Pep Guardiola continued his dominance over both Jose Mourinho and Manchester United as his Manchester City side showed style aided with determination to emerge 2-1 victors in the 172nd Manchester Derby on Saturday.
With the untimely suspension of Sergio Aguero, it was always believed the task might just be too much for the Catalan with Jose Mourinho’s experience and the resurgence of the Red Devils being cited as the reasons. But the decorated ex-coach of Barcelona and Bayern Munich moved a step closer to establishing himself as an all-weather and conditions manager who does not need Lionel Messi nor the one-sided nature of Bundesliga to win trophies.
While it was expected to be a tactical masterclass from the two most gifted tacticians of the generation, often a Derby comes down to how the players turn up and implement those tactics on the pitch. We briefly look at the main tactics employed by the managers and how ultimately it came down to which set of players were mentally and physically up for the simmering atmosphere inside Old Trafford.
UNITED’S FRONT-LINE DEFENCE NULLIFIED
Manchester City set up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation with Fernandinho tasked with shielding the back four. Unlike in the earlier matches, as expected the City full-backs operated in the more conventional role expected from them as they did not move infield when in possession of the ball. This gave the likes of Stones and Otamendi freedom to move into midfield with the ball and exploit the open areas that resulted from Sagna and Kolarov holding their own positions.
Meanwhile, Rooney and Ibrahimovic were tasked with pressing the opposition defenders when not in possession and United basically reverted to a 4-4-2 during that time. But in the first half, it was often a case of individualistic pressing and a lack of coordination was prevalent as City were hardly troubled with multiple options to release the ball even under pressure.
BRAVO THE SWEEPER-KEEPER
Claudio Bravo will be facing a lot of flak for his mistake holding onto a rudimentary hoof from Rooney, allowing Zlatan to give the hosts a chance of a comeback, but his contribution till the 42nd minute should not be overlooked. Playing the role assigned to him perfectly, the keeper was almost 15 yards away from his position when City had the ball. Allowing his centre-backs to move to the wider positions Bravo rotated the ball nicely thus always acting as an extra outlet for a pass, effectively increasing a man in the backline for the Sky Blues. The change was clearly visible on multiple occasions when the likes of Stones, under severe pressure on the by-line was able to place a pass to Bravo who confidently turned it over to Kolarov on the other side thus retaining possession and enabling the team to surge forward with a couple of United players out of position.
DE BRUYNE AND SILVA ‘TWO’ HOT TOO HANDLE
The decision to continue playing the two in No.8 positions paid off handsomely.
Especially De Bruyne was able to pick up pockets of space between the United midfield and back-line and did it with alarming regularity. And it was mostly due to Paul Pogba’s listless performance when required to do his defensive duties. He was always found wanting and hence De Bruyne ran amok, especially in the first half.
JOSE’S SELECTION BLUNDER
Lingard and Mkhitaryan were handed their first starts of the campaign in the hope their tracking back and a surprise element would tilt the scales in United’s favour. But the duo was always a notch below the other players and failed to cope with the occasion and the intense pressing of their City counterparts.
The second half saw normalcy restored to an extent as Mourinho steadied the midfield by bringing on Herrera and moving Pogba into a more advanced area. Rooney’s industry was utilised on the wing while Rashford caused considerable worry to the City full-backs. With the change in personnel and body language aided by emerging nerves in the opposition especially in Bravo and Stones, United were successful in altering City’s build-up play. It was more of an end-to-end stuff as Guardiola also reacted to the proceedings by bringing on Fernando as he displayed his in-game management skills in order to protect his lead. With United laying a mini-siege of goal, he sought Leroy Sane’s pace to play on the counter as he saw the game out happy to keep his lead intact.