Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City Talking Points


AUTHOR: – Doron

What better way to bounce back from a defeat than by beating your local rivals? This game was far from easy for United and despite not being at their fluent best, some individual performances and moments stood out to help get three points. A well taken Nani finish and a sublime overhead kick from Wayne Rooney was enough to see off Manchester City – who now trail United by eight points having played a game more. Below are the main talking points from the match.

Talking Points

Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic

With Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans out of the game, Fergie confirmed on Friday that he’d be turning to Chris Smalling. Personally, I’d hinted caution in my match preview saying I’d go with experience and select Brown; but few could deny that Smalling had deserved a chance. Furthermore, he appears to be comfortable lining up next to Vidic. To prove just how inexperienced Smalling is playing for United in the Premier League, the table below shows that he’s only played 315mins of league football this season (and impressively United have only conceded twice whilst he’s been on the pitch):

Click on diagrams to enlarge

It had been suggested that United’s defence may have it easy today but we warned fans that the inclusion of David Silva would add some attacking dimension to the City side – something they lacked at the Emirates. Certainly City didn’t ‘park the bus’ and United would have to defend well to keep City at bay. It would be Smalling who everyone would be raving about after the game – it was a performance from him that one would expect from someone older and more experienced. However, Vidic too was as usual, immense:

Tackles won (blue) by Smalling and Vidic

Interceptions made by Smalling and Vidic

The fact that between Smalling and Vidic, 8 interceptions were made is brilliant. Reading the game is something so often associated with Rio Ferdinand but in his absence, this new partnership excelled. Aerially, both were flawless but it was Smalling’s calmness and composure on the ball that impressed me today. Nearly 85% of Smalling’s passes were completed successfully today and on a couple of occasions he showed his impressive vision as he produced some excellent cross field balls – the cross field ball from a centre back is something United benefited from a lot with Silvestre, since him no one has been quite as good.

Chris Smalling passing

City’s goal, although probably deserved on the balance of play, was in fact lucky in the way it arrived (via a big deflection). With the exception of a Silva chance in the opening few minutes, City rarely had good opportunities to get in behind the two centre backs. It was in December that I said that the performance against Arsenal was defensively brilliant; but today the Vidic/Smalling partnership probably eclipsed that – it was the strong reliable foundation that lead to a win and three points.

Midfield trio

If there was one thing pretty much guaranteed before today’s game, it was that City would play three players in the centre of the pitch. Gareth Barry and James Milner held a deep roles whilst Yaya Toure was able to push up a bit higher. When defending, they’d all be behind the ball though. With the centre of the pitch so congested, United clearly had to get the ball out wide. When looking at the chalkboards for Fletcher, Anderson and Scholes; it’s obvious to see that Giggs and Nani were often the targets.

Darren Fletcher passing

Anderson passing

Paul Scholes passing

When looking at the chalkboards it becomes clear just how well United kept the ball in such a tight central area. Scholes, who probably had one of his quieter games, continuously changed the focal point of the United attack, stretching out the City central midfielders to create space for someone else in the middle. Each player played their part – Anderson put in some cutting passes and did well to close down opponents; whilst Fletcher was everywhere – chasing and harrying – after being criticised in some quarters lately he put in a very good performance.

I left Old Trafford today thinking that in David Silva, I’d seen one brilliant footballer. His movement was superb both on and off the ball – at times he almost looked a step ahead of his team-mates. Yaya Toure also stood out, I was surprised at how well he used the ball. I was even more shocked when I compared the two sets of three central midfielders that started for the two teams:

I wasn’t surprised that City made more passes than United in this area of the pitch but I was surprised by how high the United average was for successful passing given that the midfield trio were attempting more ambitious longer passes than their City counterparts. It goes to show how using and keeping the ball is so important, especially if you can regularly find the wingers like United did.

