MANCHESTER UNITED vs MANCHESTER CITY
Van Gaal claimed that City were the favourites going into this fixture. True perhaps when based on the last few games, (City have won 6 of the last 8) and on current league positions yet there wasn’t the fevered response following a similar statement by Moyes a couple of years ago. Without Aguero and Silva United no doubt secretly fancied their chances.
- A cagey game that was lifeless in terms of a spectacle but a fascinating strategical battle.
- Schneiderlin interceptions showed how effective he can be.
- Schweinsteiger influence in a game of tight spaces and defensive development was significant.
- Rooney’s lack of influence was obvious and he needed to play closer to the captivating Martial. He is currently struggling.
- The second half saw less pressing from United which was a shame, as it made life easier for City.
- City’s wingers were ineffective and praise should go to Valencia and Rojo for this.
There was a great energy about how United approached the game at the start summarised by coordinated pressing from a sound base in Schneiderlin. He was the most involved player as United set up in their 4-2-3-1.
This was in part due to his positioning, having to mark Toure tightly. The Ivorian was playing in the Silva position, not in a horizontal sense but vertical. It was when Toure dropped deeper that it became clearer how well Schneiderlin was doing at his job as he was pulled out of position leading to the blocked Sterling attempt.
Meanwhile, his partner Schweinsteiger operated in a variety of positions in the left hand vertical channel. Cool on the ball but not quite threatening enough. He did help in dealing with City’s most used out ball, the diagonal to de Bruyne but particular mention should be given to Rojo who managed him well.
Ahead of the midfield United’s front play was set up in a lopsided manner with Martial and Rooney as a wide left two and on the right Herrera and Mata as a narrow two. It was down the right that United had the most success with the free man usually being Mata. Unfortunately there was not enough runs beyond the City defence.
As the half came to an end the lack of pace and connectivity in the United team became ever more apparent especially when there were opportunities on the counter. United did not make the most of these. The patterns of play on the right became very predictable. But this didn’t take away from what was an intriguing defensive battle.
What could have been done at half time or even latter in the second half? Perhaps address the imbalance between left and right and put Martial centre to attack the untroubled City centre.
From the start Rojo pushed slightly higher and Pellegrini reacted fairly quickly to this by bringing Navas on for Sterling and de Bruyne switched to the left against Valencia.
City’s shape continued as a 4-4-2 and the game still had an intensity, this was because it was a derby of course but the technical finesse was suffering slightly. This couldn’t be said of Schweinsteiger however as he continued to affect matters on the left; he often found himself slightly higher on occasions than in the first half.
In comparison our captain Rooney looked adrift of the game. It’s disheartening to see passes go astray and he unable to be direct and effective at the same time. Without top quality players on form around him, (the like of which he has been used to during his United career), he is not quite the player we know he can be.
A more direct approach was what substitute Lingard introduced almost immediately when he wcame on for Mata in the 67th minute. He took advantage of the channel which Mata ran across by running directly through it. This pushed the City defence backwards. On 75 minutes Fellaini replaced Schweinsteiger. City adjusted by bringing the unhappy Toure off for Demichelis rather than Fernando who they pushed forward instead. Fernando offered little but Toure’s contribution had diminished as the half wore on.
Another substitution, this time due to injury saw Darmian come on for the injured Valencia in the 81st minute. De Bruyne now went further wide than Sterling had done.
Towards the end of the game there were some great moments. Firstly, Martial showed great skill lifting a ball over the defence onto which Lingard ran to show equally good skill by lobbing over Hart onto the crossbar. The other when Smalling cut a shot at the bottom corner which Hart did well to save.
Both teams played with a defensive mindset and you felt that there was more available from each side. It was interesting to read Gary Neville describe the first half as the season’s best 45 minutes! His point was more about the defensive performances and this is what United can build from, and build they must do, particularly after the great displays from Rojo and Valencia who nullified Sterling, De Bruyne and Navas.
Forward play was more of a mixed bag. With Rooney we saw a number of poor touches and his positional isolation. He suffers when there isn’t great quality and movement around him. There wasn’t enough running or directness and it is to Martial that we turn as the highlight of the team. Whether he’s middle or left he pushes defences back and it’s up to the rest to keep with him and respond.
Rooney (left), Martial (right) action areas.
City looked to be playing for the draw and there was a sense of a missed opportunity at the end. With Aguero and Silva in the team would we have seen the same approach from them? In fact would United’s approach have been different too?