Skip to content

Football Focus, City-United: Central superiority wins Manchester derby

Sep 25, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT

source:  While Sergio Agüero scored twice in Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday, the key tactical move of the game came from the final goalscorer. Samir Nasri‘s movement, and the counter-movements that it created, were the key to City’s attack.

Both teams played hybrid 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 formations, with one holding midfielder advancing higher than the other and one attacking player underneath the other. With the pressure it put on United, City was able to allow both outside backs to overlap, sometimes at the same time.

This pinned United wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young deeper into their defensive half than United is used to, meaning they could not get forward to provide width in attack.

Danny Welbeck often looked like a lonely island, as Wayne Rooney dropped deep to find the ball and defend City’s attacks. On the other end, Álvaro Negredo and Agüero linked up more often, and their partnership proved to be a handful for United’s back line, combined with Nasri tucking in and the outside backs advancing.

Kolarov overlapping, Nasri pulling central

Multiple times in the early going, Nasri drifted way inside to find the ball. Taking the cue, left back Aleksandar Kolarov provided the team’s width on the left. Pablo Zabaleta also got around Jesús Navas on the right, and he varied his runs to the inside and outside to keep from being too predictable.

source:  The result was an overload of City attackers against a United defense that often got pinned into its own end, especially in the first half. Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling could not advance very often, and their wingers had to collapse to mark the extra numbers City threw forward.

This approach offers a high reward for the risk it takes. Leaving just two center backs to defend is a dangerous proposition against a two-forward set, but with how deep Rooney dropped, it still left a two-on-one advantage most of the time.

source:  With Nasri cutting in and holding midfielders Fernandinho and Yaya Touré both pressing into supportive attacking positions, City had numerical superiority in the middle of the field. Agüero dropped back at times, or Navas would also tuck in, often giving the home side four attackers to three United defenders (a winger and central midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick).

The first goal came from this type of movement, with Kolarov serving the cross that Agüero volleyed home. Nasri also created the third goal with an incisive central dribble, and he finished off the fourth goal.

In the play above, Valencia and Young (just a shadow on the very right of the screen) are pinned deep again because of Zabaleta and Kolarov’s advancement, giving United just Rooney to look for as an outlet.

United can’t get in

source:

(Chalkboard courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

When United did get forward, its attack was often delayed and stifled by how many numbers City threw forward. United wasted little time in getting the ball into midfield, attempting less than 50 passes in its defensive third.

However, after advancing quickly to the border between midfield and attack, the passes became stagnant. Side-to-side ball movement was the norm, and rarely did the ball get behind the City defenders. This lack of penetration resulted in frustrated strikers, and Rooney dropped deeper and deeper into midfield to find the ball at his feet.

United attempted 25 total crosses in the game, but it completed only five. Nine of those service opportunities came from outside the penalty area extended to the touchlines, and only one of those was successful.

The four wide players — Evra, Smalling, Young and Valencia — only completed four crosses of their 17 total attempts. The area on top of the City penalty area offered little more than a series of missed connections and lack of attacking creativity (see the red lines in that area on the chalkboard at right).

Wayne Rooney’s work rate

Rooney found more success in passing the deeper he dropped. As a shadow striker, his range is wide, as he ended up defending 20 yards from his own goal at times and in the channels.

source:

(Chalkboard courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

This is nothing new: Rooney has always been a rangy attacker who likes to be in the thick of the action. He was one of United’s only threats on Sunday, but his frustration was readily apparent.

In the second half, manager David Moyes moved him to the target role, dropping Welbeck to the wing in a 4-3-3. However, the shadow role is Rooney’s best, as his immense work rate and desire to have the ball at his feet drive the United attack.

Fellaini is a similar type of player, although it didn’t show against City. In his brief time as an Everton player this season, he ranged from box to box and touchline to touchline, acting as the Toffees’ attacking metronome.

If he can share that role with Rooney going forward, it will take the strain off both players and make it more difficult for opponents to key in on just one of them.

Newfound deficiencies at Old Trafford

On a couple occasions under Moyes, United has come across situations and opponents that made them look less than comfortable. After a shaky first 20 minutes at Swansea City, for example, Robin van Persie saved his team some embarrassment and put away two goals. From that point on, the team cruised.

Rooney and van Persie have proven to be a formidable partnership, and adding Fellaini into the equation should only make that more dangerous. But with van Persie out, United looked listless in attack against City. Fellaini won’t take over a game by himself; he needs players around him who can be dangerous.

