Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Manchester City


By Sleepy

Manchester United v Manchester City – The Middle Third Holds the Key

No introduction is needed for Saturday’s Manchester Derby so we shall delve straight into the tactical discussion, with some intriguing selection dilemmas for both coaches as they prepare for a game that could shape the closing stages of their respective seasons.

Tactics – Man United:


Credit: This11

Fergie essentially has 3 selection headaches going into this game:

1. Who partners Vidic at the heart of the defence? Crucial as a staggering 33% of goals conceded have come from headers (Opta statistics).

2. Who starts in central midfield? With Fergie likely to deploy 3 across the middle, one of Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick and Anderson will have to settle for a place on the bench.

3. Will both Rooney and Berbatov start? With Park fit and raring to go after returning from International duty, Ferguson has a left hand side dilemma as both he and Giggs fight it out with Rooney for a starting birth.

With both Rio and Evans likely to miss out due to injury, Wes Brown could earn a surprising recall in his favoured position, as Smalling has looked slightly jaded in recent outings. Brown’s big-game (did I just say that?) experience could be vital, as well as his first-hand knowledge Carlos Tevez. On form, Brown and Vidic are arguably the league’s best ‘natural’ defenders, or ‘no.4’s’.  At right back, Fergie may contemplate replacing Rafael with John O’Shea, but with Dzeko likely to start from the bench (and height thus not a major factor), Rafael’s attacking qualities in the position may see him selected despite a rare wobble from the young Brazilian against Wolves last weekend. If Nani can help Rafael by pushing Milner and Kolarov back into defensive positions, the stage could be set for the youngster to exploit the space with the verve and panache he has showed in recent games.

In midfield, though Fletcher is still not 100% fit and not enjoying his best form of late, his presence would seem crucial against City’s tough tackling midfield (not to mention the fact he seems to excel in the ‘bigger games’); There was also signs of a return to form versus Wolves, with some excellent hold-up play and neat turns on view as he battled hard in the centre. Carrick could be asked to perform a similar role to that he did in reverse fixture at City – tasked with watching Toure’s marauding runs from deep, and pressing the space in which Tevez likes to operate; What was noticeable that night was the interchanging between the 3 central players (Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher) with no natural deep-lying midfielder, which enabled United to control the game, dominating the middle third and getting the ball out wide early to Nani and Park (as well as the overlapping fullbacks). Fergie could be contemplating a similar tact in this game – as per the chalkboard below, Scholes’s passing game is still exemplary, and could be the reason he is selected ahead of Anderson, as keeping the ball will be crucial to the team as they seek to pass their way into attacking scenarios.

Carrick Passes vs Manchester City

‘Carrick 2 misplaced passes in 64 mins’ (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

Carrick Interceptions vs. Manchester City

‘Carrick, 7 vital interceptions and Scholes completing 77/81 passes at Eastlands’ (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

Up front if Fergie is to select both of his star forwards, one imagines that Rooney may well be tasked with reverting to a left-side position when relieved of possession much in the same way he has done in Europe in recent seasons. Though this does have the effect of unbalancing the side, with Silva likely to be coming more central from an inverted winger position, Rooney may not necessarily need to track so far back and can still keep a fairly central position in tandem with Berbatov. Dropping deep on De Jong then, and stopping the wide ball to Boateng and Kolarov could work well, interrupting moves at their initiation. With both Nani and Rooney then likely to come inside when on the ball, the onus will be on Rafael and Evra to join the attack and make themselves available as a passing option.

Tactics – Man City:


Credit: This11

The ‘defensive approach’ accusation has become somewhat of a misnomer under Mancini and though it is undeniable that their style of play has been far from expansive and penetrative, he has made great strides in the last 12 months as he has developed a patient ‘controlling’ style of play. Silva, Toure, Milner and Johnson have all been tasked with supporting Tevez, in front of a solid midfield base, and the system seems to be slowly coming together. The Italian has also invested the huge sums of money at his disposal very well in my opinion; Replacing Bridge with Kolarov was astute given the latter’s form in Italy in recent seasons, and with a powerful left-foot which can cause damage in the final third; Dzeko and Balotelli will provide that vital added dimension up front, and Boateng seems to be the more stable option at right back at present ahead of the developing Richards.

The star of the season however has been Kompany, who has been essential to the relative success of City and reminds me of a young Rio Ferdinand with his ability to remain calm on the ball and distribute wisely (watch for the long ball to the left, as he seeks out Tevez dropping wide left in support of Milner/Silva). He is also a fantastic reader of the game, and will seek to press the space in which Nani and Berbatov like to operate.

