Talking Points: Man City 2-3 Man United (FA Cup 3rd Round)

Author: Nik

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United travelled the short distance to Man City today in an eagerly anticipated FA Cup 3rd Round game. Having lost two games in a row and conceded six goals in the process; fans, staff and players were hoping for an improvement and change of fortunes. City were defending the trophy they won last year.

We invite both City and United fans to discuss the game below.

Team selections and formations

Both teams were missing key players, City with the absentees of Balotelli, Barry and Toure, with Mancini electing to rest Hart and Clichy; United were still missing Vidic, Cleverley, Young, Evans and Fletcher – all due to injury or illness.

United set up in somewhat of a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Rooney starting in a deeper position than his normal ‘number 10’ role, with Welbeck selected in a lone striker role. Carrick dropped slightly deeper than we have been used to of late, with Rooney and Giggs just ahead, Nani left and Valencia right. At the back Smalling replaced Jones at centre half with the latter pushed over to right back.

City were set up in something of a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Nasri playing a floating role off Aguero, Johnson and Silva wide right and left respectively, De Jong and Milner in central midfield. At the back, Kolarov came in for Clichy, whilst the remaining three players remained unchanged.

Who won the tactical battle?

This is a tough one to answer, because although United ran out 3-2 winners, and could quite easily have gone on to score six or seven (Welbeck missed a glorious chance at 3-0), Mancini responded to the sending off astutely and allowed City to gain a foothold in the game. In the immediate aftermath of the red card, Richards played at centre half with Lescott and Milner was asked to slot in at right back, with Nasri coming deeper into the midfield. But it was at half time that he replaced Johnson and Silva with Savic and Zabaleta; and although it did look suspiciously like Mancini had resigned to defeat and wanting to save his star player (Silva was lively always seeking to release Aguero in the first half, Nasri was certainly more innocuous), his switch to 3-4-2 — with Savic, Lescott and Richards at the back, with Zabaleta and Kolarov flanking a middle three of Milner, De Jong and Nasri — worked a treat and City somehow found themselves back in the game.

Whereas United sought to soak up pressure in the first half and hit City on the break with some fantastic interplay in the middle third, often with the ball zipped out wide with pace (Evra and Jones were ambitious in attack), City responded in kind with a similar approach in the second. Zabaleta and Kolarov pushed high on Nani and Valencia, trying to force the error and then getting up in support of Aguero, with Nasri in behind. But overall it was clear that – in the most important area of the field, the centre (and an area where United are typically weaker than their Manchester counter-parts) – United out-fought and out-thought their opponent, with Fergie quick to capitalise on the loss of the excellent paring of Toure and Barry. With Rooney and Giggs close together, Carrick dropped very deep at times (astutely cutting up the play as ever), which subsequently allowed Jones and Evra to push very high and support the counter-attacks. The first two goals came from top quality wide-play from Valencia and Evra respectively, and Giggs was instrumental in the first and third goals from the centre.

Rooney and Giggs link up play superb

Fergie kept faith with the pair despite a poor showing in Newcastle midweek, but his gamble paid off. With the advantage he had from starting from a deeper position than usual, Rooney was able to benefit from being closer to Giggs (who started ahead of Anderson and Park) and Carrick, and the resulting link-up play, especially in the final third was the key to this result. Albeit helped by the loss of City’s regular holding two central midfielders in Toure and Barry (both have been superb this term), Rooney was able to constantly exploit the space between the lines, sitting on De Jong when without the ball, and moving away from him when in possession. (In fact, De Jong’s vertical movement and lack of overall midfield finesse is probably the reason he has struggled this season, especially in a midfield two, and Barry simply offers more variety in there.)

The first goal was a classic United goal, with Giggs picking up the ball deep and finding Rooney unmarked, the ball was slipped out wide to the oncoming Valencia who returned the ball with great precision (and yet another assist for the flying Ecuadorian) as Rooney was able to finish with his head in off the bar – a goal similar in style to the Scholes winner here two seasons ago. Giggs was also heavily involved in the third; finding Rooney again after a poor clearance from Pantimillon, then having received the ball again on the edge of the area, played a cute through ball into Welbeck’s stride which inevitably drew the penalty. Rooney missed, but then headed home the rebound for 3-0, and essentially game over.