That goal, some luck and some top blocking

In a game of few clear-cut opportunities (particularly for United) it seemed unlikely that one would suddenly present itself as 80 minutes approached. Rooney’s winning goal, hardly an easy chance, was though one of the few times he had any space in the box. The outstanding Kompany for once in the game wasn’t aware of where Rooney was; add to that a tiny shuffle backwards from Wayne before striking the ball and he had a good couple of yards all around him. Truth be told, it wasn’t a good cross in from Nani, certainly it would have had to have been a pretty special header from that position to beat Hart had the cross been a good one. There’s no point trying to describe how Rooney scored – watching it is the only way that one can appreciate it:

Fergie would tell MUTV and Sky after the game: “I haven’t seen anything like it before, that’s for sure. It was absolutely stunning, unbelievable.” – he hinted it was the best goal he’d seen at Old Trafford. Do you agree? Rooney himself has scored some special goals (Newcastle comes to mind); Berbatov of course has a few scissor kicks; Ronaldo’s free kick vs Pomepy etc – for me, Scholes vs. Panathinaikos is the best I’ve seen.

Luck’s a funny thing. United could have and should have been behind in the opening minutes. David Silva, played in by Tevez and onside by Vidic somehow put the ball wide from just yards out. It was easily the best chance of the game. It was also luck that helped United take the lead. With Rooney’s wonder goal; Nani’s touch to control the excellent ball from Giggs and then his finish may go overlooked; but in the build-up to the goal, Lescott wins a header against Rooney but Rooney had done just enough to ensure the ball wouldn’t go where Lescott wanted it to and instead it rolled straight into the path of Giggs who could play in Nani.

Nani himself had a busy game. In the first half he was United’s most dangerous player and despite a quieter second half he remained the man the side looked to for inspiration. We were critical of Nani’s shooting post-Birmingham but then praised his improvement in accuracy post-Aston Villa. It would be easy to be critical again after only getting 33% of his efforts on target yesterday but again luck played its part, this time against United. Nani’s four efforts off target, were all from outside the area and all very close to the frame of the goal. Clearly Nani is very confident right now and shooting off his left or right foot appears to be no problem. City’s defenders, particularly Zabaleta had little idea of which way he’d go and on another day Nani could have easily had more than just his one goal.

It wasn’t just luck that restricted City to 3 efforts on target out of 14 (one of those 3 being the goal, a shot that was heading wide until a fortunate deflection). Certainly hitting 3 shots off target from within 10 yards of goal is lucky for United (see the red dots below); but United’s top defending contributed to City’s lousy ‘efforts-on-target’ ratio.

City shots on goal

The six dark grey dots above represent blocked shots. Whether it was poor shooting that meant efforts were hit at United players or United players scrambling to block a shot; the men were back behind the ball and in the right places to make sure City couldn’t get a shot in to trouble Edwin van der Sar. City created more chances than United and had a real intensity about their attacking play as they always tried to get men into the box. As it has been so many times his season, the defence held solid – it was just some bad luck that took away a clean sheet.

Match Conclusion

United started off slow, which gave City incentive to push on and the visitors created a glorious opportunity for David Silva, who shot wide after being one on one with Edwin Van der Sar. City were more attacking than they were at the Emirates last month, something that we blogged about in the week leading up to the match. Zabaleta and Richards did push on and play higher up the pitch – however this was partially due to the slow tempo of United.

As the game went on United started to find their feet, with Nani tormenting Zabaleta on the right hand side, whilst Giggs played a number of crosses into the box from the left. The two wide men combined for the first goal, after a long punt down field from Edwin Van der Sar, the ball dropped to Giggs who played in the Portuguese winger. Nani plucked the ball out of the air superbly before accelerating away from the fullback and tucking a left footed shot passed the helpless Hart. United went into the break 1-0 up.

City’s goal was a result of a Dzeko shot that deflected off David Silva following a low cross by substitute Shaun Wright Phillips. Sir Alex Ferguson brought on Dimitar Berbatov immediately as United shifted to 4-4-2. As the game approached the final ten minutes, Wayne Rooney scored the winner after converting a breathtaking overhead kick. The game ended 2-1, with United now having a two week Premier League break until the next fixture against Wigan Athletic on 26th February.