The questions only got louder for Moyes after this defeat, but the warning signs have been there all along in this young season. Things might be tough for a while as United goes through its managerial revolution, but if the Red Devils have proven anything, it’s that patience is never lacking at Old Trafford — at least among those in charge.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 0-0 Sporting Kansas City

    May 24, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT

    Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City

    To grind out a point in Sporting KC’s current predicament is impressive, but the Sounders were very, very poor.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 2-1 FC Dallas

    May 23, 2015, 10:06 PM EDT

    Jack McInerney, Montreal Impact Jack McInerney, Montreal Impact

    Last-place beats 1st-place — in other words, just another typical night in MLS!

  3. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United

    May 23, 2015, 9:40 PM EDT

    Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution

    Two New England red cards changed the course of the game, which allowed the D.C. to claw back and steal a point (barely).

  4. MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-0 Portland Timbers

    May 23, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT

    Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

    At what point is it no longer “early, still plenty of time” for the Timbers? We’re almost there.

  5. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Ronaldo hat trick as Real Madrid score 7; Juventus top Napoli

    May 23, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF

    The final day of the La Liga season is in the books. Who finished where, and who was relegated?

  6. VIDEO: Xavi Hernandez makes his final Camp Nou exit with tears in his eyes

    May 23, 2015, 4:19 PM EDT

    Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona Getty Images

    After 17 year at Barcelona, Xavi will leave the club this summer. On Saturday, he said his final farewell to the Camp Nou.

  7. Premier League Sunday preview: One last time, with feeling (and drama… and dread)

    May 23, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    150523-Hull-City Getty Images

    All 10 matches will be on the NBC family of networks, so be sure to click and find out where your club is featuring come 10 a.m. Sunday.

  8. Hull City’s Meyler on relegation scrap: “Pressure is for tires”

    May 23, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    during the Barclays Premier League match between  Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City at White Hart Lane on May 16, 2015 in London, England. Getty Images

    “We know we need to win it and we know we’re more than capable of doing that,” Meyler said.

  9. Newcastle’s Carver on relegation fight: “I can’t believe it’s come to the this”

    May 23, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPWI4ZGU3YTY4NDkzMTE1ODIzYzY1NzdlZWIyY2M3ZTE0 Getty Images

    Carver’s bunch has played lackluster football while being waxed by clubs from the top and bottom of the table.

  10. Dortmund exec: Chelsea wouldn’t sell us De Bruyne because they were salty over Lewandowski

    May 23, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    DeBruyne AP

    Would the Blues still be champions with Lewandowski over Costa? Or would they have bought both and run rampant over Europe?

  11. Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Tension galore as finale arrives

    May 23, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor predicts the scores for Week 38.

  12. Report: Ancelotti already knows he’s likely been sacked by Real Madrid

    May 23, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT

    Ancelotti Getty Images

    The Real Madrid president reportedly met with Ancelotti’s agent to tell him they are likely going to part ways.

  13. Freiberg, Paderborn relegated from Bundesliga, Hamburg in yet another playoff

    May 23, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT

    Stuttgart Getty Images

    Stuttgart won big to earn safety and send Hamburg to another nerve-wracking playoff.

  14. Borussia Dortmund fans pay tribute to Jurgen Klopp with massive tifo

    May 23, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT

    Klopp Getty Images

    The final home match for one of Dortmund’s most successful managers is looking to be a special one at Westfalenstadion.

  15. Report: Robin van Persie offered gigantic contract by Qatari club

    May 23, 2015, 9:34 AM EDT

    VanPersie Getty Images

    The future of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford is very much in doubt as a former Premier League manager has given the Dutchman a very tough decision.

  16. Sami Khedira confirms the obvious, that he will leave Real Madrid this summer

    May 23, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT

    Khedira Getty Images

    We all knew it already, but Sami Khedira will leave Real Madrid after five seasons. Where will he land?

  17. Premier League scenarios: Europa League and relegation requirements

    May 23, 2015, 8:18 AM EDT

    HullCity Getty Images

    How can Hull City or Newcastle avoid relegation? Who will qualify for the Europa League? Find out all the scenarios for the final day here.

  18. MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire

    May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT

    Toronto FC v Chicago Fire Getty Images

    Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire

Featured video

PST Extra: Relegation drama on final day