Tactical Analysis | How Manchester City exposed Man United's weaknesses in centre of midfield

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Tactical Analysis | How Manchester City exposed Man United's weaknesses in centre of midfield

The Pep vs Mourinho rivalry was renewed in a pulsating clash between the two Manchester sides as City won the tie 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Pep Guardiola's men made a strong statement for their title challenge by defeating Jose Mourinho's  Manchester United 1-2 with a brilliant first half display. City made sure that Sergio Aguero's was not missed as the attacking trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito and Kelechi Iheanacho stepped up to the occasion by exposing United's defensive flaws.

How they started:

Manchester City (4-3-3):Claudio Bravo(GK); Bacary Sagna, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Aleksander Kolarov; David Silva, Fernandinho, Kevin de Bruyne; Nolito, Raheem Sterling, Kelechi Iheanacho

Following Sergio Aguero's suspension, Pep Guardiola started with City's youth graduate Kelechi Iheanacho to lead the line while his rotation of fullbacks continued with Aleksander Kolarov and Bacary Sagna replacing Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta. But the Catalan will be thankful for the City's defence after new signing Claudio Bravo's howlers presented Manchester United with multiple scoring opportunities.

Iheanacho paid back the faith put in him by scoring off a Kevin De Bruyne rebound in the 36th minute while Kolarov and Sagna's strong displays should give Pep ideas about his starting line up for the rest of the season.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea(GK); Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw; Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini; Henirkh Mkhitaryan, Wayne Rooney, Jesse Lingard; Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Jose Mourinho's idea of surprising the opposition by starting Jesse Lingard in place of Antony Martial backfired as the winger looked out of touch and had to be replaced after half time. Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan who replaced Juan Mata at the other flank of the attack did not look convincing as the former Dortmund winger made way for Ander Herrera after the first half.

Targeting Valencia pays City dividends:

A typical Guardiola team starts slowly by passing the ball short around the back line before settling in as the game progresses. But Saturday's game was opposite to this approach as City kicked off things at a frantic pace. They repeatedly targeted the left wing giving Antonio Valencia very little chance to move forward. As a result, United's chances on the far right, contributed mostly by the defender's crosses also dried up.


Attackers Nolito and Silva repeatedly switched positions out on the left flank giving Valencia and the United defence a torrid time, while Kevin De Bruyne also drifted wide, drawing the defenders out of position. De Bruyne was clearly the best player on the pitch with his brilliant movement, often testing the United back line with his runs and trickery. While United tried to employ similar tactics in the second half by pressing City higher up the pitch, they were unable to break a disciplined City defence.

Pogba and Fellaini's midfield pairing exposed:

Despite kicking off their league campaign in spectacular fashion with three straight wins, the midfield pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba did not look convincing. The fact that both the players were attack-minded midfielders do not help against sides like Manchester City who try to pin opposition in their own half. Pogba and Fellaini finished the match with a pass success of 78 and 79 percent respectively, whereas their counterpart Fernandinho, with a success rate of 88 percent, marshalled the troops brilliantly with his efficient passing.

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Among the two, Fellaini was guilty of poor positioning as he was dispossessed twice in the opening half allowing City to exploit the spaces he left behind. His passing only resulted in slowing United's momentum on the counter attack. Mourinho realized this mistake by the half time and introduced Ander Herrera for more composure in the centre giving Pogba freedom to roam upfront. Despite capturing fluidity with a 4-3-3 positional shift after this change, United were unable to break City's defence which stood firm throughout the second half.

Individual errors = Assists

After fluffing a good set piece from outside the box, Aleksander Kolarov launched a brilliant cross-field ball which was met by Iheanacho mid-air, and the teenager guided the ball into open space created between Daley Blind and Eric Bailly. Kevin De Bruyne reacted quickly to capitalize on the poor positioning of Daley Blind and finished calmly past a scampering David De Gea to give City the lead in the 14th minute. 


Blind was once again at fault for City's second goal in the 35th minute. Kevin De Bruyne received the ball on the right side and drifted in with the ball. The United defence pushed up as the Belgian took a shot at the far post but Blind was not in sync with the rest of the defence. He stayed back and played Iheanacho on side.The unexpected rebound off the pole fell at the legs of the striker who calmly put the ball past the goalkeeper.

It was not only United who gifted their opponents with goals, City debutant Claudio Bravo, who had a torrid time between the sticks, made a lot of errors and caused panic in an otherwise solid City defence. Rooney's free kick at the end of the first half could've been calmly collected or punched away, but Bravo's misjudgement only led to him clattering into John Stones, and he failed to clear the ball out of danger. Instead it fell kindly for Zlatan Ibrahimovic inside the box, and the Swede made sure that City paid for this mix up by scoring what turned out to be United's consolation goal. Bravo, who looked shaken with this mistake, then missed a couple of touches and within few minutes, he allowed United another chance at an open goal—this time due to a miscommunication with Sagna—but Ibrahimovic's tame shot was cleared off the line by Stones.

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