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As the dust has settled on another Manchester Derby and another Manchester City victory over their fierce local rivals Manchester United, it is time for me to put to paper my next tactical analysis. In this analysis, I will of course take an in-depth look at this past weekend’s derby and give my say on how Manchester City were able to secure another thoroughly deserved victory in the Premier League.
Manchester City Set-Up
Pep Guardiola appears to have found his ideal set-up for the so-called ‘big games’ so far this season and Manchester City’s line-up was this exact team.
Riyad Mahrez retained his spot on the right-hand side for Manchester City in the big games with Raheem Sterling operating from the left. The favoured midfield trio (given Kevin De Bruyne’s injury) were again selected, as was the usual back four.
Tactical Plans – Full Backs
Starting from back front I will firstly have a look at the differences between Kyle Walker’s and Benjamin Mendy’s roles. Benjamin Mendy is an incredibly effective wing-back when he can push high up the field and operate in the spaces which are vacated by the movement of a wide player in front of him. At the weekend that player was Raheem Sterling. When Sterling would, at times, drift infield and leave space on the left-hand side, Mendy would push forward into these areas and look the get crosses into the box. Manchester United defended these crosses from Mendy well due to the fact that they had an incredible size advantage over the Manchester City front men.
On the other side of the back four was Kyle Walker. Walker is a player who is growing in stature at Manchester City and this is clear from the trust that Guardiola clearly puts in him. When people think of Kyle Walker they tend to think of a marauding full-back who is constantly overlapping his winger and drilling the ball into the box after beating his opposite man for pace. Although this is indeed an aspect of Walker’s game it is not his be all and end all and to suggest this was the case would be doing him a disservice.
In most of his games this season Walker has had a far more important role in the build-up phase of play and this was indeed the case at the weekend. Walker was far more reserved and would often shuffle over when Mendy had pushed high up the field in order to form a back three with John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. When the ball was in more advanced areas of the field Walker would move up alongside Fernandinho in his inverted full-back role. It was also clear however that Walker was not only used in this position for his ability on the ball but for his athleticism and positioning when Manchester City lost the ball. Anthony Martial is on an incredible run of form for Manchester United in recent weeks and although he did add another to his scoring charts at the weekend, admittedly from the penalty spot, he was totally nullified by Walker. Walker lead the way in ball recoveries with eight while Martial only completed one take-on in the game which emphasises they’re contrasting performances. Manchester United can be effective and efficient on the counter attack and with a front three of Rashford, Lingard and Martial there was a chance for potential danger for Manchester City’s back line. One of the reasons from a City point of view of why United didn’t in fact pose any threat on the counter was the role of Kyle Walker.
Tactical Plans – Overloads
A huge feature of Manchester City’s playing style is the desire to create overloads throughout the pitch the idea being that if City have the ball and have a numerical advantage then they won’t lose the ball very easily but if they do lose the ball they have a numerical advantage making it easier for them to counter-press immediately and win the ball back.
Manchester City were constantly looking to overload the left-hand side of the pitch and this has been a common feature in their games so far this season, particularly when Sterling is playing on the left-hand side. Sterling will operate high and wide on the touchline with David Silva tending to operate in the left half-space. Sergio Agüero has also tended in recent weeks to prefer to drift over to the left-hand side and drop into the spaces in front of the opposition back four as he did against United very effectively. In addition to this with Mendy making overlapping and supporting runs, Manchester City often had 4 players within a very small space in Manchester United’s half. This overload was causing Ashley Young at left-back many problems throughout the game and is partly how the first goal came about. David Silva dragged Ashley Young into the half-space leaving Raheem Sterling with more time on the ball to check back onto his left-foot and put in a pin-point cross for Bernardo Silva at the back post.
Another impact of Manchester City’s overload of the left-hand side is the effect this had on the players on the other side of the field. Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez are such an interesting duo at the moment for Manchester City and this was again the case at the weekend. With Manchester City sucking in more and more Manchester United bodies to deal with the overload on the left-hand side, little attention was being paid to the players on the right. With Aymeric Laporte a master at the long diagonal switch of the play, City repeatedly tried to look to isolate Mahrez in 1v1 situations against Luke Shaw which indeed ended up with Shaw picking up a yellow card after being beaten by Mahrez.
Tactical Plans – Possession
A little bit of me almost felt sorry for Manchester United’s players at times during the game. Once Martial had scored the penalty, I was nervous and thought that it was the beginning of the comeback as did many of the people in attendance. However, with a midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellani and Ander Herrera it was never realistically going to happen.
Guardiola looked to have learnt from Manchester United’s recent comeback victories and his players knew exactly how to handle the situation. When Juventus went 1-0 against Untied, Allegri’s first thought was to throw on Andrea Barzagli and to drop back and hold-on for the victory. Much the same happened when United came back to beat Bournemouth. Bournemouth who are a better footballing side than Manchester United in terms of keeping the ball and creating openings began to drop back and back and invited the pressure as did Newcastle when they took a 2-0 lead away at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
By doing this teams are allowing Manchester United to play to their strengths. By dropping into your own box and trying to play out the innings until the end of play you are only asking for problems. In these three aforementioned games Manchester United were allowed to dictate the way in which the game would proceed and were able to play more direct which is a style they are good at. Marouane Fellaini is arguably the most player in the air in the world, what Marouane Fellaini is not is someone who can press for a prolonged period of time and keep tabs on the likes of Bernardo Silva or David Silva.
Guardiola stuck true to his principles and knew that City would easily be able to keep the ball away from this Manchester Untied side and this was impeccably shown in both the fact that Manchester United only mustered one shot after their penalty and even more so in Ilkay Gündoğan’s 44 pass goal. At 2-1 down in the 86th minute after not too long ago scoring a goal to get yourselves back into the game Manchester United were suffocated and couldn’t get anywhere near their city neighbours. It is a testament to both the ability of the players Manchester City have and the trust they have in each other and in Guardiola to stick to their plan and play their way and they were justly rewarded for doing so.
In truth Manchester City probably played at about 70%-80% in this fixture which may seem strange for a local derby but it is a clear indicator of the stark contrast between the two sides at the moment. Manchester City were good and Manchester United were bad, it is almost as simple as that.
Yet again Manchester City have put out an ominous warning to the rest of the Premier League that they may in fact be better than they were last season and that they are desperate to retain that Premier League title.