Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City: United forced to change shape within ten minutes

March 26, 2014

The starting line-ups

Manchester City recorded a comfortable victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

David Moyes named Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in the same team for the first time, with Danny Welbeck returning to the side. Rio Ferdinand was fit enough to return at the back.

Manuel Pellegrini went for Edin Dzeko ahead of Alvaro Negredo, and Gael Clichy ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov.

City started brilliantly, and probably should have won the game within the first 25 minutes.

United shape

Moyes changed his system completely for this game, and seemed to start with a 4-3-3. This is the first time he’s played this formation with United in the Premier League, and seemed to be a response to City’s system – probably to deny Yaya Toure space and time on the ball.

Fellaini was tasked with stopping him in the opening stages, although came out second best, at one point clearly not having the physicality to knock Toure off the ball. Cleverley continues to look nervous in possession and positionally he was uncertain – although he shared that with manyof his teammates.


United’s new shape backfired spectacularly, however, because the formation allowed David Silva all the space he required to dominate the opening ten minutes. He darted either side of Michael Carrick from his number ten role, continually collecting the ball in those pockets and using the ball in a quick, efficient and unspectacular manner. He rarely threaded through-balls behind the defence, but instead played neat passes, often out towards the flanks, and increased the pressure upon the Manchester United defence.

The way he collected the ball and darted through the United backline in the opening minute was superb, and resulted in the opener – after Silva was denied by Rafael’s excellent last-ditch tackle, Samir Nasri found space away from Rafael and his shot rebounded to Dzeko for a tap-in.

The only criticism of Silva is that he doesn’t win games himself often enough. He was the best attacking player on show by a distance, dictating the tempo and flow of the game, but didn’t quite produce a genuinely defence-splitting pass, or provide a significant goal threat. Indeed, his fabulous recent strike at Hull was his only goal in the last 20 games, and it’s this lack of individual matchwinning ability that prevents him being regarded as one of the very best in Europe.

His ability to facilitate the attacks of others, however, is unquestionable. From his pockets of spaces in the channels, he teed up Nasri and Jesus Navas to attack the full-backs, and when Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta advanced City caused United real problems in wide areas, as they’ve done repeatedly in this fixture. Again, however, there was a slight inefficiency in their display – only four shots on target isn’t particularly impressive given their level of dominance, although at 0-2 they clearly took things easy.

United change shape

Amazingly, Moyes considered changing his system within the first ten minutes, preparing Antonio Valencia when Carrick was seemingly injured.

The fact he was warming up Valencia rather than Darren Fletcher suggests he wanted to change shape, and the fact no United player had signalled their intention to depart suggests he was desperate for an excuse to make the change. In the event, no United player had to come off, and Cleverley moved over to an unfamiliar right-sided role, with Mata as the number ten. United were their usual 4-4-1-1 again.

This helped United get back in the game, although the change was really about providing a stable shape. It wasn’t a clever tactical change, it was just reverting to United’s default shape after a recognition they were becoming overrun in a system they weren’t comfortable in.

There were some moments of promise: Rooney dropped deep between the lines to cause City problems, and Danny Welbeck started to run in behind. On the right, Cleverley’s narrowness allowed Rafael forward on the overlap past Nasri, although his crossing wasn’t particularly impressive. Shinji Kagawa – excellent in the 2-0 win over West Ham at the weekend – replaced Cleverley at half-time, but had little impact.

Latter stages

There was relatively little tactical progression until after City’s second goal, which killed the game. Dzeko had a simple finish from a near-post corner – it was amazing he was allowed so much space, considering City continually hit their right-wing corners into that zone.

Moyes then went chasing the game, gambled by putting Antonio Valencia on for Fellaini with Rooney going back into central midfield alongside, but Pellegrini signalled he was happy to defend by replacing Jesus Navas with Javi Garcia. Silva went right, where he was less influential – but Toure moved centrally to smash in the third.


This was boringly easy for City, and there were only two key talking points.

United’s change in shape evidently didn’t work – it was understandable Moyes wanted to solidify his side, but the change to 4-3-3 had the opposite effect. No-one appeared sure of their position, and the experiment lasted barely ten minutes.

This uncertainty was partly responsible for Silva’s freedom, the second key issue. His drifts into wider areas, and his ability to accelerate the tempo of City’s passing, was the outstanding aspect of their performance. In truth, however, they didn’t need to be outstanding – they took the lead inside 45 seconds and never looked like losing it.

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