Talking Points: Manchester United 1 – 6 Manchester City

Authors: Doron, Nik and Stretford_End

Follow Doron, Nik and Stretford_End on Twitter

The clash of the top two was the high scoring affair many feared it wouldn’t be, however if your colour is red then it was one gloomy afternoon. United lined up in a bold 4-4-2 without captain Vidic and were matching City on the pitch until Jonny Evans was sent off early in the second half. City went on to win and thrash United 6-1, not that the scoreline truly reflects the pattern of the game. Here we discuss the talking points from the match and invite both United and City fans to join in the discussion.

Beaten by a very good team:

First thing’s first. Before fingers are pointed and criticisms thrown out, we were beaten by a very good side today. Mancini got his set-up spot on with Barry and Toure protecting City’s defence and not allowing Fletcher or Anderson any space. Aguero and Balotelli worked hard up front running the channels but the key to City’s ability to play so well was Milner’s hard work on both sides freeing up Silva for a free role.

Chalkboard 1. Milner and Silva passing

David Silva really is a wonderful footballer. His touch, balance and vision are on a level with Iniesta and Xavi right now. He ran the show for City today providing a stunning assist for Dzeko’s second goal and generally playing the key passes in their best moves and other goals. His performance – aided by a United red card that allowed him space and time, was one of the best I’ve seen from an opposition player at Old Trafford, maybe since the infamous Ronaldo hat-trick.

Some excuses will be made and some are valid but nothing should be taken away from City and an excellent team performance. Even at half time they were on the way to a classic away showing – not having the balance of play but defending superbly and taking their one real chance. It’s a far cry from Mancini’s early negative set-ups in big games, aided by a huge transfer kitty he has built an excellent squad and the competition for places appears to be bringing out the best from the likes of Barry and Milner. For all his early doubters, the man has done a wonderful job there.

Now time for the United interrogation…


Fergie will probably regret playing just the two (Anderson and Fletcher) in centre midfield against a City side who pride themselves on controlling the middle third. Despite Rooney’s and Welbeck’s best efforts to assist in the centre, it is the first time in 3 seasons that Fergie has not elected to go with three specialised central midfielders against our Manchester rivals. Further, it was a genuine puzzle to see Anderson take a starting birth here at the expense of the much improved Michael Carrick, and United’s man of the match on Tuesday night in Romania. Carrick’s screening of the back four worked well in this fixture last season as he ensured that Silva et al had a relatively quiet game. Anderson’s workrate and possession game has been a worry for at least the past 5 games, and though it is foolhardy to question Sir Alex’s motives and vastly superior tactical appreciation of the game, you cant help but wonder whether the Brazilian’s early substitution was a sure-fire sign of the manager’s displeasure at both the performance and his selection today. At present, United’s midfield personnel are neither good enough nor in good enough form to play in a two against a three, let alone a good three. This has happened before, notably against Liverpool when Fergie’s admirable but mis-directed belief in his midfield has been found out. It seems criminal not to have started with Carrick in the ‘protector’ role, rather than trying to play with two up front.

Chalkboard 2. United tackles vs. City passing

Given that City played most of their passes in the central strip of the pitch (50%) it’s baffling that United were only making 42% of their tackles in that area. United should have been working extremely hard to ensure that City weren’t able to completely dominate in this area of the field. That’s not to say that against every team who play with three men in the middle, United should match them; simply that against a well-drilled City side with title aspirations (and a certain little Spaniard) it is better to keep it tight and ‘boring’ than take risks and gift Mancini’s men space from the start.

Fullbacks: Domination vs. Desolation

The modern-day fullback holds tantamount importance to its teams ambition, and this was always going to be a game where the importance of the fullback position came to the fore. There was speculation before the game about whether Mancini would select both Richards and Clichy given that the duo are considerably more attack-minded than Zabeleta and Kolarov, with question marks still hanging over their collective defensive discipline (despite Richards’ fantastic progression in the last 12 months); Mancini does seem to prefer the former pairing in the league but up against Young and Nani respectively it was a bold call from the manager, and boy did it reap rewards. Instead of the drive and ambition coming from the home side’s pairing in Evra and Smalling, it was the City pairing that executed a game-plan to perfection. Young had clearly targeted Richards in the first 20 minutes as a weak-link, and despite the fact that two fouls were conceded in quick succession, Richards stayed firm and neither Young nor Evra were able to capitalise. United’s attacks quickly became predictable, and this had a knock-on effect to Nani’s game. Unable to put a foot on the ball and attack Clichy, Nani became frustrated and was unable to focus on his game, and far too often hit the first man when delivering his crosses.In City’s first real attack down United’s right side, Nani was caught sleeping as Clichy ghosted past him, linked perfectly with Milner who delivered the ball on a plate for Balotelli to open the scoring with an astute side-foot finish.

