Don't Miss

Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City: Tactical Analysis


In the first Manchester derby this season, Manchester United played a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lingard, Rooney and Mikhitaryan supported the lone striker Ibrahimovic. Pogba and Fellaini form the two-men central midfield to protect the defense. Mourinho’s team stayed as 4-2-3-1 in any phases in the first half, forming a two-layers 2-3 midfield.

Manchester City fielded a 4-3-3 formation, with Iheanacho replacing Auguero as the lone striker, supported by two inverted wingers in Sterling and Nolito. In the midfield, Fernandinho played the central defensive midfielder role. He often dropped back slightly in front the two center backs in the build-up. This arrangement is flexible in which Fernandinho, Otamendi and Stones would often swap positions. The two fullbacks would push forward to the midfield, forming a 3-4-3 formation.picture1


In the previous matches, the fullbacks of the Manchester City often shifted inward in front of the central defensive midfielder. However they did not use such tactic in this match.

Mourinho’s Strategy

Mourinho’s strategy in this game was simple: To force City’s error and to counter-attack. A key to their strategy is to have a veryquick defense-to-offense transition. Pogba’s physicality and skills are best suited for this tactic.

Defensively, United mostly played a man-marking system. Only two players and De Gea did not have to man mark any specific player: 1, Ibrahimovic did not have to specifically mark City’s center backs. 2, Blind was often the spare man in the defense that aimed for the interception.picture2

This is probably due to his excellent tactical awareness. His duty would swap with Bailly (whose main duty was to mark Iheanacho) when necessary. It is reasonable to believe that the goal of such tactic was to ensure that there would always be more United defenders than City attackers in their defensive third. The spare defender would help tackle the ball handlers or intercept any passes aiming to the box.

Another point to note is thatMikhitaryan and Lingard had two assignments in the defensive phase. During City’s build-up, they were often tasked to mark Kolarov or Sagna. However, if the ball were passed to Nolito or Sterling in the attacking third, Mikhitaryan or Lingard would often abandon Kolarov and Sterling to help Valencia or Shaw in a 2v1 situation.picture3


The location of the ball often dictated what Mikhitaryan and Lingard had to do in the defensive phase. Mourinho wanted to eliminate the situation where their full backs would defend against City’s wing in a 1vs1, something that Guardiola’s teams often tries to take advantage of.

Guardiola’s Strategy

Guardiola’s team seemed to anticipate some of Mourinho’s strategies in this game. First, City often built up their attacks on their left hand side, opposite to Pogba. This is very obvious by looking at their passes in the attacking third .picture4

There were a lot of passes going to City’s left hand side compared to the right hand side. This is achieved by the constant surging of Kolarov. There were a lot more passes received by Kolarov than Sagna .picture5

This was not seen in previous City’s game (if you compare the passes in the attacking third from this game and City’s game against West Ham). This would minimize the counter attack opportunities for United ifPogba intercepts the ball.

City also minimized the situation where United’s full backs and wingers would trap their wingers in a 2v1. The constant surging of Kolarov would provide an extra man in attack. Moreover, Nolito (or less frequently with Sterling) would often cut back inside as an inverted winger early instead of going all the way to the by-line and cross. This is supported by how few crosses City had attempted in the whole game. By turning inside, City’s wingers wouldface only one defender instead of two.

Manchester’s United Defensive Struggle

In the first half City had a lot of successes attacking the space between the lines. Many of the balls were delivered from the left hand side and reached De bruyne. City’s insistence to attack on the left hand side means that most of the balls were delivered from this side. However, several other factors also contributed to their successes: 1, City’s build-up from Otamendi encountered very few resistance. Rooney’s major defensive duty in the first half was to man mark Fernandinho. However, Fernandinho would often drop to the back line. Instead it was Otamendiwho was tasked to carry the ball forward. Considering Ibrahimovic also did not need to mark any of the center backs, it means that Otamendi could carry the ball all the way past the half-line without any resistance.picture6

This becomes a major problem for United because Otamendi became the extra man to recycle / circulate the ball. Making matter worse, when the ball reached Nolito in the final third, Mikhitaryan would often abandon Kolarov to double mark Nolito with Valencia. In turn, City often had two extra men to pass the balls. United was constantly “under-men” in this side. This gave City’s players a lot of time and space to control possession or to pinpoint a splitting pass to De bruyne or Sterling

The rigid man-marking scheme by United created another problem for United’s defense: the lack of compactness. This was most obvious when United pressed City. The rigid 1-to-1 marking by United’s players stretched and increased the vertical distance between the players .picture7

This is also true horizontally. While mainly attacking in the left hand side, Sterling often stayed close to the sideline on the opposite side .picture8

Shaw would often stayed close to Sterling. Therefore, the distance between United’s defenders was also stretched. The rigid 1-to-1 marking by United created a lot of space for City’s players to penetrate.

City further exploited the lack of compactness in United’s defense in two following ways. First, Iheanacho’s “dummy” run often created a large gap in United’s defense. Iheanacho did not play like a striker in this game.picture9

Instead he played more like a false-9 where he often dropped back to the middle third. However he did not move there to try to receive the balls or to help penetrating the United’s defense through passing the ball. A major function of his “dummy” run was to drag his marker (mostly Bailly but sometimes Blind) out and therefore create a gap in the defense.picture10

Although the first goal came from his header pass to De bruyne, this was not the norm. Most often Iheanacho only drifted out and to create a space for De bruyne or Sterling to attack.

Secondly, Pogba was a horrible defensive midfielder in this game. His lack of awareness about the blindside movement of De bruyneled to numerous opportunities for De bruyne to receive the ball in the final third, where he would face directly to United’s defenders right outside of the box.picture11


In the first goal Pogba just suddenly stopped chasing De Bruyne. Another problem Pogba had is his slowness in offense-to-defense transition. Eager to attack, he often stayed in an advanced position relative to his other teammates during the offensive phase. However, when United lost the ball, Pogba did not return to his position quickly enough .picture13 picture14

His lack of awareness during defensive phase and his slow offense-to-defense transition allowed De Bruyne to roam through United’s defense freely.

In the second half, Mourinho made several adjustments to fix some of United’s problem in the defense. A key of substitution was to introduce Herrera. Upon his introduction, United would play a 4-1-4-1 formation in their defensive phase with Herrera as the sole defensive midfielder.picture15

Herrera was not tasked to man mark anyone. Instead, he became the “sweeper” for their midfield, clearing and intercepting any balls that penetrated their midfield. He also tackled any City’s player that got away from their marker. Such formation brought great stability for Manchester defense.

United also played a more aggressive high press against city in the second half. When they pressed high, Herrera was often attack the ball handler. The goal was to disrupt City’s build-up, which was so successful against them in the first half. They also aimed for more long balls to Ibrahimovic. Although initially successful, these adjustments were countered effectively by Guardiola. The insertion of Fernando provided a lot more physical presence to counter Ibrahimovic. With Fernando sitting at the back, Fernandinho could also moved up and also help City to stop United’s delivery to the box.

Tactical analysis by Fobster Ho. If you’re interested for more check this blog :> https://tacticalanalysisforjuventusfans.wordpress.com/


One Comment

  1. Pingback: Pjanic vs Pogba | Tactics discussion platform for all Juventus and Serie A fans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *