Tactics Talk: How did Manchester United win the tactical battle against City?

Jonny Boyle

rooney 2 300x225 Tactics Talk: How did Manchester United win the tactical battle against City?As Manchester derbies go, Sunday’s match between City and United at the Etihad stadium  was arguably the most significant in Premier League history. As Sir Alex Ferguson stated himself, the home side have gone from being the noisy neighbours to the ones screaming the city down after clinching their first title last season, but if there’s anything United’s legendary manager can do it is dealing with a new emerging rival. So, would we see a tight game between the table’s top two, or would the obvious attacking talent of both teams come to the fore?

Here’s why Manchester United came out on top in the tactical battle.

Roberto Mancini continued to rotate his team as Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Matija Nastasic all came in from the cold at defence. The decision to play Mario Balotelli, although surprising, may have been a masterstroke as the Italian offers more of an aerial threat against a United defence which has struggled from set-pieces this season.

David De Gea returned in goals with Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia forcing their way in to a 4-4-1-1. Like in so many games before, Ferguson sent his team out with a clear system to press City in their own half and attempt to counter attack on any misplaced passes. The home team had plenty of them first-half as they dominated possession, yet could only make 68 per cent of their passes in the attacking third

Mancini doesn’t yet have the same trust in his players that his opposition manager does. Where the Italian can’t decide who is the man to complement Sergio Aguero up-front in big games, Ferguson normally always picks Valencia, Ashley Young and Michael Carrick in his attacking unit as well as Wayne Rooney who provides defensive responsibility to go along with the obvious offensive threat he’s renowned for. The Englishmen is key to the adaptable United.

Taking his place between midfield and attack, the forward dropped in to occupy the space of Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure as well as making late runs forward to support Robin van Persie. He made just one pass in to the City box all afternoon, but, more importantly, limited City’s sitting midfielders to just 51 passes between them in the first half.

That counter-attacking approach paid dividends when a Young-van Persie one-two gave Rooney the chance to trundle the opener past Joe Hart.

The right hand side of the pitch was the key action area. Carrick consistently switched the ball there to get Valencia and Rafael involved in the game.

A simple ball wide from Carrick allowed Valencia to run at Clichy who had the overlapping Rafael to think about too. Perhaps the one criticism of David Silva’s game is his lack of defensive awareness and he was found wanting when Rooney ran off him to net United’s second just 13 minutes later.

City had more possession and exactly the same amount of attempts on goal as the away side, but failed to find the threat which Rooney offered time and again. Samir Nasri made no impression, Yaya Toure was too deep to hurt and, despite Silva’s best efforts to create, Balotelli may as well have stayed in the dressing room.

The loss of Vincent Kompany to injury on 21 minutes was a huge blow for City. The Belgian captain is arguably Mancini’s best player – they’ve conceded just 11 goals in the 14 Premier League game’s he’s played in – and United looked galvanised after he went off.

The top managers and teams make decisive decisions to achieve decisive results and, at half-time, Ferguson left things as they were in the expectation his side would continue their first-half form.

Mancini’s decision to substitute Balotelli for Carlos Tevez on 50 minutes was the turning point of the game. Immediately, Tevez won two headers against Rio Ferdinand and ran at the back four – the Argentine looked in the mood. This also allowed City to push Aguero higher up the park where he is arguably more threatening.

Toure’s goal on the hour came as a result of Tevez’ invention. Balotelli may have been included for his physical power, but the ingenuity of the miniature Argentine can’t be ignored and Mancini is fortunate he brought him on when he did.

City had the bit between their teeth and the curse of the corner kick would come back to haunt United. A whipped cross from Tevez was cleared by van Persie, but Zabaleta took advantage of the free space on the edge of the box to hammer home an equaliser. Four minutes left; could City seal a memorable comeback?

The home fans had done everything to push their side on and a final goal came. It just wasn’t for the team everyone expected.

Indecision from Clichy at the back allowed late substitute Danny Welbeck to rob the full-back and recycle the ball. Rafael was then fouled by Tevez and from the resulting free-kick, van Persie scored through a strike deflected off Nasri. The Frenchman must be held responsible as he hides behind the other two players in the wall leaving out just enough of his leg to deflect the ball and deceive Hart to win the game.

It may have been a superb team performance from United, but, again, they owe an awful lot to the under-appreciated and under-valued Rooney. Where Balotelli struggled on another afternoon battling his demons, United’s playmaker was industrious, creative and effective in a man of the match display.

Mancini failed to inspire his attack; Ferguson left it up to Rooney and that ultimately won the match!

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  • M Palusevic

    Well written. City have to keep Yaya further back on the pitch against skilled offenses because of his dominant presence. If they had a settled defensive midfielder, Yaya could reign supreme as usual in the attacking sense. The guy has it all, but with David Silva’s lack of defensive ability (not to say he is inept defensively, I’ve seen him shut down attackers), Yaya has to make up for it.

    United played a great game in their circumstances. Call them anything you want except losers

  • ed

    This isn’t a tactical analysis, it’s just a blow by blow account

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