Chalkboard 3. Silva and Clichy passing

Both Clichy and Richards worked tirelessly down the flanks, constantly probing and seeking to push their United counter-parts as far back as possible. The problem was, the United fullbacks were nowhere to be seen as both Evra and Smalling were caught far too high up the field at times, and often (sacrilegiously) at the same time leaving 4 v 2 on many an occasion on the counter. City couldnt believe their luck, with 4 of the goals coming from a simple overlap from wide, often leaving only a tap-in at the far post with United’s defence disjointed and in disarray. In Silva, Balotelli, Aguero and Milner, City’s fullbacks had the perfect out-ball every time in the final third (not assisted by United’s midfield incompetence it has to be said); whether that was Silva’s sublime volleyed through ball for Dzeko, Milner’s timely overlapping runs on the outside, Balotelli’s deft flick in the lead up to the 4th goal or Aguero’s fantastic first-time pass to Balotelli which led to the game-changing incident when Evans pulled on the Italian’s shirt. In complete contrast to United’s fullbacks, City’s were strong, disciplined, ambitious and authoritative – and in a game where width was always going to prove pivotal, it was their dazzling displays which enabled Mancini to inflict United’s first home defeat in 18 months, and Fergie’s worst ever as United boss.

Game-changing moment

Up until half-time it had been a pretty even game. United were in possession for long spells but struggling to carve out any good chances – sadly the best one fell to Jonny Evans’ standing leg. The problem with United’s approach play was that, though diligent and patient, it was met by a City-coloured wall every time, with United looking vulnerable on the break every time City went forward.

A few minutes after half time Evans was sent off, a very straightforward refereeing decision by Clattenburg who actually had a great game. Evans was foolish to pull Balotelli back but he had to do something, as allowing Mario to waltz through one on one would surely have meant a 2-0 deficit and certain defeat. Some will say he should never have been out-paced or out-muscled off the ball but the Ulster-man’s true crime was allowing the Italian the extra couple of metres in the first place as he pulled away from the young defender too easily – Balotelli was faster and stronger than Evans; there’s little doubt that Ferdinand and maybe Vidic would have been turned similarly. Still, it has already prompted Daniel Taylor in the Guardian to question Evans’ future at the club. Many will overlook that he’s probably been United’s best player in September and October and was a shoe-in for both todays game and last week’s at Anfield – he’d actually had a very good first half too.

It is important to note that even with 10 men, United remained competitive for long spells, only the last three minutes provided the scoreline with some gloss (as United committed numbers forward). Some thrashings reflect how a game went (8-2 vs. Arsenal) others aren’t quite so representative, and 3-1 would have been quite fair.

Individual performances

There’s a long list of players that individually didn’t play like fans come to expect. It’s almost easier to list those who looked like they gave a toss: De Gea, Rooney, Welbeck, and Fletcher. Was intriguing to see Rooney screaming at Ferdinand as City’s fifth goal went in.

Anderson was maybe the biggest culprit; too ambitious in possession and far too slow to get back, lucky not to be booked early on for a poor tackle on Silva and ultimately the game passed him by. It is possible to have some sympathy with him mind you, he didn’t choose to play in a two-man midfield against Silva, Barry and Toure.

Also disappointing in midfield was Nani. He played with a swagger, inviting City players on to him and it didn’t seem to work. He seemed determined to try and take two men on before crossing the ball and was reluctant to use the overlapping Smalling. He, like Anderson was rightfully taken off in the second half. He’s a quality footballer but thinks a lot of himself, sometimes too much and today was one of those days.

