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Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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The past week has become a nightmare, but remember that it’s okay to cry sometimes.

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Everything hurts right now. There’s really not much to say to make any of us feel better so I’m not going to try. This week has gone about as bad as it possibly could have, and the way this match played out made it all the worse. Manchester City lost at home to bitter rivals Manchester United by a final score of 3-2 after a tantalizing first half teased us into think the title was all but won.

City played about as good as they have all season in the first half, creating chance after chance and holding United to zero shots. It looked like Pep Guardiola had played his cards perfectly and had adjusted to Jose Mourinho’s (somewhat unexpected) tactics. Mourinho, often criticized for his methodical and conservative gameplans, pushed his team forward and implemented an aggressive press and high backline. This may have been in response to the way Liverpool took care of City in the Champions League by taking the fight at the league leaders. City’s play out of the back was in peak form in the first 45 minutes and United’s press was mostly ineffective. Ander Herrera was tasked with marking David Silva to start, but Pep addressed this by pushing the Spaniard out wide left and tucking Leroy Sane into the inner channel of the wing.

This adjustment displaced Herrera and fullback Antonio Valencia enough for City to create space. Mourinho reverted back to a traditional three man midfield to prevent Herrera from getting pulled to far out of position but it didn’t hinder City’s attack. The space between the midfield and backline was often stretched for United and gave the Sky Blues too much space to operate. Pep had Bernardo Silva, then Raheem Sterling, play as a false nine which was very effective in occupying United’s center back. This all resulted in 2 first half goals, the first of which came from a corner where Vincent Kompany just manhandled Chris Smalling while the second came from a quick buildup from a United turnover, culminating in a wonderful turn and goal from Ilkay Gundogan.

Raheem Sterling did miss the frame on two great chances where he was basically one on one with David de Gea. Thinking back on these opportunities makes this game all the more frustrating, because going up 3-0 might have been the final blow. Nevertheless, City went into halftime two goals up and we were all counting our chickens before they hatch so to speak.

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Then the second half started, and it was pretty much the manifestation of a freight train continually derailing for 45 minutes.

For as good as City were in the first half, they were equally bad in the second half. I still do not totally understand what happened.

Long story short, United dominated, scoring three second half goals and ultimately taking all three points. Jose Mourinho didn’t make any changes at halftime, though you could argue maybe he should have (I guess we’re not in a position to criticize him right now though). However, he did adjust his attack slightly, pushing Romelu Lukaku out to the right and tucking Jesse Lingard, who was invisible in the first half, inside. Lukaku is clearly a great hold up player and he was able to do so with much more ease against Fabian Delph than Kompany or Nicolas Otamendi.

Mourinho also freed up Pogba to make attacking runs from the midfield, and with the center of the pitch mostly vacated with Lukaku out wide, the City backline was stretched out and vulnerable. Alexis Sanchez made runs from his nominal left wing into the center of pitch, allowing United to shift possession into dangerous space quickly after Lukaku was able to settle on the right.

Pogba scored two goals within two minutes to reset the scoreline and flip this game on its head. The first was a great team goal from United and I wouldn’t even consider it terrible defending by City. But a lot of what happened after that goal I would consider terrible defending. City completely failed to track runners on both the second and third goals, with Chris Smalling somehow unmarked on a set piece that resulted in the game-winner.


Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The most concerning part of how this game was just how rattled Manchester City appeared to be the moment adversity struck. We’ve been generally spoiled this season with how good this team has been all year where they’ve had a relatively easy go of it in most situations. Maybe the lack of adversity throughout the season failed to prepare this team for tough times when they do come up like they have in the past week. Any self doubt they had after the Liverpool should have been wiped cleaned from the first half, but perhaps Pogba’s first let some doubt creep back into their collective mind.

United, a team not used to pressing like this, also may have adapted to the tactics as the game progressed and the second half was because it finally clicked. Honestly, who knows what happened but that was some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nonsense out there. Pep tried to fix it by bringing on Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, and Sergio Aguero in the second half, going with two up top but nothing truly clicked like you would expect. Sterling did hit the post late and de Gea made a fantastic save late that goes in nine times out of ten against most keepers, but even if this game ended in a draw the vibe still would have been all off.

There’s clearly going to be a lot of criticism about the refereeing in this match and I agree with all of it, but I’m not going to go into that here for the sake of my sanity because if start ranting I’m scared I may never stop until the inevitable heart attack occurs. So that’s that.

Overall, this game is a real bummer and everything sucks. Not only did Manchester City not clinch the title in the sweetest way but they also put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth going into the second leg of Champions League where they have to be as close to flawless as possible to survive. A win against United would have been a great chaser to the drubbing City took against Liverpool and it was for 45 minutes before evolving into yet another punch to the gut. On the bright side, this team is still going to win the Premier League at some point. I don’t care how bad they looked, they are not going to drop 13 points in six games. So with that in mind, stay strong City fans.