5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City

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By Chris Mortlock

1. Phil Jones: The only positive

If there’s something we’ve learned about Phil Jones since he arrived from Blackburn in 2011, it’s how versatile he is. Whatever position he’s asked to play, he nearly always excels; whether that’s at right full-back, centre-half, or putting out fires in central midfield. Still just 20, he has plenty of time on his side too. Predicting what position he’ll finally settle into once he fully matures is something a lot of United fans discuss regularly. For me, it’s simple: central defence.

A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Jones would partner Ferdinand in central defence against City — not because people feel he’s not good enough, but because he’s only played a handful of Premier League games in that position. In truth, he looked in his element there. He was head and shoulders above every other United player on Monday night — which says a lot about our performance in all fairness. The only positive we can take from the game if you ask me.

2. It’s either Kagawa or Rooney

When the news broke that we’d signed Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund last summer, I was genuinely thrilled. Finally, we’d signed one of those No. 10s every other top European side seem to have in abundance (OK, maybe not in abundance, but still, you get the idea). The Japan international is yet to nail down a place in the starting XI; understandable given the fact he’s still adapting to the English way of playing/living. It’d be unfair to say he’s been hit and miss, as some suggest, as he’s only played a handful of games in his natural position.

What’s become increasingly notable is how difficult Sir Alex has found it fitting both Kagawa and Rooney into a starting XI, without playing one out of position. Yes, you could play Rooney up top with Kagawa in behind, but then you’re potentially leaving out Van Persie. It’s proving to be a problem. A nice problem, but a problem nonetheless. Kagawa was introduced against City in the 92nd minute on Monday night. Ninety-two minutes too late for me. Rooney dropped in on Barry and Toure when required but failed to really influence the game going forward. I can’t help but feel we’re missing a trick not playing Kagawa more frequently. When chosen to play in behind a lone striker this season he’s looked more than promising.

Next season is where we should start to see the former Dortmund man flourish, though; whether that’s in his favoured No. 10 role or on the left side of midfield remains to be seen, however. I, for one, hope it’s the former.

3. Giggs really cannot play in a central midfield two

There are actual people — mainly United fans — out there who think it’s a crime to claim that Sir Alex got something wrong. It’s rare, but like any other human being: he can, and does, make mistakes. Monday night was one of those occasions in my opinion. While I was surprised to see us line-up with a central midfield two, I was shocked at the inclusion of Ryan Giggs. That’s no disrespect to Giggs, either; but when you’re facing a side that predominantly attacks through the middle, I can’t see the logic in partnering Carrick with a 39-year-old. Surely Sir Alex should’ve opted for Cleverley instead of Giggs; after all, the England international has started the majority of ‘big’ games alongside Carrick this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that Giggs can still influence games, just not in the heart of midfield — especially against the bigger teams alongside just one other central midfielder.

4. Sir Alex got it wrong

The form of our wingers has been well documented this season. Sir Alex went with Young and Welbeck on Monday night; Young, as usual, from the left and Welbeck, a natural centre forward, from the right. The problem with starting Welbeck wide right is that he’ll nearly always be drawn into the middle when attacking. And that’s what we saw on Monday night. I don’t blame him for that, but the team does suffer as a result. When playing with wingers it’s paramount they provide width and a decent delivery. We only managed to complete 9 of the 36 crosses attempted against City, which goes a long way in explaining as to why we never really looked like scoring from open play.

City rely heavily on their full-backs for width which gave us the perfect opportunity to create 2 v 1s against their full-backs. Unfortunately, our counter-attacks often came to nothing and chances to get in behind Clichy and Zabaleta were few and far between.

5. Put the champagne on hold, we can’t celebrate just yet

“We’re having a party on derby day” was the claim by many United fans going into Monday night’s game. In hindsight maybe it was a tad premature. There was a fairly low-key build up to the game; what with City 15 points behind us and an FA Cup semi-final at the back of their minds. They, however, were in a win win situation if you ask me: out of the title race and with nothing to lose, they were able to play under no pressure whatsoever. Had we beaten them, they’d have claimed they expected it. Because they won, a lot of their fans are echoing Mancini’s claims of how there’s no way we should be so far clear at the top of the Premier League — completely ignoring the fact that we’ve won 26 of the 31 games played.