I don’t even know where to begin with the defence but my rational inclination is to look at it two ways. Firstly, they were solid in the first half with some particularly strong pieces of defending from Rio, Evans and Smalling. The second way is to consider that going down to ten men coupled with little protection from the midfield exposed all sorts of gaps that Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra and make-shift right back Fletcher couldn’t deal with.

That said it doesn’t excuse the sluggish marking, the inability to cope with runners and general switched-off play from experienced players like Ferdinand and Evra. United need some consistency at the back, regular selection of personnel. It doesn’t necessarily matter which back four is selected as each has the talent in their own right, but it is clear that United’s performances have stuttered since our rotation in key positions at the back. Vidic was clearly not fit to return for today’s encounter given the performance midweek, but the captain’s return to the side, and form, can’t come soon enough.

It was just the one game

After such a damning result it would be very easy to go overboard with criticism. Freak results occur and whilst a defeat or lesson has been on the cards it doesn’t change the fact that United have a good squad. When Chelsea first got bought and spent millions there was a new challenge as United looked to rebuild; now City are the challengers and United are starting a new cycle with young players and have plenty of talented kids (Morrison, Pogba, Tunnicliffe, Thorpe, W Keane, Cole etc) who are maybe 12-18 months short of being worthy of serious inclusion.

The key thing to remember is when it was 11 vs 11, the game was tight and close, City weren’t running away with it. However, ultimately it all comes back to the same question of why the midfield wasn’t addressed in the summer with more vigour. Fergie tried to sign Nasri and Sneijder yet came up short for one reason or another. The issue still remains – who to buy and when to buy given that in Tunnicliffe, Pogba and Morrison there are three talents getting closer every week to the first team.

United don’t become a bad team over night and this result shouldn’t change how fans should view the club or squad or players. Our next league fixtures are generally tasty and largely winnable – playing catch-up is something United do well and that has to start away to Everton next weekend. City have the bragging rights for now and deserved their win, but the season is in its infancy, and the manager, the team and its fans simply have to move on from today.

United concede 6 – first time since October 1996

Manchester United last conceded six goals in the autumn of 1996, when the English Champions went down 6-3 to Southampton, with Matthew Le Tissier chipping Peter Schmeichel in the process. United had been humiliated at St James Park a week earlier in the 5-0 defeat to Newcastle and were expected to bounce back at the Dell six days later. However, a strong United side – consisting of Cantona, Keane, Pallister and Beckham – were humbled on the south coast.

United would go on to lose to Chelsea 2-1 at home, with the forever bald Gianluca Vialli getting on the scoresheet – which would mark thirteen goals in three games conceded by United. The rut would eventually end when United beat Arsenal 1-0 at home through a Nigel Winterburn own goal. United would not lose another game in the league until the 2-1 defeat away at Sunderland in March 97 (following a European Cup tie). United ended the season as Champions, lifting their fourth title in five years.

In summary…

This defeat hurt, of that there is no doubt. Fergie’s first words after the game were ’embarrassment’, and right he was as United were unable to cope with City’s movement for the majority of the game, and certainly after Evans had been sent from the field. Despite starting the game the stronger, the home-side failed to find consistency  and tempo in their passing game and kept a deep-line at the back, and thus were unable to stamp any kind of authority on the game.

Mancini’s tactics worked a treat, ensuring 9 men were behind the ball for every United attack in the first 30 minutes, and attacking with gusto and precision when given the rare chance to go forward in the first half. Silva dominated in the final third, consistently pulling away from Fletcher and Anderson in the centre, working horizontally and dictating the tempo of the game. City’s fullbacks worked in harmony, and chose when to venture forward with intelligence. Balotelli proved why he was considered to be worth such a vast amount of money, showing strength and vision on the ball at every opportunity; and Milner gave us a glimpse of the player he was at Aston Villa, and the reason his services too were procured, working tirelessly up and down the flank, creating and destroying in equal measure.

