Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United: dull game with no drive from the centre of midfield
A disappointing match that produced very few goalscoring chances.
Roberto Mancini went with his usual 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 system. Mario Balotelli was suspended so James Milner came in, with David Silva switching to the left.
Sir Alex Ferguson went with his one-striker formation, seeking to match City in midfield by playing Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick. Nani was on the right with Ji-Sung Park on the left. Rafael continued at right-back.
The tempo for the match was set early on, when City simply knocked the ball around in their own half without looking to move it forward, with United pressing when the ball was played into the midfield zone.
The home side started the better but eventually United settled into a rhythm and the game was fairly even. There were only three shots on target in the first half – a long-range free-kick each from Nani and Carlos Tevez, and a right-footed shot from Patrice Evra, who stormed forward from full-back. There was nothing happening in the midfield zone.
That’s not really the fault of the players in that area, merely a result of the fact that both midfield trios had an overwhelmingly functional feel to them. We can take the ideal midfield trio as possessing (a) a ball-winner (b) a passer and (c) attacking creator. Think of Liverpool with Mascherano-Alonso-Gerrard, Barcelona with Toure-Xavi-Iniesta, Chelsea with Makelele-Tiago-Lampard, Inter with Cambiasso-Motta-Sneijder, Arsenal with Song-Denilson-Fabregas. There are exceptions, of course, but in 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations this seems to be the general model.
Similar to City’s 1-0 win over Chelsea, neither side here had anything like a player who would come under (c), and so the sides were content to play in front of each other, producing few chances. City’s most forward-thinking midfield was Toure – someone we’ve just named as a ‘ball-winner’ at the most successful stage in his career (even if he had previously played as an attacking midfielder), whilst United’s was Fletcher, a box-to-box midfielder and far from a creative player.
Little skill in wide areas
The creativity, then, would have to come from wide areas, but none of these players had particularly good games, and often simply came into the central midfield zone. For City, Silva always drifts inside into a trequartista role, whilst the only time Milner went down the line and got a cross in, he found absolutely no-one waiting in the box to take advantage of his ball. For United, Park also moved into the middle, whilst Nani was dealt with well by City – Barry moved across to double up with Pablo Zabaleta. Ferguson swapped Nani and Park briefly after half-time, possibly to get Nani into more space. Neither set of full-backs offered a consistent attacking threat.
Both defences sat very deep and hence the play was stretched across length of the pitch, making the gap between the midfielders and attackers much greater, and making it even more obvious that neither had a ‘link’ player to join the play. It also meant the midfield battle was standoffish – you’d expect crunching tackles here, but there were only two yellow cards in the game – Scholes for an innocuous trip, substitute Wes Brown for a mistimed tackle on the wing.
United were marginally the better side, and the main reason here was that they pressed higher up the pitch, winning the ball closer to the opposition goal. City were keen to retreat into their own third of the pitch and soak up pressure, whilst United’s midfield was a lot more energetic, switching around and making sure the three always had specific men to pick up. The Chalkboard below demonstrates the difference well, through interceptions.
One bright note was the performance of Carrick, who was the outstanding player in the central midfield area. He turned in a top-notch central midfielder performance – completing seven interceptions (more than any other player) and also completing 59 of 61 passes. His midfield partner Scholes’ passing stats were even better – 68 from 69 – but it’s worth pointing out that his one misplaced pass went straight to Tevez in a dangerous position. Not only was Carrick reliable in his distribution, he was also forward-thinking. Often criticized for only playing the ball sideways, a notable number of his passes were played forward.
An instantly forgettable game. Neither side wanted to make the running – United expected City to take the game to them, but Mancini’s tactics are very cautious – wanting to retain the ball, sit back and maybe counter-attack if the opportunity presents itself. Ferguson may have said differently in his post-match interview, but it seemed both managers were content with the draw.Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United: dull game with no drive from the centre of midfield