HOW CITY TOOK UNITED TO SCHOOL WITH A WEEK 5 PREVIEW
In the week leading up to the Manchester derby, the speculation on who would start, and what position they would be in, was almost drowning out the conversations of who would actually win the match. (ALMOST)
The main reason for the rampant speculation on formation, team selection, and tactics is that both clubs are now run by managers renowned for their technical and personnel nous, with Pep playing multiple formations in a single game, and Jose extracting every last ounce of potential out of those he puts on the field.
After watching the match, it was quite evident what both managerial legends were trying to achieve with their personnel and tactical choices, and equally evident who had won the battle. While Jose's second half adjustments made a noticeable impact on who had the balance of play, it was certainly too little, and definitely too late, to have any impact on the outcome of the game.
In this match, as in most, the success and failure of the game plan were based upon the midfield.
Defend well but can't get the ball to the goal scorers? FAIL
Get attack after attack but can't stop the counter attacks from forming?? FAIL
While Manchester United did make some changes at halftime that slowed the City attack, a few nervy moments for City at the end are more easily attributed to Carlos Bravo's performance in his City debut than Man United taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
Plus, assuming Jose is half as smart as I am, he saw the problems immediately and his two half time subs specifically addressed the problems I outline below.
So let's first take a look at the personnel, then the formations and tactics of the teams in the Manchester Derby.
Heading into the derby both coaches were dealing with a spectrum of issues in regards to who would actually pull on the kits and take the field. In addition to the weekly decisions afforded each coach due to their teams extraordinary depth, this years derby fell right after the first international break of the season. Add in injuries and suspensions and both coaches knew they needed to get their selections right in order to get maximum value.
For United, they were faced mostly with players racing the clock to be back to full fitness, but also a few decisions in key spots. Luckily for Jose, his back four has been set since matchweek one and he predictably went with Valencia, Bailly, Blind, and Shaw.
In the midfield, Paul Pogba chooses himself, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs. With Pogba sitting deeper, the first decision is who to pair him with. Sticking with a header winning ass-clown, Mourhino called upon Marouane Fellaini to sit in front of the back four and cut out service to the City CF.
I personally think that Morgan Schneiderlen would be a much better fit, as he knows how to dictate/change the pace of the game. Aditionally, he will not push forward at the wrong time and create lots of space in behind (more on that later), but it appears that Jose has been weary of other squads athleticism and is hitching his wagon to the big Q-tip.
In the attacking three positions is where the decisions get tough for the Red Devils manager. While he has apparently decided to tie his ship to Wayne Rooney as a #10, a decision we will look closer at later, it is not for lack of options. We will see if this sticks.
Out wide, the options are numerous. Mhkitariyan, Martial, Rashford, Lingard, and Mata are all quality options and offer varying skill sets for teams to deal with. Martial and Mata had started all of the previous matches (wins), but Rashford has shown his ability to change games, Lingard can create (and score) some fantastic goals, and Mkhitaryian was the best player in the Budesliga last season.
So in a derby coming out of an international break who did Jose go with?
Lingard and Mkhitariyan. Why?
Well presumably he chose Lingard for his pace and ability to create something out of nothing. His choice was early evidence that Jose planned to sit and counter and needed players who could create against even numbers.
As for Mkhitaryan, his choice is a bit of a head scratcher. He has not had a lot of playing time as he adjusts to life in the Premier League (and England). He struggles mightily in his first season with Dortmund before lighting it up in his second season, earning his move to Man U. The assumption was that Jose was going to bring him a long slowly and integrate him. Additionally, Mkhitaryan picked up a knock on international duty, and was questionable to even make the 18 heading into the match.
So why did he pick him? First, he is probably the highest quality attacking player they have outside of Zlatan. He has pace and guile, and is willing to work hard to bring teammates into the games, sometimes to his own detriment. Assuming Jose saw his team sitting deeper and looking to break on the counter, Mkhitaryan was brought on to receive the ball from the backs then decide when to break and when to circulate posession and force City to track back. Or so they thought.
While Man United was trying to balance counter attacking tendencies with defensive shape, Pep and City were left to decide how best to fill in the holes created, or just not yet filled, due to injuries.
In net, we saw the debut of Carlos Bravo, brought in from Barcelona for his superior footwork and distribution. I will give him the fact that very few keepers can knock it around on the ground like he can. Once he adds catching and decision making to he repertoire he is going to be a really good keeper.
Much like their opponents, the back four was probably where the easiest choices were. Sagna has played well this year and kept his spot at RB over an aging (although still quality) Zabaleta, Stones and Otamendi slotted in at CB with Kompany still not fully fit, and Pep went with Kolarov's crossing and foulin....I mean defense.