Fergie will not take the defeat lying down, and if there is one saving grace it is the vast over-reaction from the global media, who seem to have essentially handed City the title in October. The game – and result – was always going to be the more important for Manchester City and it will be up to Sir Alex to ensure that the damage is 3 points and nothing more enduring in psychological terms. ‘Symbolic’ victories can only be decreed as such if the victory is indeed pivotal to success in the form of a league title come May. With seven months of the season to go, a first taste of defeat at home in 18 months is not a crisis by any stretch of the imagination. City have had the easier start of the 3 title-challengers, and there will be more trying days ahead for the Italian for sure. For United, it is essential that they use today’s ’embarrassment’ to respond in the best possible manner.

Follow on twitter

23 Comments on Talking Points: Manchester United 1 – 6 Manchester City

  1. I was watching the game with my old man. He was in shock, and all he could say for the entire second half was, “Christ, Evra looks old.” He has gone from second best player on the Champions League winner and keeping Messi contained in 07/08 to barely meriting a starting place, and getting torn apart by James Milner and Micah Richards. Can Phil Jones play left back?

  2. I’ve gone through the whole gamut of emotions since the match ended.

    As events unfolded, I was quite relaxed, I’d feared a defeat yesterday but hoped that perhaps a defence of Vidic and Jones and possibly the return of Cleverley might stave it off. But when it came I wasn’t too suprised, especially when the sending off came. A defeat would be a welcome wake-up call I thought, as United haven’t played well for a series of games now.

    But as the day’s gone on, maybe due to over-thinking, my opinion has changed a little.

    It was, as you’ve said, tactically naive by Ferguson. Last week at Anfield Jones man-marked Adam, but this week Silva, far the superior player, had the freedom of Old Trafford.

    I have serious doubts now about Ferdinand, as some of Doron’s stats have shown. He just seems off the pace, which I had put down to injury, but he seems to have lost his air of authority and organisational ability. The mix-up with De Gea being a prime example.

    Evans, he’s played well this season. He’s not great in the air, and can be bullied, as he has been in the past by Zamora and Cahill notably. He made a mistake today, a bad one, but it doesn’t eradicate all of his work this season. Personally, I think Smalling and Vidic are our strongest partnership at CB.

    My biggest concern, that I think is shared is centre midfield. Ferguson hasn’t signed a centre midfielder for 4 years, yes Cleverley has come through but no one was signed when Scholes left, Fletcher was off form last season and seems to have slipped a bit this season too. Anderson was playing so well but hasn’t since Cleverley left and has returned to playing longer balls rather than the fast, short stuff when Cleverley was there. Centre midfield is a big problem.

    4-4-2 is becoming an issue.

    This may sound reactionary but we should go for someone like Tiote from Newcastle, he wouldn’t get bullied by Man City, and he’d know to win it and play it easy.

    Why not take a risk with Ben Arfa too? He’s a class player, phenomenal touch, and may provide that short-term spark we need, he’s also flexible so could play on the wing were we to move for a more established playmaker. We need more depth and options, anyway.

  3. With all due respect Mr writer there is no tactical errors from fergie you are talking about.Can you just listen to yourself,Fletcher Carrick,anderson and whoever calls himself a midfielder at old trafford none of them are good enough to be starters for a big team like united.So all this tactical analysis for me is just an insult to the truth behind our shortcomings.Every game since the beggining of the season we have been lacking the necesary qualities and we were just lucky to play teams still finding their feet,but today city just showed us United still need to spend .All the monet spent in the Off season was a neccesity not improving the team,Fergie had to buy because we had lost players in those possition and when the innovative transfer came (sneidjer)we bailed out.With all due reaspect to Ravel morrison,Paul Pogba and Tom cleverley included what united need now is a worldclass midfielder no questions asked,and we may need a yann mvilla in there too.As for johny evans I really dont know why fergie kept him after last season.

  4. “Evans was foolish to pull Balotelli back but he had to do something, as allowing Mario to waltz through one on one would surely have meant a 2-0 deficit and certain defeat.”

    That was my thinking, too – “he had to do something”.

    As it was, UTD were down to ten men but NOT down 0-2 after he was sent off. The sending-off obviously changed the dynamic of the match BUT it did not – by itself – lead to a 5-goal drubbing in the next 42 minutes.

    Down to ten men – really just nine if you make an allowance for Rio Ferdinand’s no-show – TheLads just lost all coherence and discipline. The last few minutes were simply shambolic – they’re said to be “embarrassed” and so they should be: in the parlance of the schoolyard, ManShitty just “ate their lunch”.

