Both teams started in a 4-4-2 shape. Aguero and Negredo started up front together for City, with Nasri on the left hand side, Navas on the right and Toure and Fernandinho starting in midfield.
United were without Robin Van Persie through injury so started with Welbeck up front with Rooney generally behind. Chris Smalling started at right back and Fellaini and Carrick were chosen in midfield.
HOW THE SYSTEMS MATCHED UP
Although both teams started in similar formations, it was the players and movements in each system that made up the tactical battle.
Man City’s system in possession was pretty fluid. They dominated the ball in the first part of the game, pushing Manchester United deep and controlling the midfield area. Nasri was moving inside from his left wing position and helping to circulate possession, whilst also creating space for Kolarov on the outside. He made the second most amount of passes for City (47) with a 91% success rate.
On the other side, Zabaleta was also getting forward on the outside of Navas, although Navas was holding the width more than Nasri was. This helped create space for the arrival of Yaya Toure making vertical runs through the middle and helping to dictate the ball in midfield and the final third. While Yaya Toure has often been the player to hold position in the Toure/Fernandinho partnership, in this game it was reversed. Toure had an extremely good first half for Man City offensively while Fernandinho stayed deep, covering the space he left and disrupting Manchester United’s transition attack when they tried to get out through Rooney.
Up front, the movement of Aguero and Negredo was also key in their passing dominance in the first part of the game. Aguero was generally the one dropping off between the lines to help move the ball but on the counter attack it was often Negredo who came short in that position while Aguero used his pace behind. This clever synchronised movement between the pair caused problems for Manchester United and although it didn’t decide the game, it is certainly looking an extremely promising partnership for City this season.
These movements created a great balance for City in possession. They had width provided by the full backs and sometimes the ‘wingers’. They had numerical superiority in midfield with Nasri moving inside, Fernandinho and Toure in the middle and Aguero dropping off between the lines. They could play in tight spaces when United were deep or create space by moving the ball out wide. If they wanted to play on the counter they had good pace and mobility with Navas, Aguero and Nasri. If they wanted to play long they had the option of Negredo in the air. This variety of options made it extremely difficult for Manchester United and the game was over a few minutes into the second half.
It has already been analysed in several places about how Kolarov and Nasri took advantage of Valencia’s lack of concentration to get 2v1 situations on the left hand side but it is worth saying how cumbersome Ferdinand and Vidic looked at centre back throughout the game. Both were slow in their lateral covering and Ferdinand in particular, after playing three times in a week, didn’t have his greatest game at all.
MANCHESTER UNITED’S ATTACK (OR LACK OF IT)
At Everton, David Moyes was very keen on attacking using the wide areas. By the end of his time there he had created a solid system of attacking, based around a high tempo direct game, switching play to the wide areas and using the full backs and wingers to prime affect to create chances in the penalty area.
At the top level though there has to be a level of adapting and adding extra offensive options and tactics. In their loss to Liverpool earlier in the season, United had a clear problem in that they lacked a player between the lines and this slowed down their tempo on the ball, often either losing it in their own half or playing it long and wide, making it easier for Liverpool to control.
In this game, Manchester United again were concentrated too much on trying to create by using the wide areas, despite the fact that there was space for them to exploit in the middle. One of City’s system problems this season has been their lack of balance between the lines (as highlighted in the analysis of their win against Hull http://eplindex.wpengine.com/39034/manchester-city-20-hull-city-tactical-analysis.html). Here Moyes started Rooney and Welbeck up front, clearly thinking of Rooney’s ability on the ball and intelligence to find space off the front player, with Welbeck using his pace to get behind and/or create space for Rooney himself.
Rooney it has to be said had a lot of space throughout the match, both behind City’s midfield pairing and dropping off to the sides. However United were so concentrated on the wide areas that they failed to really take advantage of this. What’s more, Pellegrini clearly realised this before the match and it showed in the way City defended. His wide players, Nasri and Navas often stayed defending the sides, rather than closing the horizontal gaps between them and their central midfielders.
This meant there was space through the middle and yet there was so little creation in this area because United were too concentrated on creating through wing play and crosses. Again the question about Kagawa continues – he wasn’t necessarily an obvious starter here and there was a certain level of ‘logic’ behind Welbeck playing up front because of his pace but Manchester United, especially without Van Persie, could have done with exploiting the trade offs that City made in defence and using Rooney and Kagawa to create in the obvious space through the middle, both behind and to the sides of Toure and Fernandinho.
Manchester City dominated and controlled the game, with great balance in attack, supported by the movements inside to create numerical superiority in midfield, whilst at the same time creating space in the wide areas through the full backs. They still have weaknesses at controlling space through the middle but knew that they needed to prioritise defending the wide areas and made that trade off well.
United were second best throughout and should be worried by this performance and result. They were slow and lethargic defensively and poor in attack until the game was pretty much over at 4-0. Moyes needs to create better options offensively in his system and that surely must mean starting Kagawa somewhere along the line.