x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Manchester City v Manchester United: Winning midfield battle is key

Ahead of the match at Etihad Stadium, Jonathan Wilson analyses the tactical approaches of both teamsin the past four Manchester derbies.

Yaya Toure, front, and Paul Scholes tussle for the ball during the corresponding Premier League fixture at Etihad Stadium last season. Andrew Yates / AFP
Yaya Toure, front, and Paul Scholes tussle for the ball during the corresponding Premier League fixture at Etihad Stadium last season. Andrew Yates / AFP

Ahead of the match at Etihad Stadium, Jonathan Wilson analyses the tactical approaches of both teamsin the past four Manchester derbies.

 

Community Shield, 7 August, 2011; Manchester United 3 Manchester City 2

There was little in the opening game of last season to hint at how the balance of power in Manchester would shift over the months to come. United had been the more fluent, even in the first half, and yetthey found themselves 2-0 down at half time.

Edin Dzeko had demonstrated his effectiveness but City essentially looked - as they often do - a collection of individuals rather than a team. As they opened up in the second half, particularly after Tom Cleverley had come on for Michael Carrick to dictate from centre midfield, there was great verve and freedom in United's play; Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney offering a flexible front two as Nani and Ashley Young drifted in from the flanks.

The second goal, scored by Nani after a stunning passing move, made it look like United might be reignite the style of play that had won them the Champions League in 2007/08; they never quite hit those heights again.

Premier League, 23 October, 2011; Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6

Essentially the two formations matched up with the usual individual duels you would expect when 4-4-2 meets 4-4-2: wide midfielder against wide midfielder, centre-back against centre-forward and so on.

Without a passer - a Paul Scholes or a Cleverley - in central midfield, United struggled for fluency, while City took control largely because of the energy of Micah Richards charging forward from right-back to create an extra man in midfield.

It was notable as well that James Milner appeared on both flanks, and it was his combination with David Silva, overloading Chris Smalling to create the opener for Mario Balotelli.

The game turned, though, on the sending off of Jonny Evans for a foul on Balotelli shortly after half time. That increased City's control of midfield and, as United gambled in the hunt for goals, they were overrun. City full deserved the win - but 6-1 rather overstated their superiority.

FA Cup third round, 8 January 2012; Manchester City 2 Manchester United 3

With Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry both unavailable, City started with a triangle in midfield: Milner and Nigel de Jong deep in midfield, with Silva operating just in front.

United, who had sprung a major surprise by tempting Scholes out of retirement and giving him a place on the bench, at times looked like they would be overpowered but their passing in midfield was good enough to expose De Jong, whose uncertain display perhaps suggested just how much he needed cover.

Rooney had already put United ahead when Vincent Kompany was sent off after 12 minutes and as United raced into a 3-0 lead by half time, revenge for the 6-1 seemed possible.

But Mancini switched to a back three, who dealt well with Rooney and Welbeck, and played four in midfield; the two wing-backs, Aleksandar Kolarov and Milner driving United's wide midfielders back on to the full-backs. It nearly worked as well, goals from Kolarov and Sergio Aguero getting the score back to 3-2.

Premier League, 30 April 2012; Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0

Forget the scoreline: City were utterly dominant. They outmuscled United in midfield and although their only goal came as Kompany headed in a Samir Nasri corner, they were comfortably the better side, perhaps more in control than they had been in the 6-1 victory.

United's three-man midfield, all of them over 30, were made to look pedestrian compared to the power and energy of Yaya Toure, Barry and Carlos Tevez. Rooney's deployment as a lone striker meant he could not drop back to help his midfield and cut an isolated figure up front.

With - presumably - Robin van Persie included today, Rooney should be better able to adjust his position according to how the game is going.

It is hard to remember such an insipid United performance in such a big game - although the drama of the final day where City clinched the title with the last kick of the season against Queens Park Rangers was still to come, this was the match that decided the title.

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