    This defeat might be “a wake-up call” and perhaps it might be the case that something good can come of it but, really, it’s never easy to win the EPL. That said, ManShitty’s organization and game-plan worked to perfection – a perfect storm. Fortunately, it’s a long, long season and their are 28 or 29 matches to go.

    You can lose the title in the first two months but you sure can’t win it in October – just re-consider the RentBoyz’ season last year: imperious in the first two months and then utter shite for three months before regaining their equilibrium. UTD have had a relatively tough set of matches in the first half – of the first half of the season – their upcoming matches between now and Xmas are substantially easier although nowadays even the bad teams often put up a strong showing in their “cup finals”. But, don’t forget, it’s a long, long season – a marathon, not a sprint so the key thing will be whether or not UTD learn lessons from their schooling today.

  5. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a Manchester Utd team play as well as City did today. By the 3rd goal against us, I just switched my brain off and enjoyed watching City taking us apart like a brazil playing the Faroe Islands.

    Their players, in every position, are stronger, faster, more skillful and better-organised. A team doesn’t lose 6-1 at home unless the visitors are superior in every department.

    We were made to eat that “34 years” banner today by a race of biologically-engineerd footballing supermen. Our morally-bancrupt, superinjunction-getting, kerb-crawling, ref-mobbing millionairs got a harsh footballing lesson, beamed live to every TV set in china.

    We’ve just built up too much bad karma over the years, starting with the appauling way the families of the aircrash victims by our club half a century ago. Maybe we will have to fall to the 3rd tier of english football, then fight back to the top, to learn some humility.

  6. Looking back, it was not the worst United performance in recent memory. That dubious honor goes to the 0-0 horror show at Blackburn that cost us the 2009/2010 title. The result was bad, the performance worse, and the situation worse still (Rooney missing, knocked out of Europe days before by Bayern Munich, beaten by Chelsea the previous weekend, ended up losing the title by a single point). If yesterday’s game was the equivalent of Germany 4-1 England, the Blackburn game was England 0-0 Algeria.

  7. I agree that evans has been very good but phil jones wouldve been a better option for the game consdering the amount of times he has covered up for the occasional evans mistake and also evans seems to struggle under pressure were as jones strives in it and I also think that fergie should give pogba and morrison a chance in first team as I think they are excatly what United needs yes its putting a lot of pressure on the but I think having pogba guarding the defence and cleverley or morrison playing as a creative midfielder will bring the creativity that United seem to lack at time and In the big games I would go for pogba and carrick/cleverley guarding the defence and rooney playing as the attacking midfielder with welback as a lone striker with hernandez coming on if needed and I also think that when vidic becomes fit enough to play he should be paired with smalling and jones on the right and I also think that when rafael becomes fit jones and freyers should be given a chance because it looks like evra has become to comfortable and they should also be competing with rafael so that the defence doesn’t become to complacent and feel they are untouchable as that is what is happening to every other player (excpet rooney) but that is understandable sorry for such a long comment and I always love reading your tweets and blogs

  8. @marc – I think Jones was overlooked because he is positionally poor and his awareness has not been good. He’s been fine in attacking situations but a liability defensively so far.

  9. As a Gooner I would like to make some semi-qualified statements regarding big defeats and big wins.
    After Man Utd beating us 8 -2 I said to a freiend that it was a bizarre result where every shot from UTD was on target and our finishing was everywhere. A closer result would have been 6-5.

    I couldnt believe that Man Utd gave us 21 chances at goal while your guys had 25. I then watched UTD against Chelsea and they had by double the amount of chances Utd had.

    It seems that there is no defensive element in the forwards or the midfield. Arsenal only usually get a few chances each game against UTD but everyone has double or more against them each game. I have been expecting this result when they come up against a decent defense and proclaimed that to my UTD work colleagues.

    Not sure where it is going wrong for them but it seems to me that teams bypass the midfield too easily exposing the defense. This has happened in every match so far. They have to stop doing what Arsenal seem to be experts at for the past three years.

    Arsena Abides!