AUTHOR: – Doron

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14 Comments on Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City Talking Points

  1. Nice article mate. Do you think Smalling could have done better with the City goal? I mean Dzeko should not have been allowed time for the shot inside the box. Not complaining though. Smalling impressed me massively as the game progressed.

  2. @Theatre0fDreams – I don’t know, I think that’s a bit harsh on Smalling. It wasn’t as if Dzeko had time to control the ball wait and hit it, he hit an instinctive shot and was just first to react to a scuffed cross. Probably not!

  3. I’d be interested to hear what cutting passes thoe were that anderson seem to carry out . i get the feeling that your retrospectively trying to justify his poor perfromace. don’t get me wrong the midfield three on the whole were quite poor. i mean even as a huge scholes fan some of his passing was rather erratic by his standards. fletcher was much improved from his very poor from this season.Now i don;t believe stats usually show everything( im not summerbee in disguise lol)but since you have included them anderson’s don’t really helping his cause and for someone who supposedly likes/want’s to play the trequatista role his first touch his poor, his stamina is lacking and his understanding of the role/spatial awareness is sadly lacking. in still not convinced . A few good perfomances does not a player make especially for someone who wants to start week in week out at a top club. ( please don’t use the nani excuse/comparison as their totally different scenarios not to mention nani’s consistency over last 12/14 months is extraordinary)

  4. John – thanks for your comments…on at least 4 occasions Anderson played a ball in behind the full back setting up either Evra, Giggs or Nani (when he and Giggs had switched flanks) to put in a cross in space. I think it’s a tad harsh to say Anderson was poor. For sure he wasn’t brilliant but he was deployed in the same role he played against Arsenal – to harry and hassle the deepest of City’s midfielders (Milner and Barry) – which I thought he did a good job of.

    Quite right stats don’t show everything – David Silva was much much better than his stats show (they’ve not been included). Let’s get one thing straight though, Anderson certainly wasn’t playing the role of the trequartista. Anderson’s primary role as I said was be the first player to close down and try to win the ball from Barry/Milner – you need only to look at the tackles he made and what area of the pitch he made them. Yes, his stamina is lacking but he’s also not fully fit, both he and Fergie have said his knee still isn’t right.

    I can tell you’re not a fan of Anderson but as a Man United blog it’s positive to be seen to be trying to back our players than tearing them apart and criticising them. You’ll see on our “talking points” from other games that we have been critical of individuals when they’ve been poor but the role Anderson played yesterday involved doing a lot of ‘unseen’ work – certainly it was very visible from the stands how hard he’d worked to close players down.

    Anderson’s problem as I blogged pre-season is that we don’t have a role/position for him – we keep playing him in different ways and that can’t help him. Presuming you’d rather see Anderson succeed than fail, how would you play him? In what role? Who does he play best with? – his best performances this year have come with Carrick (IMO) but they’ve not been selected together recently.

  5. Well barring we watching the entire game again i won’t be able to comment on those passes( but i will take your word for it :-).)see i personally don’t believe is harsh. don’t get me wrong im not laying the blame entirely at his door , the central midfield as a whole was too cumbersome and bypassed quite easily ( not the first time this season and i know a whole new topic but a good indicator of our terrible performaces away from home)

    i agree with the role he was asked to play and it’s been one used before like you stated on a number of ocassions over last year or so ( valencia away, chelsea and essien last season)but too me that says everything and is part of the problem .In big games i dont think the boss is comfortable using him in the central 2 part of a three man midfield beacause he is too profligate in possession and doing so is suicidal in those positions but further up means you still have your shape behind.

    Well today he didn;y but many a time ive been told that,it his favoured position and where he played previously which is why i mentioned it because if that is the case the improvemnet will have to be SIGNIFICANT.