In the midfield, Fernandihno (Luiz Rosa) kept his spot as the holding defensive center mid, tasked with guarding the back four, and was paired with Silva and Kevin "I've got skills" De Bruyne.
Out wide, much like United, City has plenty of options, but with the current sparkling form of Nolito and Sterling I don't think Pep hesitated to make his choices, sliding them on either side of KDB.
Up front is where the questions lied. With Aguero out for throwing elbows like he was Dennis Rodman, who would lead the line hung over the team all international break. Is Inhennacho ready to consistently step up against quality competition? Would Pep go to his Barca days and play Nolito (Agudo Duran) or Sterling as a false 9? Or would he do something out of the blue and start KDB up top?
Ultimately he decided that we was best off to simply swap Nacho in for Aguero and keep the rest of the machine humming along like it has been all season, relying on Nacho to eat up his chances. I know, that was cheesy. (Sorry, I'll stop.)
After it all shook out, this is what we were left with:
MANCHESTER UNITED MANCHESTER CITY
FORMATION AND TACTICS
Once the pieces were on the board, the question became how to move them.
The lineups above are a good representation of the starting positions of the teams. The only difference with reality is that City had Silva and De Bruyne playing slightly more in front of Fernandihno (Luiz Rosa), flipping their midfield triangle so that their point (Fernandihno) was matched up with United's midfield point (Rooney).
In City's attack, De Bruyne and Silva overlay nicely onto Fellaini and Pogba, meaning United (Pogba) knew that had better not get caught in front of the ball or else City would find themselves with numbers up in good central positions.
In order to exacerbate that issue for United, Nolito and Sterling were tasked with holding the outside backs wide by staying connected to the touchline and creating channels between the center backs for through balls as well as space for KDB and Silva to get on the ball and attack the centerbacks
Finally, for City, Iheanacho was tasked with occupying Blind and Bailly without clogging up the aforementioned channels.
United's formation, on the other hand. was set up with a much more counter attacking game plan. One that failed miserably.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERSUS HULL CITY MANCHESTER UNITED VERSUS MANCHESTER CITY
As you can see above in the charts above, Bailly and Blind sat only slightly deeper versus City than they did in their game versus Hull City, when they had the ball it felt like the entire game.
The game plan fell apart due to an imbalance in midfield. Look at Fellaini's positioning in the two matches. versus Hull he sat deeper relative to his formation, and played more centrally, closing the central lane between Blind and Bailly. His failure to achieve his primary objective was only partly the former Toffees fault.
Check out Rooney's positioning in the two matches. Against Hull he sat high and on the left, linking up with Pogba and Ibrahimovic in a triangle of egos and bad hair. Against City, agitated he couldn't get on the ball, and with Silva terrorizing the space in front of Fellaini pulling the Belgian out of position, Rooney had no choice but to collapse and slide wide to help Fellaini, Mkhitaryan and Valencia deal with Nolito, Silva, KDB, and Kolarov.
Where have I heard that before?? Oh yeah, my preview.
This week, however, the Rooney problem will take center stage. With Wayne playing as the proverbial string-puller in midfield Manchester United is going to be in a lot of trouble.
Fernandihno and Silva are going to sit a touch deeper and force Wayne (unable to create/utilize his own space) to slide out wide, disconnecting him and leaving Ibra on an island. This will bring Zlatan deeper, squeezing out Pogba, and is going to compress the Red Devils.
This pushed Mkhitaryan out much wider than Mata had been playing, cut off Valencia's overlapping runs and left City with tons of space in behind Fellaini and Pogba, who should have been recovering centrally to support Fellaini, but was caught numerous times cheating his defensive responsibilities.
Don't believe me, check out Manchester City's overall influence above. De Bruyne, Silva and Inheanacho got into their own triangular play in the space left vacated in midfield and tore United apart.
Note how wide Sterling, Sane, and Nolito (Duran) stayed throughout the game. This gave the attacking midfielders all the space they wanted to play in, and left United's back four stretch thin with no coverage in front of them. The result?
1. The space Nacho finds to win the header that Fellaini should be occupying.
2. Pogba not tracking back to cover the space in front of the back four that KDB finds and receives the ball in.
3. Dailey Blind being exposed and Bailly, stretched wide to stay connected with Valencia (covering Nolito) unable to recover in time.
That goal was perfect snap shot of the bind that Pep put United in from the very beginning. Without the proper work rate and technical nous (Fellaini has started games at forward), the United midfield is unbalanced at best, especially when being dominated in possession like they were in the first half against City.
