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. U.S. prospect Rubin suffers broken nose, concussion with Utrecht

    Jul 24, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT

    rubio rubin

    After seeing time with the senior squad, 18-year-old prospect will be sidelined infinitely.

  2. WATCH: Radamel Falcao’s batting cage cuts send pitcher diving

    Jul 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.45.37 PM

    The Colombian striker takes a few hacks before AS Monaco’s friendly in Miami against Atletico National.

  3. Andy Carroll’s out a week, or four months (depending on who you trust)

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    article-2704570-1FCE5BED00000578-747_634x382 Getty Images

    Limited to just 16 matches last year after his big transfer from Liverpool to West Ham, Carroll is battling another ailment this season.

  4. Jay DeMerit’s retirement letter is as grateful, humble and classy as you’d expect

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    South Africa Soccer WCup US Algeria AP

    The rags-to-riches defender steps away from the pitch, at least as a player, while reflecting on his career journey from North America to Europe and back.

  5. EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United’s new signing Ander Herrera focused on success

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT

    Manchester United v Los Angeles Galaxy AP

    Herrera chats exclusively to PST: “If we are a humble team and we work hard, we will achieve our objectives and we will win trophies.”

  6. Son of Mexican national teamer says he’ll represent United States

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Twitter.com/ferarceJr Twitter.com/ferarceJr

    His dad played for El Tri, but California-born Fernando Arce Jr says his U-20 bow with the States makes him an American player “forever”

  7. Premier League on tour, Weds roundup: Five play, only Liverpool loses

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Sporting Kansas City Getty Images

    Aston Villa, Manchester United and Manchester City all cruised, while Spurs had to find a late winner after coughing up a two-goal lead.

  8. Serbian boss: Freddy Adu sought by Europa, UCL clubs in Serbia, Cyprus

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

    150px-FK_Jagodina_Emblem

    Goran Milanovic is hoping the former American prodigy chooses to revitalize his career with FK Jagodina in the Serbian top flight.

  9. Report: Jay DeMerit set to call it a career; ‘Caps to get relief

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Colorado Rapids v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Getty Images

    One of the best stories is United States men’s soccer history is about to move past the “playing career” chapter.

  10. Where does Frank Lampard’s signing rank in MLS history of mega-deals?

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT

    Frank Lampard

    How big of a deal is the Chelsea legend signing for New York City FC? It’s up there.

  11. Frank Lampard delighted to sign for New York City FC, start MLS adventure

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT

    Source: New York City FC Source: New York City FC

    Lampard: “I want to test myself, carry on challenging myself, I want to be that leader and that person on and off the pitch that can make things happen for this club.”

  12. WATCH: It’s not so hard — Louis van Gaal gives simple shooting lesson

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT

    Manchester United v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

    The Manchester United boss proves that even Premier League training sessions sometimes echo your experiences on a youth travel team.

  13. WATCH: Daniel Sturridge joins NBCSN crew, talks Liverpool expectations

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 10.08.13 AM

    The Reds striker spends some time with the NBCSN broadcast crew during Liverpool and AS Roma’s ‘Football at Fenway’

  14. Swansea snares Jefferson Montero from Liga MX in big time coup

    Jul 24, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT

    http://www.swanseacity.net/ http://www.swanseacity.net/

    The Ecuadorian star winger, 24, joins Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis as players to beef up Garry Monk’s attack

  15. Pro-Palestinian protestors attack Israeli players on pitch in Austria

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

    photoshot photoshot

    The growing mess in Israel carried over onto the soccer fields of Austria, where Maccabi Haifa played a preseason friendly against Lille.

  16. “Embarrassed” in LA, thrilled in Manchester: Reactions to 7-0 beatdown

    Jul 24, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT

    Jaime Penedo, Wayne Rooney AP

    Almost 90,000 fans in Los Angeles watched Manchester United put an old-fashioned punking on their hosts. And then both sides reacted.

  17. Better Deal: Sigurdsson and cash or Vorm and Davies?

    Jul 23, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Everton - Premier League Getty Images

    Surely one of these clubs enjoyed the sweeter side of this deal and here we set out to see who it was.