Manchester City 1, Manchester United 0: Tactics

Sergio Aguero - Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League

Manchester City won their fourth straight Manchester Derby on Sunday, beating Manchester United 1-0 with the lone goal coming from Sergio Aguero. The game-changing event was Chris Smalling’s red card. As such, we’ve broken down our tactical analysis of this into two sections: before the red card and after it.

BEFORE THE RED CARD

Di Maria Kept in Check

Angel Di Maria did not play well. He only had 67% passing, 0 takes ons, and all of his chances created were crosses that never looked to trouble the defense. Statistically, he was below average. On the season, he has 79% passing and averages 2.2 take ons per 90. City did an excellent job at limiting Di Maria’s time on the ball, always having one or more players close to him when he received the ball. This led to Di Maria rarely having a chance to make the plays he wanted. In this image, Di Maria was forced to made a sideways and unthreatening pass. Meanwhile, Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas’ pressing led to Di Maria forcing a pass that was easily intercepted by Martin Demichelis.

Navas v. Shaw

City tried to get Luke Shaw in 1-on-1 situations with the pacey Jesus Navas. This screenshot shows Navas and Shaw just after Navas has received the ball. Navas spent nine seconds on the ball trying to beat Shaw before playing in an errant cross. Shaw did a good job facing Navas: the Spanish international went for 0-for-9 on crosses. Even though United was using Antonio Valencia, not a natural RB, there was less focus on directly targeting him with James Milner. This might have something to do with the fact that Milner is slower than Valencia.

Fellaini’s Attacking Positioning

Marouane Fellaini bombed forward a lot more often than Daley Blind. Almost 75% of Daley Blind’s touches came in the United half of the pitch, while Fellaini’s touches were about equal between the two halves of the pitch. There were numerous instances when United was in possession where Fellaini had a more advanced role than Rooney. Rooney also took more touches in United’s defensive third than Fellaini.

AFTER THE RED CARD

Di Maria’s Position Change

Angel Di Maria’s position changed significantly following the red card. Before Chris Smalling was sent off, he had 42% of his touches down the left wing, with 58% coming in the middle. After the red card, Di Maria abandoned the left wing, taking just 5% of his touches there. His other 95% was almost evenly distributed between the center of the pitch and the right wing. This was a product of Adnan Januzaj’s substitution for Michael Carrick. With a man down, everyone has to cover more ground. But Di Maria had to put in the most extra effort of anyone for United.

Yaya Toure Bossing

Everyone on Manchester City enjoyed more attacking freedom following the red card. That was no truer than in the case of Yaya Toure. Before the red card, Toure had 21 touches in 39 minutes, or .53 touches per minute. After the red card, Toure had 60 touches in 61 minutes or basically 1 touch per minute. Toure also found himself in more forward positions after the red card, as 70% of those 60 touches were past the halfway line. Additionally, 27 of Toure’s 30 passes into the attacking third came after the red card. Most importantly, Toure made the pass that led to Clichy’s assist on Aguero’s goal.

The Milner Substitution 

United’s big attacking surge towards the end of the game coincided with James Milner’s substitution for Samir Nasri. It was a subpar decision from Manuel Pellegrini. Milner is someone had performed well to that point, and whose high defensive work rate was perfect to keep in the game for City. He would’ve been able to continue to be involved in City’s attacks while also tracking back and putting in full effort defensively. If Pellegrini wanted to bring on Nasri, Navas going off made more sense. As mentioned above, he failed to perform well against Shaw.

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About Jordan Katz

Journalism student at the University of Maryland.
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