Smalling outstanding

It was a timely return for Smalling who has been suffering from tonsillitis recently, and with United’s struggles at centre half in recent outings his performance alongside Ferdinand was commanding, and important to the outcome of the game. Smalling had to contend with some fantastic movement from Aguero who played somewhat of a false nine role, but the youngster dealt with him in much the same way as he did Tevez last season at Old Trafford, marshalling him away from goal; putting his foot in early; showing him out wide and generally winning anything that came his way in the air. The last minute of the game typified his performance, as he was first to react to another Lindegaard spill, twenty seconds later, rising high again to head the ball clear as Kolarov launched one final effort into the box. With Jones having played relatively poor in such a pivotal position of late (we have one won in the last six he has started at centre half), Smalling’s return will bolster the back line, and the former Blackburn man will seek to continue his education at right back (as well as perhaps enjoy an occasional outing in central midfield).

Red Card and Penalty Claims

Kompany’s red card, on the face of it, with some confusing commentary and analysis from ITV today, was a little harsh. However, by the laws of the game, Foy has to send the Belgian off for the challenge on Nani. He may well have led with one foot, but his trailing foot performs a scissor movement, and on the follow-through it is clear that both feet leave the ground, with studs showing. Harsh yes, given that Nani had pulled away and the directive has only been introduced in recent years, but other than that Mancini can have no real complaints when he sees it again. As we have seen recently with the Spearing tackle at Fulham for example, it is not about whether the ball was won or not, but the ‘endangering an opponent’ by conducting a tackle in this way. Referee’s must air on safety, and the law, every time.

In the second half there were two penalty claims. Firstly we had Kolarov’s challenge on Valencia just inside the penalty area, then we had a City claim for a Jones handball. Replays show that Valencia was beyond the defender before being brought down, and City were lucky to avoid conceding a second penalty with the score at 1-3. At the other end, Jones’ ‘natural’ position of his hand saved him from a potential spot-kick decision.

Scholes returns

There is no hiding away from the fact that Scholes’ return to the set up is somewhat worrying given our recent failed attempts to strengthen this area of the field in the transfer market (Nasri and Sneijder notably). It is clear that Scholes isn’t the answer to our midfield conundrum, but at the same time we must look at the move in the fuller context. Fergie has confirmed that it was Scholes who approached the club about a potential return, not the other way round, and has apparently been training daily since his emotional bow-out at Old Trafford in the summer. Fergie will know too well that – as per last season – Scholes’ use will have to be sporadic, and used in games such as today to ‘see the match out’. He has come back in with a passion that has seemingly not left him, at a time when Cleverley and Anderson have been out for lengthy bouts, and forays into the transfer market have failed to prosper – yet. United continue to search for the elusive answer in such a vital compartment on the field (no you can’t just name a decent mid-table midfielder and claim that he would ‘fit the bill’), and there are positive signs that the club are working hard behind the scenes. Some may say the move smacks of desperation, but it could also be a sign of the very opposite: not being forced into a signing that doesn’t make sense for either the club or player. The hope then is that big investment is on the way; surely, with or without Scholes, it can only be a matter of time.

In Summary

United needed to give a high calibre performance today, and for the most part they did. As ever in these fixtures, the first goal is of vital importance, and United took advantage of some slack midfield play by City, allowing Valencia and Rooney to combine so well. Mancini did miss the ever-emerging influence of Balotelli, but he especially missed the midfield duo of Barry and Toure – not only for their individual talents but also their combination play, which has been so crucial to their success thus far. Rooney and Giggs in particular were able to capitalise, and the performances of Welbeck, Evra, Valencia and Smalling were also encouraging given the recent ‘crisis’.

