Man United 1-6 Man City: City turn a dominant performance into a historic thrashing
City crafted a clever first half advantage over United, then were rampant after half time.
Sir Alex Ferguson went with the 4-4-2ish shape he’s favoured this season (but moved away from last weekend at Liverpool). There was no Nemanja Vidic, nor Phil Jones at the back. Danny Welbeck was alongside Wayne Rooney.
Roberto Mancini had to replace Nigel de Jong with Yaya Toure (though this might have contributed to the fluidity of his side), and used Mario Balotelli rather than Edin Dzeko as the main striker.
City were the better side throughout the match, using the ball more efficiently in the final third and creating more opportunities. The scoreline of 6-1 overstates Mancini’s tactical triumph over Ferguson – three goals came in stoppage time, five came after Jonny Evans was sent off and the six came from ‘only’ seven shots on target.
But that should not detract from the fact that Mancini got his decisions right, and City were by far the better side against a team who had previouly gone 19 home games without defeat.
Both managers opted for the more attacking of their two potential formations – both broadly in a 4-4-1-1 shape, rather than the defensive-minded 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 that Ferguson used at Liverpool and Mancini switched to against Villarreal. The result was a game that was much more open than previous Manchester derbies – remember the dreadful 0-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium when both used three central midfielders?
There were obvious battles across the pitch – centre-backs against forwards, full-backs against wingers, central midfielders (in theory) against each other – it was pretty much a battle you’d expect from a 4-4-2 against a 4-4-2. Rooney and Sergio Aguero were dropping off, but both central midfield partnerships sat deep, denying them space between the lines.
However, the midfield duos sitting deep meant that there were rarely challenges between them. They often had time on the ball – although Rooney and Welbeck dropped deeper and tried to stop service into Toure and Gareth Barry early on, letting the City centre-backs have the ball.
There was no creativity from this zone, though – Toure was more subdued than when he plays as the most advanced midfielder, whilst Darren Fletcher and Anderson is a combination that never looks right in a two-man central midfield duo, and United missed a deep-lying playmaker. In the first half of last season Ferguson clearly favoured a runner-passer model in a 4-4-2 – the only time he played Fletcher and Anderson together, United lost 4-0 in the Carling Cup at West Ham. He missed the presence of a Paul Scholes or a Michael Carrick, the two ‘passers’ from last season, who are both clever users of the ball, and Tom Cleverley could also have made an impact were he fit.
City had the same problem, but were cleverer higher up the pitch with their wide players. United’s stayed wide against the City full-backs and lost individual battles – Micah Richards was one of the best players on the pitch, and Gael Clichy coped with Nani well.
City, on the other hand, looked to overload the United full-backs, most obviously for the opening goal when James Milner came over from the right to link up with David Silva, and pulled the ball back for Balotelli’s cool finish. Milner was crucial in creating an extra man in key positions on both wings (see below) and at half-time that was the only difference between the sides, neither of whom had played well in the first half.
It was impossible to tell if United had adjusted for the second half – Evans fouled Balotelli just a minute in, and was dismissed. United now had a problem – they trailed and had a man less. They couldn’t come out and press the ball to win it back quickly for fear of being overrun, but sitting back and letting City play keep-ball wasn’t an option either.
Strangely – but in the end, crucially – City didn’t play keep-ball. They kept trying to thread passes through the United defence, and Silva found room to become the game’s key player. Ferguson reacted to the red card by moving Smalling into the centre, Fletcher to right-back and Rooney to the centre of midfield. With Young, Rooney, Nani and Welbeck all on, still offered an offensive threat – but were open defensively. Milner again provided the extra player to square for Balotelli’s second.
Ferguson brought on Jones for Anderson and Hernandez for Nani, but they were hopelessly open in midfield, with no central midfielder (other than Jones) available on the bench to keep it tight in front of the defence. The defence was dragged all over the place, with Patrice Evra’s positioning again highly questionable, and City recreating their second goal, with Aguero finishing – also similar to his midweek goal at Villarreal.
Ferguson had essentially gambled at 2-0. He could have brought on Fabio, Park Ji-Sung or Antonio Valencia for more structure and hoped to get back into the game on the break, but felt the need to be more proactive with Hernandez. The gamble backfired – City showed no sign of letting up, and the number of chances late on was astonishing.
Silva was involved in everything, Dzeko came on to provide a renewed goal threat – and United either tired or gave up in stoppage time. 1-3 as we went into the 90th minute became 1-6 by full-time – the difference between a sound beating and a historic thrashing.
In tactical terms, City were not five goals better. However, they were still better. Nothing of note came from the central midfielders or the forwards early on, and it was all about bringing the wide players inside and across the opposite flank to overload the opposition. City did it well, whilst United appeared much more like the linear, functional side of last season than the fluid, creative side that started this season.
The most significant element of the second half was not any clever decision making, but the sheer ruthlessness with which City opened up United. There was no intention of keeping the ball, frustrating United and bringing out the olés from the visiting supporters – they tore United’s defence apart in a manner the Premier League has rarely, if ever, seen.
Embarrassment aside, United’s problems are not nearly as serious as a 1-6 home defeat would suggest. There needs to be a serious think about how the central midfield zone works, however. There was no creativity from that zone, nor much defensive protection for the back four. No-one expected six goals to be conceded here, but the statistics did indicate that United were vulnerable to a sudden heavy defeat.