MANCHESTER UNITED vs MANCHESTER CITY
After two wins from two tour games United now faced a familiar foe in an unfamiliar context and could expect a sterner test. This was City’s first pre-season game.
United started in a different shape again here; having previously utilised a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 they now utilized a 4-2-3-1. In the first half that saw Herrera and Pogba as the double pivot with Mkhitaryan in the number 10 position behind Lukaku. Rashford was positioned to the right and Lingard to the left. City utilised the same shape but with a few new or unfamiliar faces. Ederson featured in goal and Kyle Walker featured at right back. Kompany was partnered by Adarabiyo in central defence. Further forward Robers featured as the number ten behind Aguero with Fodden on the left.
United’s first half shape and Mkhitaryan starting in the number 10 position
Tempo and Width
The game started at a high tempo. Both teams moved the ball quickly an early in possession and both teams pressed the opposition when the other team had the ball. Space was at a premium with both teams efficiently retaining their shape. There was little room with a turnover of possession the norm as the attacking team approached or reached the defending team’s final third. Slowly but surely though United got on top in the first half because they showed themselves marginally better at keeping the ball. They didn’t commit bodies forward but they did move well off the ball.
A contrast from the previous match was United’s use of width. Both Rashford and Lingard stayed wide, often hugging the touchline. This tactic was probably designed to spread the City defence across the width of the pitch. It worked to a degree although it did not drag central players wide. It meant that United wide attacking pair often found themselves one-on-one with City’s fullbacks, Fernandinho and Walker and it pulled City’s wide attackers, Fodden and Sterling deeper.
First Half Goals
United’s opener came from a quick break up the pitch. Pogba hit a long diagonal pass towards the inside left channel between Kompany and Walker. Lukaku chased this as Ederson came running out of his goal. The United man reached this before the City goalkeeper and headed this away from him. He had pushed it wide away from goal however so had to shot quickly and with a firm shot to ensure it beat the defenders scrambling back in front of goal. He had to shot quickly as the angle was getting tighter by the split second. His finish was excellent to put United one goal up.
The first goal came in the 36th minute, the second came two minutes later. Again this was a quick break up field from a transition. Herrera stole possession in his own half on the right hand side and fed Rashford who moved the ball quickly on to Mkhitaryan. He ran on at the retreating City defence and returned a pass to Rashford positioned outside the City fullback Fernandinho who had been drawn narrow by Mkhitaryan’s run. Rashford had time and space to shoot across the goal from right to left beating the City keeper. Two nil.
The goals both illustrated a feature of the half. The play was usually pretty tight with space at a premium. Both teams were accomplished at keeping the ball, circulating it well. The breakthrough came after transition with United breaking quickly from deep rather than after a period of possession. The issue for City is that they like to play a high line and press the opposition when they lose the ball. This is all well and good if the opposition can’t keep the ball or break effectively; as an insurance policy your defence needs to be well organised to do this as well. In this game United showed that they could keep the ball and on tour they have shown several times that after a transition with pace across the front they are capable of breaking effectively, especially if as was the case here the other teams defence aren’t well organised.
Second Half Changes
United made four half time changes, all in defensive areas. Romero replaced De Gea in goal, Jones and Bailly replaces Smalling and Lindelof in central defence and Blind replaced Darmian at left back. City made far more changes but notably Fernandiho who had been operating at left back was moved to his more usual midfield position and Mangela was introduced in his place. Both teams retained their 4-2-3-1 shape but this meant that now City had Fernandinho and Nasri as their pivots.
United at the start of the second half and then after the substitutions on 60 minutes
At the start of the second half with a two goal lead United seemed content to simply manage the contest. A pattern soon emerged. Both teams had periods of possession but it was clearly City who were trying to force the issue. They tended to play a higher line and pressed United not allowing United time in their own half on the ball. This meant that often City would be looking to close down United players as they inter-passed with Romero. There was only really one occasion when the United keeper looked vulnerable to this and usually both he and the deeper United players looked confident to resist the press. This was good to see with United circulating the ball with one and two touches and moving to give the player in possession an option. This allowed United to move the ball up the pitch in a composed way; City’s press didn’t or perhaps couldn’t get close enough.
Once the ball reached higher areas, usually just over the half way line United focused their efforts in wide areas with Rashford and Lingard looking to run at City’s full backs. They wouldn’t necessarily try to go very far with their runs instead looking to cross at the earliest opportunity towards Lukaku. This cause City some problems and Mangela was booked after another foul on Rashford. United had a couple of good chances to score more in this period of the game.
On the 60th minute mark United made three more changes with Carrick, Fellaini and Martial replacing Rashford, Mkhitaryan and Herrera. United now had Fellaini and Carrick as the double pivots with Pogba moving forward to the number 10 position, Lingard switched sides to accommodate Martial on the left. From this point on United’s approach seemed more passive and the game took on even more of the flavour of a training game. With 15 minutes left they made two further changes with Fosu-Mensah replacing Valencia and Pereira replacing Lingard on the wide right. Pereira did quite well and looked bright in this position but by this point you felt that both teams were going through the motions and as the game petered out.