Manchester United came into the Manchester Derby with a plan and left with three points as Jesse Lingard stole the show in a brilliant hybrid winger-playmaker-midfielder role. Van Gaal also got it spot on with the team selection, picking a young pacy attack, supported by a perfect mix in midfield.
Even as Manchester City qualified for their maiden Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday night, it came at a cost. Both Nicolas Otamendi and skipper Vincent Kompany left the pitch injured, and Pellegrini had no choice but to start with Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis as his central defensive pairing. Mangala is 25, Demichelis 35. But that isn’t what makes this a nightmarish central pairing. The fact that Mangala is clumsy on the ball and has the knack of gifting possession at any instance combined with Demichelis’ heavy legs and sluggishness in the tackle, meant the Manchester United attackers were in for a treat. While Mangala had a decent game on the night, Demichelis’ commitment in the tackle led to Marcus Rashford’s winner. If that was not enough, the Argentine’s unnecessary backpass saw the end of Joe Hart’s night.
Demichelis committing himself as Rashford dribbles past him with the City midfield almost out of frame
Throughout the game, every time the City midfield was by-passed, United looked like they might score. Such was the brittleness of City’s backline. Mangala-Demichelis left massive gaps all along and are probably the last two players who could play in tandem on a football field. Pellegrini would be hoping Otamendi recovers from his injury across the international break and he is never shorthanded again to play Mangala and Demichelis together.
When Louis van Gaal named his starting eleven against Liverpool in the Europa League last Thursday, fans and pundits were left aghast at the absence of Morgan Schneiderlin. The Dutch manager probably heard them all and started with Morgan in the derby, alongside Michael Carrick and Juan Mata in midfield. Two very good passers and one high-energy all-action midfielder were led by three fast, pacy, young athletes. The plan? Counter attack. Carrick and Mata’s passing needs no introduction, so the idea was to dispossess Man City no matter how far back on the pitch and then release the front men with minimal passing. Carrick had 64 touches of the ball, more than any other United player and was the reason behind the grip United managed to hold in the first half.
Jesse Lingard's hybrid role proved to be the difference in the game
In the front three, while Rashford stole the headlines and Martial continued to show flashes of his still-raw skillset, it was Jesse Lingard who was the most impressive. With the support of Mata on the right, he drifted in centrally, moved to the left to receive the ball and played like a hybrid winging-playmaker and not a play-making winger. He would come infield often and occupy the #10 position leaving the left-back Clichy at sea, unsure of who to mark. Lingard’s move to the central areas was, in part, an effort to tighten the nooze on Man City’s midfield with 4 players compared to City’s two. This single-handedly meant United were in control of the match for the large parts.
This probably comes as a result of the previous point or is also a cause for it in itself. Yes, Manchester United stifled the central parts of the pitch providing Man City’s creative players with little room to breathe. But then again, where were City’s creative players? Raheem Sterling started sharp and bright but was taken off injured, and Man City found themselves playing with Yaya Toure in attacking midfield. David Silva who has started to look like a shadow of himself was drifting to the left and hardly had an impact on the game. The biggest problem however was the lack of overlapping runs. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy made a combined six successful overlapping runs in the whole match. In City’s two recent league-winning seasons, Zabaleta and one of Kolarov/Clichy used to provide the threat when the wide players drifted in. Not on this occasion. In fact Sergio Aguero had to drop deep into his own half and drift right so as to get the ball and drive the side forward. Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure looked blunt and attempted shots on target without creating much, and this is where Man City miss their summer signing Kevin de Bruyne. Pellegrini has to sort this rut before it becomes a proper downslide and playing either Bony in attack or Nasri from the wings might be his best shot at resolving the lack of ideas in the side presently.