We now need 10 points from the last seven games, and while we still face difficult trips to Stoke, West Ham and Arsenal, our two home games against Aston Villa, Swansea and the final day outing to West Bromwich Albion should, barring a disaster, see us over the line.
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11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I’m sorry mate, but how do you work it that City were under no pressure? Surely, if Utd have already won the title ( which, of course, they have)they are the team playing with absolutely no pressure. City, on the other hand,have three other clubs chasing them like a pack of dogs, waiting for a sign of weakness. There is an argument that City were more motivated because they needed the points more. But that is exactly the opposite of what you are claiming.

    • Avatar
      Chris Mortlock on

      Yes, the league is wrapped up so what pressure are they under? They’ve been bang average this season and were going into the game playing for pride alone. So many people are claiming we’re so far in front without ever hitting top gear, you could argue the pressure was on us to justify being 15 points clear. What clubs are chasing them like a pack of dogs? To me, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Everton are fighting it out for the remaining two Champions League places – I don’t think second spot is up for grabs. I understand where you’re coming from and wouldn’t argue against your point about them needing the win more, but the feeling I get when talking to fans of other clubs is that we don’t deserve to be so far ahead.

  2. Avatar
    Samadhi Fisher on

    I’m bored so I’ll play along…
    (1) Disagree. Phil Jones got torched for the second goal and if it wasn’t for pure luck, his shoulder header wouldn’t have gone in at all.

    (2) Agree. With Rooney possibly wearing down, now may be a good time to move him. He’s not done by any means. He has a few years left. That’s what keeps his value high though. The only other option is to play Rooney out wide.

    (3) Neutral. It’s hard to argue for a 39-y/o going 90 mins but it’s also hard to argue for a youngster coming in and doing better.

    (4) Neutral. The options are too limited to expect more. Young did not play well. He was the only winger healthy enough to start. Welbeck isn’t a winger though his athleticism makes up for it somewhat. Valencia has been injured all season and only played about 10 mins.

    (5) Agree. Popping champagne any earlier than the exact moment the deal is done is asking for trouble. Lest we forget the heartbreak of last season: winning the title for 2 mins, only to see QPR lay down for City in injury time. Go to work, lock it down, then party like it’s 1999.

  3. Avatar

    Jones is a central defender for me too. He can become a good right back, a decent midfielder, but a top class defender. His passing and positional awareness is not good enough to play in midfield on a regular basis.

    Confident Kagawa will develop into a top player for us, however he’s not done enough yet to suggest it’s either Rooney or Kagawa. Kagawa is neat, tidy and can be incisive, but the team is more potent with Rooney starting. We haven’t seen vintage Rooney this season, but he’s averaging a goal or an assist every 70 odd minutes in the Premier League, which is his best return. I still like the idea of Kagawa starting on the left and interchanging with Rooney.

    Giggs was poor. I was surprised he started in a two man midfield against City, but Cleverley has looked tired and off the boil recently and Jones was needed in defence. I think Jones would have started in midfield if not for injuries to Vidic, Smalling and Evans. I think Giggs is capable of playing in a two man midfield (QPR in February for example) but less so against better teams.

    League title is still in the bag in my opinion. One defeat to our nearest rivals, where a moment of brilliance was needed for victory doesn’t alter my thinking. Before City’s opener we hadn’t conceded a Premier League goal in 678 minutes. Yes, our performances are not the best, but we are still winning, which is the only thing that matters at this stage of the season. Last season was last season.

    • Avatar

      The title of point two may be a little misleading. I don’t mean SAF has to choose between one or the other; as you’ve pointed out: both Kagawa and Rooney can play a couple of different positions. I just don’t think we’ve utilised Kagawa at all since he arrived. I understand he’s still adapting and we’ll more than likely see him flourish from next season onwards, but when he does play we have to learn to attack through him, and not always down the flanks.

      • Avatar
        Sideshow Bob on

        Yeah, Kagawa is more likely to excel in a central position. Will be interesting to see if he can adjust to Fergie’s 4-4-2/4-2-3-1, where wingers are utilised more often than Klopp ‘s Dortmund.

        • Avatar

          Dortmund prides itself on its 4-2-3-1 style (with Reus and Blaszczykowski manning the wide positions and Gotze down the middle) so I wouldn’t go that far.

          • Avatar
            Sideshow Bob on

            Reus isn’t a Fergie type winger/wideman. He plays narrower. Earlier in the season Kagawa and Nani seem to form an understanding mainly due to Nani’s tendency to drift into central areas (plus quick one touch passing).

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