MANCHESTER CITY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
With Demichelis starting United travelled to the Etihad with a great opportunity to make ground on their rivals. With City inconsistent and vulnerable United needed not only three points but also an injection of confidence.
In: Schneiderlin and Darmian.
Out: Fellaini and Varela. .
- This United side have kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League side this season (14). The centre backs and midfield helped force City out wide.
- Schneiderlin is a much better option than Fellaini. The way he man marked Toure then Fernando was impressive. He also had a big involvement in most of United’s passing.
- United’s front line were energetic and enthusiastic and proved to be a challenge to City’s defence. Developing their clinical nature will be one of the next tasks.
- The way Martial’s run took Sagna out of the equation for Rashford’s goal was subtle but fantastic.
- United did the simple things well and at the right time; defended consistently and kept possession at the right times.
- The defence did still look suspect as United dropped a little too deep in the second half but that was to be expected in light of City’s attempted fight-back.
The teams lined up with identical formations both 4-2-3-1. Yet what was interesting with City’s shape was how their wingers tucked in when defending; was this with the hope of allowing United’s fullbacks to push forward then take advantage of the space behind, similar to what Liverpool did against Varela? Darmian shows less tendency to bomb on and Rojo isn’t a bye-line full back.
Up front for United Mata and Lingard were switching and in Lingard they was a real direction about to United’s attack. It’s rare that United showed such directness.
Last season’s game is considered the turning point in Smalling’s development and it was with a shudder that we saw him give away a silly early booking for pulling Aguero back; tenterhooks for the rest of the match. This is certainly one area he needs to improve, we see it too often particularly at set pieces; he just doesn’t need to grapple with opponents.
Boom! United took the lead deservedly as a great direct through ball from Mata saw Rashford skip past Demichelis. United’s midfield two were ahead of City’s who were not quick in tracking back. With the excitement of the goal it was easy to miss the run from Martial that took Sagna away from the channel that Rashford exploited. 15 minutes played 1-0 to United.
The performance was encouraging and United’s front line were rapid and direct; aspects of play rarely seen under Van Gaal.
United didn’t have it all their own way, as the passes and possession statistics bare out; the number of crosses, 32 v 12, put our defence under pressure but with a number of tall players we do have a strength in this respect.
Another bonus for United came when Sterling left the pitch injured and Pellegrini shifted Toure forward and put Silva out left; City had a touch more craft in their forward play particularly through Navas who was the out ball. United did still enjoy good possession however.
The pressure from United’s forward line continued as Rashford and Martial played tight against City’s centre backs.
This was one of Schneiderlin’s better games and it helped address concerns over his performance against Liverpool. Here he showed great composure and influence with a 94% pass success rate.
By the 53rd minute City had made all their substitutions with Demichelis coming off for Bony. As City switched to 4-4-1-1 they intended to be more adventurous in search for the equaliser.
Martial remained dangerous and with Rashford he combined effectively in the channels. He also defended well too, tracking back and harrying.
There were many neat exchanges of play from United, they played plenty of neat passes which allowed them to get out of potentially difficult situations and relieved occasional pressure. There was little improvement in their crosses and corners however. Valencia came on for Rojo in the 63rd minute.
United were under the cosh and sitting deeper than they were entitled to. Credit where it is due however as unlike against Liverpool, where any attack felt like an inevitable goal, United’s defence were better, more composed and solid looking.
At the time Schweinsteiger came on for Mata, (69th minute) United were looking slightly vulnerable; possession football and playing higher was the key to thwarting a City fight-back. Schweinsteiger did play much higher than anticipated; classic Van Gaal.
City went searching for the win and opted for a sitting midfielder in Fernando.
In the 84th minute Fosu-Mensah came on for Darmian who was suffering with cramp and although he did well in a short time his positioning when defending was too narrow and didn’t help against City’s long diagonal balls.
There were plenty of positives, both from an individual point of view and also a team performance; not just the play but the attitude. Primarily though, United had a solid centre from front to back. The forward line pressed and was quick. The midfield was focused and the centre backs were resourceful. This disrupted anything that City tried and whilst United did well they were helped by how bad City were. It seems that this team is weakened whenever Navas plays. But who cares. It is slightly insulating to hear Pellegrini’s words that City,
“did not deserve to lose. We dominated the game from the first minute and we were the only team who wanted to play during the whole game – but we missed three or four chance to score.”
That’s a misguided opinion.
Going into the game Van Gaal talked of how important it was for United to win the game to have any chance of keeping in the top four.
“This victory was necessary” he stated, “the gap was four points and now it is one point, plus we are equal with West Ham, which is important. What is possible? I cannot say.”
This is the annoying thing about his United team.