Manchester United are humbled 4-1 away at Manchester City
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United’s tricky start to the season continued with a short trip to rivals Manchester City. There was a blow before kick off with the confirmation that van Persie had a minor groin injury and so he was replaced by the fit again Welbeck and Young came in for Kagawa. City made one change from their midweek win as Negredo replaced Dzeko. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
Moyes matches Fergie with his tactics
It wasn’t uncommon for fans to be berating Ferguson after games at Anfield, the Etihad or the Emirates – whether because he liked the 4-4-2 system or because of a lack of central midfield options, he seldom picked three in the middle.
With the signing of Fellaini, heading into this game there was the possibility of United actually matching up to City. Carrick to sit deep and orchestrate play, Fellaini to be a presence and win the ball, and Cleverley to link play and in general provide a buzz of energy. City don’t specifically play three in the middle but Nasri plays narrow and Aguero likes to drop deep whilst Yaya Toure can at times play for two.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but United had to go into the game with caution – to ensure the game was kept tight before eventually being able to take some risks to try to win it. It would be doing City too much disservice to try to go and play attacking football there and it just seldom happens in football.
Ultimately Moyes went with a 4-4-2 and it was a shambles. Fellaini, who was arguably the most disappointing United player, didn’t know whether to push onto players or sit deep. He let men constantly run off him and he was given the run around by Man City’s midfield. United were unable to control proceedings and when in possession neither central midfielder was able to push on for fear of leaving space in behind. Only when Cleverley came on for Young and United did go to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 type system was there any element of assertiveness but by then City were cruising at 4-0 and able to relax. For what it’s worth when Cleverley came on he was good and the formation that finished the game really should have been the one that started it.
Moyes himself acknowledged that United were outplayed in the middle after the match: “We never got to grips with their midfield and it gave them the domination” – someone should have asked why this couldn’t have been seen in advance and a genuine three man midfield selection with Welbeck coming in off the left, Valencia from the right and Rooney through the middle. Mind you, Fergie would have watched on with a sense of familiarity to it all.
Fans will be quick to point out that for an hour United created nothing. The loss of van Persie to a minor groin strain was frustrating but the difference he’d have made wasn’t necessarily easy to predict for the forward players had no service. Kagawa and Nani may have been able to offer something different going forwards but the scoreline more than anything reflects some shambolic defending from a variety of guilty parties. City were able to tear United apart way too easily only aided by uncharacteristic and sloppy mistakes by individuals and the group.
Errors varied from giving the ball away to poor marking to players to complete defensive unit mistakes. In truth, United’s start to the season from a defensive point of view has been a tad unconvincing. Vidic has at times looked imperious but the changes at right back have been a disruption and the run of games for Ferdinand may be taking its toll. Three games in a week for Ferdinand-Vidic doesn’t seem sensible when both, but Ferdinand in particular need managing. It’s easy to understand that Moyes wants to trust experience but he also needs to have faith in the other central defenders to step in to allow others to rest.
If we were to do player ratings, only one of the eleven who started would get an average or possibly above average mark. Rooney may have wanted or may still want to leave the club but he was the one player who played at an acceptable level.
His late goal was no less than he deserved and in truth United deserved. He’d been busy and got stuck in from early on. Howard Webb had one of those games where it became difficult to prove conspiracy theorists correct as he gave a series of soft and contentious fouls against Rooney before eventually booking him. That Rooney was involved in those situations though was good to see, there is some fight left in him still. The eventual change in system suited him too – suddenly he found pockets of space and started to influence our play more. His recent form is something to cling onto, if others can match his levels and intensity, better days are ahead of us.
For all our flaws and errors, City were fantastic. Like Moyes, there has been a focus on Pellegrini particularly after a couple of uninspiring early season displays but he and his team delivered. Their most important players were right on top of their form – Kompany a rock at the back; Yaya Toure for an hour was unplayable; and Aguero clinical, his first goal was nothing short of genius.
The use of natural width and pace in Navas is already showing its value and at long last Nasri seems to have found a place in the side that suits not just him but those around him. Negredo’s work rate and Zabaleta’s consistency are both areas that should please City fans. The intensity of their play and speed of it was overwhelming for United – maybe it was the adrenaline of the derby but if they can match that for spells in games over the season they may successfully go under the radar as attention continues to be focussed on Moyes and Mourinho.
It’s been a dark Sunday with United silenced on the pitch if not off it. City scored goals at crucial times and were good value for their emphatic 4-1 win. Aguero’s opener will rightly be considered for goal of the month but fingers can be pointed at Valencia’s inability to track Kolarov who supplied the cross. The second goal was a victory for poor marking as were numbers three and four soon after half time.
As goal four went in, United changed the system and for the last 40 minutes played better football but by this point City had it won and were able to coast the remainder of the game. Rooney’s late free kick was excellent and at least meant that the noisy away fans could cheer something.
Moyes understandably has stuck with experience in the opening games but he needs to start to trust his squad and rotate a bit more. Importantly he must work out just where Fellaini is going to be most effective and a three man midfield will at times need to be used now we have the players to be able to play it. He’ll get plenty of criticism, some of it fair, some of it over the top but anyone calling for his head already needs seriously questioning. He and the players have my full support and they should have yours too.
It’s Liverpool in the Capital One Cup midweek which should give a chance for some of the squad players to prove they should be starting league games. The likes of Evans, Fabio, Kagawa, Cleverley, Nani, Zaha and Hernandez all need minutes now and hopefully they’ll be able to provide entertainment as well as a win. In terms of the league, we now embark on a run of very winnable games so the five point gap to the top will hopefully only be reduced.