For comparisons sake, the three man central midfield alignment that both teams employed left us with an easy comparison.
Fernandihno and Fellaini were both tasked with shielding the back four (#6), Silva and Pgba played the role of shuttler from front to back (#8), and Rooney and Debruyne were tasked with creating chances for their teams (#10). While not a perfect comparison, they are close enough to get a good snapshot
First. compare the passing of Fellaini and Fernandihno in the middle third of the field. While City had the ball more and therefor Fernandihno had more completions. I am looking at quality not quantity.
What you should note is that of Fernandihno's 38 passes in the middle third , 10 were penetrating passes into the attacking third with only one failing to find it's target. Fellaini on the other hand completed only three penetrating passes into the attacking third, and only missed on one more. Everything else was either lateral or backwards, just another indicator of City's superior transition game and movement of their front five.
As for the #8 role, the difference between Silva and Pogba couldn't be more drastic. Just compare their passing from the game.
Not only was Silva involved in the game much more than Pogaba, completing 65 passes to Pogba's 35, but also note where their passes go. Squeezed wide by a deeper dropping Rooney, Pogba was essentially a one sided player, and his passing was incredibly predictable. He only switched the ball to the right a hand full of times, combining mostly with Luke Shaw and Lindgard in the first half.
Silva, on the other hand, was spraying passes (and popping up) all over the field. His diversity of length and direction of passes clearly indicates his ability to take over and dictate games, especially this one.
Finally, we compare the #10s, Rooney and KDB, and find little to be surprised by. To me, the most important element for these two players is where they actually receive the ball. Are they able to get on the ball in dangerous central areas, or are they pressed wide by deep lying midfielders?
Take a look at the charts below of where they RECEIVED PASSES, then you be the judge:
The contrast between the two couldn't be Tony Starker, even ignoring the fact KDB completed 50% more passes that Rooney. The black circles show the average position when they received the ball.
De Bruyne was able to get in behind the United midfield at will., especially on Silva's side when Fellaini would step to defend the diminutive Spaniard, KDB would scoot past a slow tracking Pogba, get on the ball and wreak havoc.
Rooney, on the other hand, would try and exploit a similar space but SIlva's technical awareness and Fernadihno's ability to cover ground pushed him so wide he left Ibra on an island and the wide players with tough decisions on which runs to make.
Rooney's inability to open up space for himself and his teammates because he can't make runs past the center forward, nor carry past a singular defender in midfield. He no doubt has the ability to ping the ball around the field at will, but it doesn't make a difference when where you are when you receive the ball, and where you will send it, are predetermined by the other teams tactics.
In this case, it cost Man U one of the biggest derbys in history.
WHAT ABOUT THE FORWARDS?!
While we have made note of the forwards contributions to the match, specifically how they adjusted to what was happening, I would be remiss not to laud Nacho for a wonderful performance, and wonder how Man U will beat quality sides when Ibra is forced to play off of Rooney.
What you will find is that Ibra can find the ball, sometimes in possibly dangerous positions, but with no one to play off of, he either drops it back into the midfield or forces passes into teammates, often times killing the attack.
Compare Ibra's and Nacho's passes in the attacking third.
The big Sewdish meatball only completed 5 passes in the attacking third, with 3 of them being sideways passes, not penetrating.
If you compare Nacho's passes, you will see two major items:
Nacho got onto the ball in the attacking third far more than Ibra did. Second, his ability to exchange space with his #10 resulted in a sweet assist to an overlapping KDB (yellow line), and a chance created.
While they both scored, Ibra did so on an poor drop by Bravo. Nacho worked tirelessly and chipped in an assist and a goal. While Ibra's goal counts the same, it wasn't due to positive play by Man United, unlike the sterling attack of City.
Once halftime rolled around, Jose knew he needed to make drastic changes. He sacrificed his wide players, with both Lingard and Mkhitaryan coming off in favor of Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford.
This slid Rooney wider (he was already there) so Herrera could step in for Pogba, who took up Rooney's spot in the attack midfield role.
SHOCKINGLY playing two midfielders with defensive awareness (and desire), plus Rashford keeping City defenders deep with his threat of running at people, caused City to reassess their alignment, which they correctly (and successfully) did early in the second half.
City countered by balancing themselves out by bringing on Fernando for Nacho, playing with two CDM and then brining on Sane to lead the counter attack from City's new found deeper line of confrontation.
Once City adjusted, Man U's short burst sputtered out, and while the Red Devils controlled play more than the first half, they didn't pose any continuing threat and was constantly weary of being beaten on the counter.