Clip 1: Toure hit (2.45)

As above, the central midfield area has become quite important for City in their game plan and Yaya Toure, though perhaps lacking the finesse for the role of trequartista or playmaker of the team, is the complete midfielder, combining the defensive acumen he displayed at Barcelona with the attacking qualities he espoused at Olympiakos (see youtube clips) and Monaco. Coveted in his early days by Sir Alex, can link defence with attack with subtle ease and has a powerful strike on him when he is given space (see clip 1). Barry and De Jong should start the game behind Toure, and much of their defensive prowess lies in their ability to read the pattern of the game and intercept the danger, performing to specific instructions; Here we can see how Barry sought to nullify the threat from Nani in the first game at Eastlands. Likewise, De Jong often works in a central-right position, and as he did versus Chelsea and Malouda in particular earlier this season, he will attempt to stop attacking moves as United enter the City half.

Barry Passes Heatmap vs. Manchester United

Gareth Barry on Nani (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

N de Jong Interceptions Heatmap vs. Chelsea

De Jong – 4 tackles 4 interceptions in first 64 mins (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

Tevez dropping in ‘false 9’ role has been a familiar sight this season and he will seek to drag Brown/Smalling and Vidic out of position. This is where Carrick and Fletcher will be asked to press the space in which he combines well with Silva and Toure.

In Summary

Fergie will be well aware of the importance of the early goal, especially given the fact that City struggle in away games when they don’t score first; If United control the game in the centre of the pitch as they did at City – and seek to nullify the threat of Silva and Tevez in particular -3 points should be the result. Fergie would arguably settle for a point as he seeks to maintain a safe distance between the two clubs, perhaps overly wary of the effect a derby day defeat could have at this stage. Regardless of the result on Saturday, Mancini should be happy with a 3rd or 4th place finish as he seeks to build for a real title push next season.  There is no doubt that City is a long-term project and Mancini seems to be the man to take them forward.

Referee: Andre Marriner – Has refereed consistently well this season and is given his second consecutive ‘big game’ in a week after he refereed Liverpool’s win at Stamford Bridge last weekend.  It was Marriner who caused Pulis to have a mini heart-attack by not showing a second yellow card to Gary Neville at the Britannia earlier this season.

Prediction: 1-0 United, Nani.

Under 2.5 goals at 5/6 looks like good value.

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  1. Great article mate, from a City fan. Although I think it could be Richards at right back, Zabaleta at left back and Kolarov on the wing. Milner’s played a lot recently including 90 minutes in Copenhagen for England.

  2. First time of reading your blog. Congrats on an informed, intelligent and balanced appraisal. Hoping for a classic tomorrow, fearing a snore draw, just worried that there is too much at stake for both teams to go for it.

  3. Smalling confirmed by Sir Alex. I think this is good because Evans is terrible in the air (important against Dzeko if he plays). Smalling has also looked the real deal whenever he has played. Rio’s natural successor.

  4. Thanks for your comments guys. I feel less than 2.5 goals is on the cards unfortunately given the importance of the game; Interesting about your thoughts on Richards? I have been impressed with Boateng this season. Kolarov will start left if De Jong is out, with Milner coming central; Though he played 90 mins, he was arguably best player on the pitch and could have worked his way into Mancini’s thinking – especially with the league’s form player, Nani, to deal with…

  5. Going to be tight match for sure and probably just a single goal. Both teams very good defensively and 4-5-1 formations that both will adopt may cancel eachother out.

    An early goal would surely help open things out a bit.

    I think Berba on bench with Rooney, Nani and Park the front three. Very harsh on our top scorer but Rooney better up front on his own.

    Major blow for City if De Jong not fit but expect him to make it.

    1-0 to United with them holding on for dear life towards the end!

  6. I just cant see Roo or Berb dropped for tomorrow despite very good reasons to do so in both cases…..

    Hope Park is fully fit, if not, Roo left?

  7. sudheesh Marar on

    I reckon its gonna be a tight match..defensive tactic will play more importance than attacking one..i think if scholes plays and he has a good game i can easily see us winning this match coz wenever he does well united always seems to come on the winners,on ur line-up i dont think Brown will get a start as Smalling is confirmed by Sir Alex, hope he has good game too.My prediction is a narrow 1-0 to United with Goal coming from midfield

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