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. Ex-Manchester United striker Berbatov spurned Aston Villa for Greek club

    Sep 2, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT

    Berbatov Getty Images

    Villa had a very quiet Deadline Day, but they tried to make a splash.

  2. Mark Noble wins red card appeal; West Ham still charged for reaction

    Sep 2, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Mark Noble of West Ham United at Chadwell Heath on June 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by James Griffiths/West Ham United via Getty Images) Getty Images

    After the match, Noble said it was a tackle that happens “10 times a game” and that he felt it didn’t even deserve a yellow card.

  3. U.S. U-23 versus England U-21 preview: Young Yanks face Premier League cast at Deepdale

    Sep 2, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT

    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14:  Cameron Carter-Vickers of Tottenham Hotspur U21 holds off Manu Garcia of Manchester City U21 during the Barclays U21 Premier League match between Manchester City U21 and Tottenham Hotspur U21 at The Academy Stadium on August 14, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After finishing second in its group thanks to a 3-1 win over the Netherlands, Herzog’s Yanks toppled England’s U-20 team this summer. Now: the U-21s.

  4. Spain’s Del Bosque says De Gea’s Euro spot in trouble without playing time; Speaks on Chelsea’s Costa

    Sep 2, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT

    Manchester United's goalkeeper David De Gea of Spain arrives at Soccer City training facility for a Spanish soccer team concentration meeting in Las Rozas, near Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. The day after De Gea's multi-million euro move to the Spanish capital was called off, Madrid pointed the finger at United, issuing a lengthy 10-point statement claiming officials at Old Trafford held the deal up with their delays, but United hit back at their old rivals by publishing a counter-statement on Tuesday evening. (AP Photo) AP

    “He needs to be professional and move on from this episode,” Del Bosque said of the Manchester United keeper.

  5. Arsenal’s Ozil says he’d play in Olympics; Joachim Low doubts it very much

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT

    FBL-WC-2014-MATCH45-USA-GER Getty Images

    Unified Germany hasn’t medaled since 1964 in Tokyo (Bronze). East Germany won gold in 1976.

  6. No Arsenal big Deadline buy? Wenger says price for Martial “sums it up all the way”

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts on the touchline during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on August 9, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) Getty Images

    “The Financial Fair Play today is too complicated to be efficient,” said the Premier League’s longest-tenured manager. “There’s a need to simplify the process.”

  7. European qualifiers preview: Netherlands, Spain, Germany in unusual positions (full schedule)

    Sep 2, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

    (L-R) Arjen Robben of Holland, Birkir Bjarnason of Iceland during the EURO 2016 qualifying match between Iceland and Netherlands on October 13, 2014 at the Laugardalsvollur National Stadium at Reykjavik, Iceland.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Some of Europe’s biggest sides find themselves in tricky positions ahead of the final four group stage matches of qualification.

  8. $10 million Gradel set for six-month Bournemouth absence after ligament tear

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT

    Bournemouth's Max Gradel battles for the ball with Aston Villa's Micah Richards, right,  during their English Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England  Saturday Aug. 8, 2015. (John Walton/PA via AP)  UNITED KINGDOM OUT  NO SALES NO ARCHIVE AP

    Bournemouth took a big hit on transfer deadine day, but it had nothing to do with sales or purchases.

  9. Transfer window by the numbers: The Premier League breaks its records

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:47 AM EDT

    watfordfc.com watfordfc.com

    Let’s dig into the figures, at least in terms of the 20 Premier League clubs, including the controversial amount of players on loan from Chelsea.

  10. U.S., Swiss attorney generals to give joint press conference on FIFA investigation

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT

    U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens to East Haven Police Chief Brent Larrabee, left, speak during a community policing tour, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in East Haven, Conn. Lynch is in Connecticut to highlight improvements in relations between police and Latinos since four officers were arrested in 2012 on abuse charges. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) AP

    We’re just a few weeks away from further information on the strength of the cases against Sepp Blatter’s FIFA.

  11. VIDEO: Could Manchester United and Real Madrid benefit from the De Gea deal collapsing?

    Sep 1, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-ARSENAL Getty Images

    If both sides really wanted to make this transfer happen, they could have. Is it possible neither team wanted the deal to get done?

  12. VIDEO: Manchester City has spent more than $500 million under Manuel Pellegrini

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:37 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptnjmtjlmtrmyznjyjzkyziwmwm1owmzndhiogfmnmiz AP

    Based on the Citizens’ form to start the season, it looks like money well spent.

  13. Arsenal Supporters’ Trust issues statement calling for review of club’s transfer policies

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT

    Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    After spending just $20 million this summer on a goalkeeper and a teenager, Arsenal fans want to know what’s going on in the boardroom.

  14. Full list of every transfer made by Premier League clubs during the Summer Transfer Window

    Sep 1, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2015 - Manchester United v San Jose Earthquakes Getty Images

    Considering Premier League teams spent more than $1.3 billion on transfers this summer, it’s quite the list.

  15. Five deals that didn’t get done over the Summer Transfer Window

    Sep 1, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG--PR-EVERTON-MANUTD Getty Images

    We all thought they would happen, but with the transfer window now closed, we’re left scratching our heads.

  16. WATCH LIVE: Premier League Deadline Day Show

    Sep 1, 2015, 5:34 PM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Clear your schedule at 7 p.m. ET for two hours of coverage detailing a wild and crazy Deadline Day in the Premier League. Watch live on NBCSN or online, right here.

  17. Complete list of every transfer in the Premier League on Deadline Day

    Sep 1, 2015, 4:24 PM EDT

    FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-MONACO-BASTIA Getty Images

    Take a look at every transfer made in the Premier League on a wild and crazy Deadline Day.

  18. Aaron Lennon inks three-year deal with Everton

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:32 PM EDT

    Everton v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    The former Tottenham man spent the end of last season on loan at Goodison Park, and now the move has been made permanent.

  19. Leicester City signs Nathan Dyer on loan from Swansea City

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    Swansea City v York City - Capital One Cup Second Round Getty Images

    The winger was flown into Leicester on the owner’s helicopter as a last minute signing for the Foxes.

  20. Manchester United fires back on De Gea saga, laying blame at feet of Real Madrid

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT

    Alexander Buttner, Gareth Bale AP

    Let’s hope these guys match up in the UEFA Champions League, where time can be kept on the field.

Featured video

MOTD: United's offensive struggles