  10. @nameonthetrophy he is a very strong and technically gifted players I feel he shouldve played even if it was the midfield role because we missed someone that could drive forward with the ball and stop ballotelli strength wise

  11. Do not rate Johnny Evans -last season struggled against physical types eg Zamora and Yakuba -thought that type of player was his weakness -then gets done by Kevin Doyle!Why Jones not centre half dunno know. Also serious probs centre midfield as Anderson should have been wearing a blue shirt considering how many times he passed to the berties – not many options Gibson note good enough for top premiership teams and Carrick has n’t played well for at least two years -his confidence has gone and gets caught in posession too easily/ often. Pogba may be the future if Wenger doesn’t nick him – but need quality now -we are struggling in Champions League and were given a lesson that was hard to swallow yesterday.Not writing obituary for season just yet – as we may well pull a rabbit or two out of hat and will see how likes of Silva and Aguero go over winter months – although probably wearing thermals and one of Balotelli’s bobble hats

  12. Micheal Carrick is being missed sorely and United are a much stronger team when he plays.
    In the Premier League this season Carrick has only played twice – the closest he came to a “start” was when he came on after 7 mins against Bolton and United won 5-0, putting in arguably their best overall performance of the season. He also played 28 odd minutes against Chelsea when they won 3-1 and helped steady the ship when the midfield was being overrun. That was the game he was booed by some supporters for a backpass he made!

    I would say the lack of Carrick and the ebbing away of our team’s ability to retain possession was most noticeable in the apalling tennis match we played against Liverpool, and clearly again against City where the back four seemed completely exposed.

    For some reason Fergie only seems to wheel out Carrick for the Champions Leagues where he has played all three games this year. Stats wise, when he plays he always leads the team in distance covered, interceptions and 90%+ pass accuracy. In the Champions League last year he had more successful long passes than Iniesta so the jokes about him only passing sideways and backwards are not really accurate!

    Not a “Roy of the Rovers” type, but IMHO still the best English midfielder in the game, one of the main reasons United won 4 PL titles in 5 years and reached 3 CL finals. Of course, playing Carrick on his own in the central midfield against Barcelona last year was a mistake…he is not Superman ffs!

    All United need is to bring back Carrick and ignore the prawn sandwich supporters wanting a more “direct” style of play. Build the team around Carrick by giving him some help in the middle. Play a second top quality midfielder alonside him…in the mould of Scholes/Schweinsteiger/Ramsey/Modrich…then the team performances and results will quickly improve.

  13. Whoever said that Evans was our most consistent CB…were you there in the Benfica game (the goal was his fault, and many other attacks), the Chelsea game…(Torres had a good day penetrating, just forgot how to finish), Norwich (good God) & the Liverpool game (Thank God for DeGea) !! what consistency, his consistently under-acheiving as the poor defender he always was! atleast make some sense and defend someone who isnt labelled “the error prone” :S

  14. Is it just me? I find that fletcher hasn’t been performing since his virus. I feel that he didn’t cover the back four well enough.

  15. Moo

    Isolated incidents does not an analysis make.

    You were right about Evans’ position in the Benfica goal … however

    Evans missed one header in the Norwich game otherwise was fantastic. vs Chelsea it was Jones who Torres ran behind, and vs. Liverpool he made two crucial blocks in the area, one notably on Kuyt with 5 minutes to play. Yesterday he was our most consistent defender, attacking the ball earlier, not allowing Aguero to turn and winning everything in the air. Jones is a great prospect – but nowhere near the calibre of Jonny in defensive acumen as yet Im afraid.

  16. A 6 – 1 thumping naturally leave everyone thinking that the defense was asleep all afternoon and the sending off gives us an easy out for what went wrong. Three of the goals came in the last 10 minutes of the game when we had totally turned off the defense and the only player we had in our half was De Ger.

    What the score line is masking is how ineffective we were on offense and how dependent we have become on the fast break. We are becoming a little Wengerest in not having a second or third option when our fast attack does not work. When teams put player behind the ball and play us tight our only option appears to be kick the ball from side to side, committing more players forward until we lose possession and then we are getting hit on the break. When our attacking football works it is a thing of beauty and almost unstoppable; but when it is not working we need more creativity in the center of the park.

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Shaun Derry-gate: Critique of FA lacks logic | Manchester United Blog | The Stretty Rant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.