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

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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.

Guardiola “satisfied” with derby draw; “It’s not easy” to play United

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Manchester City control their own destiny in the Premier League’s race to finish inside the top-four this season.

With five games to go, Man City sit fourth in the league table — just a point back of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and a point ahead of fifth-place Manchester United after the two sides drew 0-0 on Thursday — and that fact has had an unbelievable calming effect on first-year City boss Pep Guardiola.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking in his post-game television interview, Guardiola seemed much happier and looser than you might expect a manager to be when he’s only just left the field of a heated rivalry game, against his personal nemesis, and failed to convert in one of 19 shots (6 on target) into the game’s decisive goal.

“We can’t forget against which team we played today — [they’re] 23 games in a row without defeat. We created enough chances to score, we created two [clear-cut chances]. In terms of statistics and the way we played, especially the approach, I am so satisfied.”

“I am satisfied, because I know how difficult it is to play against Manchester United — how aggressive they are. It’s not easy when you face 10 players behind. It’s not easy, and you have to always be in a good position to avoid a counter-attack with (Anthony) Martial and (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan. … We have the talent, but sometimes it’s not easy against so many players there.”

“We all have tough games coming up now and we know it’s not an option to not win these games. Every game is important.”

[ MORE: Mourinho pins blame for Fellaini’s red card on Aguero ]

It’s true that City had the best only real chances throughout the game, but just think of the joy Guardiola might be experiencing right now had Sergio Aguero found pay dirt with just one of his eight shots on the night (two on target) to push his side third in the league table, four points clear of United in fifth.

Mourinho: Fellaini headbutt “a bit of a red card,” a bit of Aguero acting

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Following his side’s 0-0 draw away to Manchester City in the Manchester derby on Thursday, Jose Mourinho has done precisely what we would have expected of him — precisely what he’s done his entire career; precisely what a manager is supposed to do — with regards to Marouane Fellaini‘s red card for a headbutt on Sergio Aguero: he defended him.

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Speaking in his post-game television interview, Mourinho said he wouldn’t comment on the incident, which left Manchester United with 10 players for the final six minutes of the game, because he hadn’t seen it on television. He then proceeded to comment on the incident, calling it “a bit of a red card and a bit of a very smart, very experienced Argentinian player.” As for the rest of United’s game plan, which left them wholly incapable of attacking throughout the game, well, they tried. They really tried…

“I don’t say, because I didn’t watch it on TV. I spoke with Marouane; he’s very disappointed, he feels it’s a red card because he’s Marouane Fellaini. I spoke with Martin [Atkinson]; Martin told him in his opinion it’s a red card. I didn’t watch, but I can guess it’s a bit of a red card, and a bit of a very smart, experienced Argentinian player” [smile]

“We wanted to do more in terms of attacking, we wanted to exploit more on the count-attack. We did that in the first half, we had very good control of the game in the first half. The second half was more difficult. In the end, we have one player less, [it was] even worse, so we had to make the right decision to fight hard to have a point.”

“They started slow, the pushed us hard, they pressed higher. At the same time, we were not able to have the ball and move the ball well. … I prefer to say that the qualities of the players on the pitch, especially in the midfield, we missed a little bit of that quality, to have the ball, to start moving the ball, to connect with the attacking players.”

[ MORE: Guardiola “satisfied” with draw; “It’s not easy” to play United ]

Aguero’s embellishment is quite clear if you watch the above video, but the fact remains there would have been nothing to embellish if Fellaini hadn’t headbutted him. On second thought, that didn’t stop Alexis Sanchez, so perhaps he still would have wound up on the ground, clutching his face.

Player ratings from Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — A tight Manchester Derby saw City and United settle for a 0-0 draw with the home side wasting several glorious chances.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ] 

Both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will be relatively pleased with the point which leaves the top four race wide-open with five games to go.

Here’s how each player marked out of 10.


MANCHESTER CITY

Claudio Bravo – 5 – Subbed off late on with a calf injury. Made a mess of a first half cross and didn’t have much else to do.

Pablo Zabaleta – 6 – Did okay defensively but a few loose balls in attack stopped City building up attacks.

Vincent Kompany – 8 – Superb display as he came through three games in 10 days. Held City’s backline together, once again.

Nicolas Otamendi – 6 – Struggled to cope with Rashford’s pace initially but recovered well. Gave away plenty of fouls.

Aleksandar Kolarov – 5 – Like Otamendi, struggled with pace of Rashford and was loose with the ball at his feet.

Fernandinho – 6 – Typically combative display in the heart of midfield from the Brazilian.

Raheem Sterling – 6 – Drifted in and out of the game and couldn’t get the better of Darmian.

Yaya Toure – 6 – Had little time on the ball in a congested midfield. Showed plenty of fighting spirit against Herrera.

Kevin De Bruyne – 7 – Always had that extra bit of quality to frighten United. Great ball in but Aguero hit the post and hit another just wide.

Leroy Sane – 6 – A rare off night for Sane as he was subbed out in the second half. The German winger never quite got going

Sergio Aguero – 6 – Had so many chances to score and wasn’t clinical. Drilled so many efforts over the bar and should’ve scored early.

