Tactical Analysis: Machester City 4-1 Manchester United

Looking back over the team sheets following Manchester City's 4-1 dismantling yesterday of Manchester United, I wondered if I should have been feeling as surprised as I was. There was a marked gulf in individual talent between the two sides, made all the more pronounced by Robin Van Persie's injury absence. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were nearly always better than the sum of their parts, largely because of SAF's ability to adjust his tactics to the opposition at hand. That may well yet happen under David Moyes but it isn't the case now. On Sunday City exposed United for what they were- a squad of good players up against a squad of mostly great ones.

Kompany closes down Rooney
City were much more dynamic in midfield and dominated as a result. Both teams played 4-4-2 with a withdrawn forward- Rooney for United and Aguero for City- playing off a more advanced #9- Welbeck and Negredo. As a result of both squads playing with two forwards, the battle in the middle of midfield was 2 v. 2- Fernandinho and Toure vs. Carrick and Fellaini. Both pairs of center midfielders would step towards one another defensively, leaving space between the lines in behind them.

In just the second minute of play Rooney was able to exploit this space, dropping off the City center backs and collecting a pass from Carrick with loads of room in front of him to run at the defense. He powered forward and slipped a menacing ball through to Welbeck but a poor first touch and slip let him down. You can see Rooney in space between the lines as the pass is being played to him by Carrick in the image below.

Fernandinho and Toure step towards Carrick and Fellaini- Rooney with too much space between the seams early on.
After allowing Rooney in that much space between the lines, City adapted their defensive shape, opting to have Kompany follow Rooney's runs into midfield and deny him the time to turn with the ball. The strategy was meant to prevent the England forward from collecting possession with the space to run at the defense and play penetrating balls through to Welbeck. At one point Kompany tracked Rooney 15 yards into United's half of the field.

While the strategy helped City in making Rooney less of a threat in the midfield gaps, it should have also opened up space for Welbeck to make diagonal runs into the space left open by Kompany's tracking. In the screen shot below, you can see the space in behind Kompany for Welbeck to make the diagonal run into. However, he fails to adequately react to Kompany's positioning and make the correct run. It's the type of run you'd almost certainly see Van Persie making.

Welbeck needs to be making the diagonal run in behind indicated by the yellow arrow when Kompany steps out to close down Rooney.
Nasri tucks inside
They key offensively for City was the positioning of Samir Nasri. He continually tucked inside from a starting position on the left- a role typically played by the injured David Silva. Nasri's movement into central areas achieved two things for City. Because the center midfield battle was 2 v. 2, it gave City a 3 v. 2 advantage in the middle of pitch and allowed them to control possession high up the field. It also opened up space for Aleksander Kolarov to overlap down the left wing from his fullback position.

City's opener came when Nasri collected possession down the left, ran at Chris Smalling and bought Kolarov enough time to make the overlapping run around the outside. Valencia's tracking of Kolarov was surprisingly poor and the Serbian left back was able to cross unimpeded for Aguero to tuck home.

Nasri was again involved for City's third goal. He again collected possession on the left and carried the ball in field. Kolarov made an overlapping run, forcing Smalling to follow him into a wide position and opening up space for Negredo to make a diagonal run towards the near post. Nasri picked him out with a well weighted pass before Negredo turned Vidic and crossed for Aguero to tap in. Fellaini should have either tracked the deep run of Aguero or given a shout to Ferdinand that Aguero was bursting in behind him.

City's fourth goal summed up both their own ruthlessness in the final third and United's incompetency in the same area. At one end of the pitch Ashley Young cheaply gave away possession on the edge of City's penalty area after Evra had gotten forward to overlap. Negredo was able to dart into the space down the right channel left vacated by Evra and collect an outlet pass from Kompany. He proceeded to dribble 60 yards to the end line unchallenged before playing a perfectly looped cross for Nasri to volley in.

United lack creativity
With Rooney being pressed by Kompany, United desperately lacked creativity elsewhere. They could have used a wide player like Nasri to tuck inside from the channels and provide an extra creative passer in the middle of the pitch. Young and Valencia are both out and out wingers that like to maintain wide positions and deliver crosses. United had probably set up to counter down the channels, as they had in big away fixtures last season, but the strategy simply wasn't working. With both Young and Valencia in the game, there's not enough creativity on the pitch to get in any sort of attacking rhythm when the counter isn't on. Moyes of course does have an incredibly creative attacking midfielder he could use wide on the left in Shinji Kagawa. Moyes used the Japanese international in United's midweek Champions League fixture home to Bayer Leverkusen and probably got it wrong not using him again here.

In the end 4-1 was no less than City deserved. While Rooney was excellent, Kompany's close tracking of him meant he had fewer opportunities to run at the defense and cause problems. United lacked anyone else to link play forward to Welbeck. A lack of creativity has been a recurring theme for Moyes' side at the start of the season. Kagawa may be the answer but doesn't seem to be a player Moyes trusts yet.

City were impressive in their ability to stretch the United defense and create overloads. Nasri's eagerness to tuck inside gave City a man advantage in central areas and allowed Kolarov to press forward dangerously down the left.