Fergie wasn’t happy with the cautious approach of his side in the second half, but you also couldn’t blame them given the 6-1 defeat and the fact that our relentless ambition then allowed City to open us up at the back so easily. De Gea will be wanting a swift return to the side after another edgy performance from the Dane and Nani is yet to re-find his mojo (the failed flick which ultimately led to the second City goal must have angered Ferguson). But United will look to respond now in the league having taken this psychological scalp, and Fergie will surely want to win the F.A. Cup this season given his love for competition and for the fact it has been a while. Next up, Liverpool away at Anfield.

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14 Comments on Talking Points: Man City 2-3 Man United (FA Cup 3rd Round)

  1. 3-5-2 = 11 players…..

    Kompany is Belgian not Dutch…..

    It was a great tackle…..FACT !
    The reason why it was a tackle and not a foul is that Nani jumps on the floor during the pre-match hand-shake….he is fairly famous for blagging fouls….he just carried on playing !!!

    Anyway utd were the better team on the day and just about deserved their win…..

  2. The Scholes signing not only reeks of desperation, it really begs the question of what the hell our reserves and U-18s staff are up to if there’s not one midfielder or defender in there who can be relied upon to help us out when we’ve got injuries.

  3. @Ian H – calling Scholes a “signing” is a bit of an odd one because, let’s be clear, we didn’t approach him and ask him to return. He approached the club and said we wanted to and felt he could play again. We said yes, nothing to lose really.

    As for Reserves/U18s – the players are too young and simply not ready. Those who are a bit older are out on loan. You can’t just throw an 18 year old in for the sake of it. Fergie’s the best at knowing when they’re ready

  4. I don’t want to comment on the defensive problems we’ve had because you guys have covered that quite emphatically, and it appears that with the imminent return of Evans things should be hopefully stable at the back soon.

    When I saw the lineup yesterday what excited me most was not the fact that our back four were finally of a decent calibre (that was more of a relief really). Rather it was that Valencia had moved back to the right wing. Although our problems have undoubtedly been at the back in recent matches, I felt that one of the many things this injury crisis has damaged is our attacking play. It’s prevented the strong midfield combination of Carrick and Jones from developing further, and it also has had the potential to derail the Rooney-Valencia combination that we saw starting to bear fruit a while back.

    This season I’ve definitely preferred Nani on the left wing rather than the right; he cuts infield a lot and this serves United well on the left because of how frequently the left-footed Evra gets forward and overlaps. Nani and Evra combine well on the left and a pose real threat, but the clincher for me has been the right wing; Valencia’s traditional wingplay has suited Rooney – he gets down the field and crosses the ball with incredible accuracy. We all know that an in-form Rooney makes for an in-form United, and I think that his and Valencia’s instinctive synergy makes our attack far deadlier.

    I must also add that I was confused earlier on in the season when SAF mentioned he thought Valencia could do well in central midfield. I’ve alway seen Nani as being the one to play as a ‘central winger’ rather than Valencia, and I thought that when Valencia has tried to cut inside he hasn’t been as potent as he is in his normal style of play. I felt that by playing at right back his crosses more often came from deeper and therefore were not in the same vein as usual. Yesterday’s first goal was a good example of how a flat or almost backwards Valencia cross allowed Rooney to come from behind the line of defense, the hole that he’s so potent in.

    Anyway I’m chuffed that the worst of this harsh injury spell is almost over and we’re still only three points adrift of City with a bit of added momentum after the Cup win.

  5. Can’t see the midfield problem being resolved in this transfer window. I am pleased to see the article point out that it is not as simple as picking up a midfielder from, say, Newcastle to do a job. Reckon we’ll struggle on with the current personnel and hope that the wingers and strikers can create enough. Scholes will, at least, add to the volume of the squad, but I’ll not be expecting too much of him. I’m hoping he can accelerate Cleverley’s development.

