Man City 1-0 Man United: Toure dominates the game in midfield and scores the winning goal

April 16, 2011

The starting line-ups

Manchester City won the derby to progress to the FA Cup final next month.

Roberto Mancini chose to leave out Edin Dzeko despite Carlos Tevez’s absence – he went with Mario Balotelli upfront, supported by Yaya Toure, with Adam Johnson and David Silva on the flanks.

Sir Alex Ferguson left out Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez. He used three ‘wingers’ – though Park Ji-Sung played in the centre. Dimitar Berbatov started alone upfront.

The start of the game saw very obvious battles across the pitch – with similar systems, there was a 3 v 3 battle in the centre of midfield, and both sides found it difficult in the centre of the park early on.

Early stages

Unlike the notoriously boring 0-0 between the sides earlier in the season, however, the start to this game was frantic. City were closing down all over the pitch in the early stages, meaning the tempo of the game was high and neither side settled quickly. There were no chances in the opening ten minutes.

It was very interesting – especially after how keen United were to play at a slow tempo in the recent contests against Chelsea – that as soon as the tempo of the game dropped, around the 10-15 minute mark, United had their best two chances of the first half. Both fell to Dimitar Berbatov – one produced a fine save from Joe Hart, the other was somehow sliced over the bar from barely five yards out.

Both midfield trios rotated throughout the match – at points it was possible to find Nigel de Jong and Paul Scholes as the most advanced midfielders, and this movement in the centre of the pitch also created a more dynamic game than the cagey battle many may have expected.

Wide areas

The most interesting individual battles were on the flanks. David Silva came into central positions, John O’Shea followed, and Aleksandr Kolarov tried to get down the line and provide an overlap – Valencia usually tracked him well, but switched off very obviously at one point. On the other flank, Johnson played narrower than usual – as always, he came inside with the ball, but was not a great threat.

Nani seemed to have the beating of Pablo Zabaleta, but his path to come inside was often blocked – the Portuguese winger is slightly more predictable on the left – though he’s two-footed, this quality seems better used from the right where he’s happy to go either way – when on the left he’s intent on coming inside and shooting, for some reason. Valencia was quiet.

Mancini was seen waving his side higher up the pitch, and around the half hour mark City really started to put pressure on United. They dominated the latter stages of the opening period, pinning United into their own third of the pitch. The lack of pace upfront for United made this high line possible, and City’s forward players – Silva and Balotelli in particular – favoured the positivity City played with at this point.

Second half

City’s high tempo continued in the second half, and much like in United’s league game at Stamford Bridge recently, their calm, patient style was simply overpowered at times, particularly by Toure, who was the game’s finest performer. It was symbolic that he intercepted a pass between Carrick and Scholes for the goal – those two players epitomise United’s passing approach, but Toure’s drive and energy defeated them throughout the 90 minutes. When out of possession he remained close to Scholes, who had been a key figure in recent meetings between these two with his diagonal passes. Those weren’t successful today, and City simply executed their gameplan better in this contest.

Hernandez came on for Valencia and United went 4-4-2, but then Scholes’ dismissal gave Ferguson a real problem – after all, it was that area of the pitch where they were losing the battle. Ferguson (via his assistants) brought on Anderson to provide some energy in the midfield, but sacrificed Berbatov. It was the logical move at the time – Berbatov had endured a difficult afternoon and missed United’s best two chances – but it was a blow for United upfront.

11 v 10

With Hernandez upfront alone, City were able to drop deep and defend very narrow (see Patrick Vieira on for Silva). United were a bit of given time on the flanks, and switched the ball from Park on the left out to Nani on the right, but with Hernandez upfront, they had no aerial route. United had the wrong striker on at the wrong time here, with the hold-up qualities of the tall Berbatov when City were playing a high line, and then the pace of the tiny Hernandez when City dropped deep. That, of course, was also clever strategy from Mancini.

After the red card, United looked very flat – and City were relatively comfortable.

Conclusion

Another game involving Manchester United where the game was all about tempo – when the game looked like it had settled down they took charge, but City upped the speed and dominated the majority of the match.

Credit should go to Mancini in that regard – his City side have often looked to sit very deep against the bigger sides and have played exclusively on the counter-attack (see the games against Chelsea and Arsenal), but here Mancini knew that United were prone to being ‘bullied’ (in a legal way) in midfield, and the sheer strength of Toure, Balotelli, de Jong and Kompany was City’s standout quality today.

Ferguson will rue Berbatov’s missed chances, Carrick’s terrible error and Scholes’ moment of madness. Overall, however, his side simply didn’t stamp their authority upon the game – aside from a brief spell in the first half, the nature of the game played into City’s hands, and the win was deserved.

Man City 1-0 Man United: Toure dominates the game in midfield and scores the winning goal

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