Sep 25, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:38 AM EDT
The purpose of the show is for the Robbies to hear from the fans on this call-in show, so dial 855-323-4622 and have your say.
Oct 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
El Clasico is upon us, and my goodness will it be a doozy between Real Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday at the Bernabeu.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
French police had arrested a man for selling drugs, according to the BBC, and that earned the ire of already on-edge Everton supporters.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT
The European Club Association includes at least one club from every nation in UEFA and includes Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT
Previewing the last weekend of full-tilt MLS competition.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
Lille and Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama thinks it would be dangerous to hold the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ebola outbreak.
Oct 23, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Brazil’s national football team has a new code of conduct under manager Dunga.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Wonderful touch and power utilized on a first-class goal from Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Harry Kane notched a hat trick in Tottenham’s Europa League victory over Asteras Tripoli, and he then found himself manning the goal as a netminder following a Hugo Lloris red card.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Lille and Everton played to a 0-0 draw at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Europa League group stage competition.
Oct 23, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Manchester City’s Frank Lampard could be fit to play against West Ham in Premier League competition on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo on El Clasico: ‘I won’t be playing against Messi. I’ll be playing against Barcelona.’
Oct 23, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
“I won’t be playing against Messi — I’ll be playing against Barcelona,” says Ronaldo, concerning his duel with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers likes what Mario Balotelli has to offer, but he’s unsure if the forward will last a while at Anfield.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Will the Blues lose their first game of the season away at Old Trafford on Sunday? JPW and Prindi analyze that and more.
Oct 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Little Eddie won’t have a say in who he supports, but it’s all for a good cause.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Free agent Valdes arrives to “train with the first team” at United.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Gulati: “Jurgen is our coach and technical director, and I fully expect that to be the case through to the 2018 World Cup.”
Oct 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
With Costa struggling to make the bench, plus Remy out, Chelsea are running out of strikers.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT
Howard: “I know what he likes to do, but that doesn’t mean I will always be capable of stopping him.”
Oct 23, 2014, 10:22 AM EDT
Atlanta Falcons owner urges Beckham to link up with Miami Dolphins to sort out MLS stadium mess.
- Introducing: “The 2 Robbies ‘Football’ Show” on NBCSportsRadio.com 0
- El Clasico: Luis Suarez, Barcelona and Real Madrid together at last 0
- VIDEO: Can Manchester United beat Chelsea? PST Extra breaks it down 2
- MLS Atlanta urges David Beckham, Miami to share stadium with Dolphins 10
- Reality check: Outclassed by Real Madrid, what now for Liverpool? 1
- After winless October, USA drop out of top 20 in latest FIFA rankings 6