  6. this is disgrace (scholes ) return, he was great player, but he’s too slow now as soon as he came in we almost lost fergie completely fucked up second half with his tactical anarchy, instead of killing city of he changed nani with scholes – what a fucking joke. and that most ridicilous in all this story that fergie says its scholsey aaked to comeback – :)))), fergie tell it to my grandma man not me:) and nameonetrophy do you really believe everything that fergie and his cronies glazers and gil says??think about it – why scholesy did want to comeback especialy then he himself admitted last year that his legs are gone, the whole idea him wanting to comeback and going to ask about it fergie is mickey mouse story, sory mate

  7. @nameonthetrophy: Play at semantics if you prefer, but regardless of who instigated his return having Scholes back when he was mostly not good enough last year is only a good thing in the limited sense that it gives us an extra body to cover for some injuries. When Scholes gets back to last season’s levels of sharpness again it won’t alter the fact that he wasn’t good enough *then*. He’s getting on in player terms, if he’s consistently anything it’s consistently underwhelming and it’s a poor patch job to cover up for the fact that our midfield options aren’t good enough.

    Yes, yes, Carrick’s competent enough and Anderson flatters to deceive every third blue moon but outside Nani do we have even one midfielder who RIGHT NOW any other big team would entertain the notion of signing (for our valuation) if they were available?

    As for the youth players, there’s not one that Ferguson considers mentally strong enough to throw into a game for fifteen minutes and trust them to just not do anything stupid? Well that bodes very well, doesn’t it?

  8. @Ian H – Fergie’s never ever done that with youth players. Already Pogba’s played more minutes than Beckham, Butt, Scholes, Fletcher, Gibson had at the same age. He’s clearly very aware of their talents but you can’t just throw a young player in for the sake of it. We never have done and I doubt Fergie will ever do it. In theory, I actually agree with you that there’d be no harm in it but we’re so unlikely to ever see it from Fergie unless we have squad injuries and/or are 3-0 up in a game that’s over. The future fwiw is looking very bright with regards to the Academy and Reserves players.

    Our midfield needs improving, that’s clear to see and I don’t think anyone believes Scholes is the answer. However, short-term, given it’s hard to buy in January, if he becomes 5th or 6th choice and is fit enough to do so then fine. It’s basically the same he did last year. Lord knows we need some kind of help and an extra body right now is needed. I’d much rather we went and bought someone but let’s not kid ourselves, chances of that are slim.

  9. Hi Coolidge

    Great points as usual. I too feel it regrettable that Jones/ Carrick have not had the chance to continue their prospering partnership; it seemed to be so complimentary, if a little raw.

    Agree too on Valencia at rightback – loved the combination play with Nani v Wigan, but this was against a weak Wigan left side and TV was basically playing as a right winger with Nani coming inside. Valencia’s return to form (in last 30 v Palace) has been a real plus of the last couple of months, 7/8 assists and some really potent wing-play, taking us back to his early United form. As ever, the seasons dynamics change in response to the schedule/ injuries/ planning etc, and now I feel is the time for Valencia and the much improved left wing version of Nani to state their case – and for Young to fight his way back in from March onwards.

    Agree with Doron’s points on youth development above. Fergie hasnt had the success in the last 25 years through rushing things. Fans need to see the bigger picture, and importantly, not be so reactive/ volatile in such a testing time for our club, both on and off the field.

  10. Even if the youth players were just about ready, I can’t see how that would have meant they should play in this particular game. FA Cup v. City? That’s asking too much of any young player.

  11. nameonetrophy – we are saying that this is not acceptible for club like united be so neglected how it is now. look – which players we have right now would be good enough for lets say any of top 10 european teams? it’s vidic, nani, rooney(more for marketing posibilities than footbaling talent),berbatov, maybe chicharito as well, and thats about it. remeber cantona, kean, ronaldo eras??no more:( and let me ask why is so much burden are put on those youngsters shoulders in terms of expectations (to fill void in manchester united team:))). it used to be if manchester united needs some players than fergie don’t think much about it, now he looks like he can’t be bothered. and that cliche-myth that january is difficult for buying is just lies. the only bad thing about january buying is players are cup tied but this does not matter for us anyway. fact is we need improve in terms of quality players. scholes now of course is better than nothing, but its just pathetic than you think about it – i heard that we actualy spend less than barnsley. is this true nameontrophy?

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