    Well im not one for normally criticing needlessy but at the same time im not one for mainaining a see no evil hear no evil approach. i believe if its realistic and the criticism can be seen to constructive then should be warranted.( i’m not advocating a vendetta based approach)

    See i believe that is a quandary of his making. we continue to shift him around because he hasn’t got/developed/ matured( choose) the tools to play any 1 role comfortable be it in a 2 man midfield or a 3.One thing we will agree on is the tandem he has peroformed best in and this is possible because carrick will take up his deep lying position and allow anderson to drive from the middle. But this is will become in itself a problem because his form will then be reliant on carrick’s who imslef seems to have deterirated grossly post euro final in rome.

    i know i may have not answered your question sufficiently and this may sound like a cop out but i don;t think any of us have the answers yet and its just a trial and error approach and hoping we land on a solution serendipously. i personally thin our midfield is a jumbled sporadic MESS and really needs addressing in the summer ( hopefully after title 19 ) but that would be another long topic in itself.

  6. John – You raise some interesting points in general about our midfield. I’ll ask you please to hold your thoughts because my next blog is on the topic of central midfielders and I think this discussion will be perfect to continue on that piece.

    Thanks for your comments again though 🙂

  7. I thought Kompany was sensational and you could see after the game that he knew he’d been done by one moment of combined minor misfortune (his slip) and brilliance (from Rooney.)

    My main disappointment with the game was how our defence was caught out a second time by a very similar (and very good, to give credit where it’s due) attacking move by City between Evra and Vidic. It’s not like them, I know, but what if* City had scored from both? Need to be sharper on that.

    * I know all games are full of ifs, buts and maybes.

    I don’t think City would be wrong in thinking they were worth a draw but nor do I think we didn’t deserve the win. At the end of the day, finishing is the bit that makes or breaks your game and United were better at it yesterday.

    Good game though, much better than the snoozefest last time the two played.

  8. From a Blue. Excellent analysis and fair judgement by the author and posters alike. Goals win matches and Rooney’s wonder goal deserved to win any match. I get the feeling from fair minded reds that if they had gone away with a draw on the balance of play they would have accepted that.

  9. @Neil Crosby

    Thanks Neil. Yes, I have to admit that my initial response when the final whistle went was “we were crap” (well not up to the usual standards) – wouldn’t have been able to argue against a draw.

  10. Yet another fairly neutral commentary, and to the Blues reading, keep reading.
    Kompany was actually pretty fair in this game – not his usual bullying self and I can’t remember him being yellow carded this time out!
    Anderson wasn’t that bad, but there is still room for improvement.
    I too was pretty much expecting a draw when I saw United were playing 4-3-3 but one sublime moment swung the game our way.

    Welcome back Wayne.

  11. I’m a staunch Blue and I agree with every word you’ve written. Well done mate.

    I too thought Smalling had a fantastic game which was a disappointment to me personally as I thought he could be exploited. How wrong I was.

    Rooney’s goal was sublime. The first time I have ever stood up and applauded a goal against us at OT but I also think that Nani’s first touch for his goal completelty sold Zabaleta and made his finish so much easier.

    Silva is quality and I genuinely feel privelidged to be able to watch a player with his talent week in week out. That is why I watch football after all.

    In summary, I think that there is not much to choose between the two sides in terms of talent these days but what City need to develop is that winning mentality that United have built up in abundance over the years. Mancini is the man to give us that. I just hope he gets the time.

  12. I’m a blue but, that’s a very fair assessment of the game and no arguments with it.

    As for all the comments about welcome back Roo etc, if he kicks on from saturday and regains the form of last season, fair enough but, up until that goal, he was dreadful. Even for the goal, his first touch on the edge of our box in the build up to it was horrendous, it ran at least 12 yards away from him but, went straight to Scholes who played the ball wide to Nani to cross.

    We’re getting there but, I feel we need to win something if we’re to start truly believing in ourselves.

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