After really breaking down this match, I came to the conclusion that the biggest hurdle Mourhino faces is himself. He has always been an unwavering subscriber to the 4-2-3-1.
This is not an issue when you boast the players like he had with Inter Milan earlier this decade, or with Real Madrid, or even with Chelsea for that matter. The current Man U squad is full of potential and boast 7-8 world class players, but nothing like Mourhnio's previous places of employment.
Pep banked on Jose being Jose and came up with a perfect plan to exploit the technical and personnel short comings of the Red Devils. Unless Mourhino shows a willingness to adapt to his new team, if not by formation at least by tactics, the Red Devils will find themselves in the thick of a race for a top 4 spot, not battling for the title like so many thought.
City? Welcome to your new normal.
NOW TO SOME VERY BRIEF WEEK FIVE PREVIEWS!!
The marquee matchup of the week takes place right out of the gate this week! Chelsea are trying to figure out how they gave away their last match against Swansea after being up comfortably, while Liverpool will look to build on their big win over the defending champs.
Like I said last week, I worry about Liverpool's consistency and I don't think week is any different.
PREDICTION: 2-1 CHELSEA
Speaking of inconsistencies, here come two of the most bipolar teams in the league! Hull is slowly crashing back to Earth, although 7 from 12 is nothing to scoff at, while Arsenal is just ebing themselves. Add in a less than inspiring mid week Champions League performance against PSG, and it will be intriguing how Arsenal come out on the road in a game they should win. They will.
PREDICTION: 3-0 ARSENAL
City couldn't be feeling better about themselves right now. This game will leave Aguero with only one more league match left to miss, and a STELLAR mid week rout of a quality Gladbach side are evidence that this isn't your Daddy's City, Like all of Pep's teams, winning the domestic league is #1. Just watch how they pick apart poor Bournemouth. Good luck Jack!
PREDICTION: 2-0 MANCHESTER CITY
Relative geography is not the only thing thse two teams share, as both are off to sputtering starts, ESPECIALLY the Hammers. After getting up 2-0 on Bournemouth they started to relax and got whooped in theirt new home. West Brom has looked quite up and down, but all indications are that they will find a way to finish top 17, Tony Pulis job.
For this match, you are going to see a PUMPED UP West Ham team.
PREDICTION: 3-1 WEST HAM
The Cinderella story of last season has had a rough start to the campaign, with only one win in their first four. But a midweek Champions League win on the road will certainly be a huge lift to their spirits. New boy Slimani is getting comfprtable, and when he does the Foxes will have the best set of four forwards in the league. It's not even close. They will run wild against a sinking Burnley team.
PREDICTION: 4-0 LEICESTER
It's breathtaking what a good manager can do a team, and what Ronadl Koeman has done with the demeanor and playing style of the Toffees in just a few short weeks is nothing short of amazing. Top 4 may be a trech this season, but I see them being in the conversation for Europa League. Middlesborough are a formidable opponent, with only one loss in their first four matches back in the top flight.
This will be closer than people think, but Lukaku is warmed up and about to go off.
PREDICTION: EVERTON 2-0
After a solid season of survival, Watford are looking to build on their momentum of a huge 4-2 win at West Ham last week. They welcome a Manchester United team still trying to regroup after a tough derby loss. It would be stupid not to think the Red Devils will come out with something to prove, but Watford always plays well at home. Rashford to the rescue again.
PREDICTION: 1-0 MANCHESTER UNITED
Palace welcomes a PUTRID Stoke team this weekend, who are still trying to figure out how to play soccer. Mark Hughes has another month before total panic sets in and the Potters toss him out. The Eagles will hope Benteke can change their fortunes in front of goal and keep some positivity alive after their first win of the year. They won't.
Southampton are a shell of their Koeman selves. They keep fighting, but Puyel's tactics have yet to come together. The teams needs a big win to feel comfortable, and hosting Swansea just might do the trick. The Welsh side showed a lot of heart in coming back against Chelsea, but it was more of the Blues shutting down then it was Swansea pressing the issue. They need to create opportunities on a more consistent basis. Both teams need the win, but Southampton needs it worse and is at home.
PREDICTION: 1-0 SOUTHAMPTON
Tottenham dropped their Champions League opener to a Monaco side that was starting Chelsea outcast Falcao! Even with 90,000 supporters at Wembley, Spurs just couldn't play at the level needed to win. Kane might have scored the last goal of the route over Stoke, but he has been AWFUL, including missing a SITTER against Monaco. Lucky for them Sunderland is worse and White Hart Lane's blanket of comfort will let Spurs fans sleep soundly after this one.
PREDICTION: 3-0 SPURS