Subs
Willy Caballero on for Claudio Bravo – 6 – Had little to do.
Jesus Navas on for Leroy Sane – 6 – Some good deliveries from wide areas late on.
Gabriel Jesus on for Raheem Sterling – 7 – Looked lively in his late cameo and thought he’d scored a late winner with a fine finish.


MANCHESTER UNITED

David De Gea – 6 – Made one good stop from Aguero early on but wasn’t troubled apart from that.

Antonio Valencia – 6 – Fine in defense but offered little in attack.

Eric Bailly – 7 – Stood up to the task of marking Aguero and made a fine sliding tackle in the first half. Held things together. Just.

Daley Blind – 6 – Didn’t have much to do but defended well when he had to.

Matteo Darmian – 5 – Was given a tough time by Sterling, De Bruyne and Navas.

Michael Carrick – 6 – Solid in midfield as he tried to get attacks going but space was clogged up.

Anthony Martial – 6 – Worked hard out wide but had little chance to spring counters. Steady.

Ander Herrera – 7 – A typical terrier-like display in midfield. Stopped Yaya Toure marauding forward.

Marouane Fellaini – 4 – Couldn’t influence the game other than stupidly hacking down Aguero and then headbutting him.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 5 – Hardly had a kick and couldn’t troubled City’s defense on the break. Not his type of game.

Marcus Rashford – 8 – Standout player on the pitch in the first half. His raw pace frightened the life out of City.

Subs
Jesse Lingard on for Anthony Martial – 5 – Just sat in and helped out defensively.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah on for Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 5 – Helped out defensively when it was needed late on.
Ashley Young on for Marcus Rashford – N/A – Used as a time-wasting tactic.

Three things we learned from Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City and Manchester United fought out a 0-0 draw in the Manchester Derby on Thursday as two teams battling for the top four canceled each other.

[ MORE: Player ratings from City, United

City had the better chances with Sergio Aguero hitting the post and going close on multiple occasions but Pep Guardiola‘s men couldn’t break through and Jose Mourinho’s United — who finished the game with 10-men after Marouane Fellaini was sent off — remain one point and one place behind them in the table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense derby.


RASHFORD RAMPANT

It seems like each and every week Marcus Rashford is improving drastically. The 19-year-old was the standout player on the pitch in the Manchester Derby at the Etihad, once again.

13 months ago Rashford scored a superb game-winner for United at City but as impressive as he was on that day, his game and body have developed drastically since then.

His sheer pace left City’s defenders for dead on mutliple occasions with Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov often given a 10-yard head start but not able to catch Rashford.

An audacious flick over Otamendi with this back of his heel while he was on the move was the pick of his moment. Rashford is maturing rapidly and after he tore Chelsea apart just 10 days ago, he was United’s biggest attacking threat all evening.

Manchester United will miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s penchant for popping up at the right place at the right time — as he’s done on 28 occasions this season before having his season ended through injury — but if Rashford is given enough time on the pitch, his rapidly development will surely see him flourish into one of the finest forwards in the game.


GUARDIOLA, MOURINHO OVERCAUTIOUS

All three games between Man City and Man United this season have been tight, tense encounters. This was no different.

City ripped United apart in the first half of their 2-1 win at Old Trafford back in September and then United edged things in a 1-0 home win in the EFL Cup a month later.

Guardiola’s City once again did all the pressing in this game as Aguero hit the outside of the post from a wonderful ball from the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne and the Argentine ace had an off day in front of goal, blazing off target on multiple occasions as United stayed compact but let him have a glimpse of the goal from distance.

With City just one point ahead of United with five games to go for both teams, Pep will probably still be feeling the more confident of the two managers about finishing in the top four given the respective run-in’s for both clubs. Yes, United have gone 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League but they aren’t exactly impressing.

Mourinho set his team up to counter with Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in attack but United never truly got hold of the ball as City’s high-pressing surprisingly unnerved season campaigners such as Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Fellaini with the latter headbutting Aguero stupidly late on to see red.

Considering all of thier injuries and plenty of games coming up, United will be happy with a point to stay in the top four hunt and so will City. The final encounter between Guardiola and Mourinho this season didn’t live up to the hype and with so much on the line in their debut camapigns in Manchester, just four goals across the three Manchester derbies proves that neither has lost face locally.

Then again, neither have impressed much this season either.


KOMPANY BACK TO HIS BEST

On three occasions in the first half Vincent Kompany stepped in to make superbly timed interceptions.

City’s skipper is well and truly back to his best.

After two injury ravaged campaign the Belgian star, 31, led from the back and was always willing to step high and engage United’s attacks to try and stop them at source.

Question marks will still remain about Kompany’s fitness for the foreseeable future but after playing three games in 10 days he finally seems to have not only regained his fitness but also his form.

It remains to be seen whether Kompany will still be at City next season but you have to think him remaining is essential after the shaky play of both Otamendi and John Stones for much of this season.

Since Kompany returned to fitness in early April, City have conceded just three goals in the four games he’s played with the skipper having two clean sheets.