is that when United did deliver an early forward pass they had great success with their first three goals all coming from a move involving an early forward pass which stretched the game and put the spotlight on City’s defence. When United asked the questions it looked like City did not have the answers.

Half time 2-1.

SECOND HALF

United’s dominance continued after the break. City replaced Kompany with Mangala. Kompany had apparently injured himself making a studs-up challenge on Blind for which he was booked just before half time.

If anything United’s performance improved in the second half because they began to move the ball forward quicker. Blind and Valencia were now more likely to push on and Toure was pushed back. This isolated City’s forward players and ensured that United retained their stranglehold on the game.

In the 67th minute United scored again to effectively seal the points. This goal was offside, but who cares? Again this goal came through the inside left channel with Rooney playing a reverse pass inside for Mata to run onto. He had started his run a shade too early but ran on to nutmeg Hart in the City goal. Boom!

Mata - Boom!

Mata – Boom!

Nothing changed until United scored again. This goal came from a free kick delivered from the left and headed in unchallenged by Smalling. Boom! The other notable feature was that Mangala, as on several other occasions in the game seemed to be playing a different offside line to his colleagues.

Smalling - free header. Boom!

Smalling – free header. Boom!

Now Van Gaal started to make changes. Immediately after the goal Rojo replaced Jones. Then after 81 minutes Di Maria replaced Mata and on 83 minutes Falcao replaced Fellaini with Rooney dropping back into midfield. On 88 minutes Carrick limped off leaving United with 10 men. Almost immediately City scored but this proved to be only a consolation as the clock ran down.

CONCLUSION

This was a big win. United earned local bragging rights for sure, but it was significant psychologically and not only in the battle for Champions League qualification. It puts down a marker for next year and seasons ahead. United are only going to get better from here.

Match statistics. Only two City passing combinations featuring on the pass combination chart.

Match statistics. Only two City passing combinations featuring on the pass combination chart.

City had a clear strategic game plan which they executed well for the first fifteen minutes. United however were not deterred, they stuck to their task and City were discouraged by United’s first goal. They lacked belief and application; United didn’t. What was doubly pleasing about this was that United came back from an early setback to take control of the game. They showed determination, bravery, energy and élan. City showed their trademark lack of discipline and application. United’s midfield dominated City’s midfield and demonstrated that they now have the collective belief in the Van Gaal method and a growing ability to use his strategies in any circumstance so making themselves a significant domestic force.

This was a very enjoyable but difficult report to write. In summary City started well but once United got on top they were not really in the game with United dominating and controlling the match comfortably.