Tactics: The Right to Victory
Probable starting line-ups
The form of two players alone could well decide the outcome of today’s match: Antonio Valencia and David Silva. Both are expected to start on the right hand side, though as we will see, both have very different roles to execute.
Antonio Valencia, Manchester United.
Since his return from injury last month, the Ecuadorian has slotted into the side with panache, which is a credit to both the medical and coaching staff at Old Trafford. His penchant for staying high and wide on the right hand side (see chalkboard) is an attribute Fergie would surely have loved for much of the season in order to alter the approach he has had with the excellent Nani who may well be forced left today. With Kolarov largely not living up to expectations this season (he has looked suspect defensively and was slow to react to both goals against Liverpool on Monday evening), Zabeleta should start at left back. Against Nani earlier in the season he performed reasonably well in the first half an hour, but then faded as O’Shea’s attacking ambitions increased often leaving him 2 v 1 on that side. Nani went on to score one and set up that goal. A similar scenario could entail today, though perhaps this time with Rafael in support of Valencia, as Fergie will instruct both players on that side to keep Zabeleta pinned back, dragging the likes of Toure and Barry deeper than Mancini would prefer in support of De Jong. For this reason Mancini may well be tempted to start Milner ahead of either Dzeko or Balotelli; the Englishman’s energy and defensive acumen could be utilised to track the penetrating runs of Valencia, and the likely forages by either O’Shea or Rafael.
Valencia passing v West Ham (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Aside from trying to create a 2 v 1 down City’s left, Valencia’s wide brief will also mean one of the central midfielders (perhaps Anderson or Giggs) ensuring that they make themselves available in that area of the pitch. Unlike Nani, Valencia is less adept at coming inside with the ball in the final third; instead a commonly used tactic is to utilise the deep-lying striker or attacking midfielder and asking for the immediate return in behind the opposition back line. For this reason, it is essential that whoever plays up front is not continually coming deep for the ball, as ‘hitting the box early’ might prove dividends as Valencia will seek to cross (either low or high) from this area. The likes of Park, Anderson and Nani will thus be instructed to do likewise from the central and left areas.
David Silva, Manchester City
The former Valencia star took a while to acclimatise in the Premier League, but certainly since the turn of the year he has become a key asset to Mancini’s side. Initially, Mancini preferred a system whereby Yaya Toure was the closest to the lone striker, Tevez, with two from Silva, Johnson or Milner adopting a wide position. A slight tactical re-alignment has been seen since late January however, which has meant Silva has been given more freedom to patrol the final third, and Toure becoming more of an archetypal box to box player (see chalkboard comparison between early season role and now). As we can see from his chalkboard comparison, Silva was initially briefed to stay either wide left (v Blackpool) or right, though his ability to come into more central positions similar to the way he seeks to operate at International level has meant a more defined ‘trequartista’ role as the season has progressed. Indeed, the question many City fans have been asking, is why not allow Silva a more formal role as such at the head of the midfield triumvirate, potentially meaning a more fluid attacking approach, with Johnson starting ahead of Gareth Barry?
Silva changing role: Wide left position v Blackpool; Central ‘creative’ role v United (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Toure changing role (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboards
Against Man United at Old Trafford, he was constantly a threat on the ball, and only a whisker away from opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes. It is Silva’s ability to read the pattern of the game that allows him to stand out; aware of when to look for the overlapping fullback as an outlet, and equally adept at pulling the centre halves out of position by linking with the striker, Silva’s elegant movement can prove a tactical nightmare for opposition managers. Starting from a right position, Evra will have to pay particular attention to his movement inside, and thus ensure he is not dragged too far allowing the rejuvenated Richards space on the overlap. Communication with Vidic then will be key, knowing when to pass on and when to pair up will be important; as will ensuring Carrick and Scholes are aware of the Spaniard’s movement. Carrick has performed admirably in this particular role since his return from an Achilles injury, and the games against Marseille and Chelsea in particular have seen him regain his swagger, and crucially his metronome-like nimble passing game. His ‘battle’ with Silva, mirroring De Jong’s with United’s wide players, could be a deciding factor in today’s match.
Both managers will be concerned with how to deal with the threat from wide areas, though both players will offer distinctly different approaches eliciting different defensive tactics. As Mancini will be alert to the threat of Valencia or Nani, Ferguson will surely be aware of granting Silva too much space, with perhaps Park starting on United’s left ahead of Giggs and Nani for this reason alone. One creative spark from either player could be enough to decide the game, and I can’t see anything other than a one goal victory for either side.
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