Edin Dzeko scored early in both halves, to kill the game off as a contest.
Manchester United continued their wretched run against the top teams in the Premier League this season, capitulating to a 3-0 defeat at home to local rivals Manchester City. The Blues led after forty-three seconds and, despite United looking vaguely competitive for around thirty minutes before half-time, their lead was never in danger, and they coasted through the second half after Dzeko scored an easy second goal from a corner. Yaya Toure emphasised the visitors’ total superiority by angling a third past a helpless De Gea shortly before full-time. In today’s Talking Points, we break down the tactics employed by David Moyes that led to the club’s latest embarrassment.
United’s uneasy start
Yesterday was interesting from a tactical viewpoint, as it was the first time David Moyes had actually initiated the game without his usual 4-4-1-1 approach. Instead, Cleverley was drafted in to assist Fellaini and Carrick in the centre, with Mata to the right, and Welbeck left of Rooney – this was a 4-3-3 approach, and much required too given City’s usual dominance in the middle third. But as early as five minutes in, and having conceded after 48 seconds, Moyes was seen to be animated on the touchline, shifting his selection around and asking Antonio Valencia to warm up with haste. Why he chose to move Cleverley to a wide right position (with Mata coming central), in what became a 4-5-1, is not yet clear (as was Fellaini’s unorthodox position in a left of centre starting point).
If Cleverley was injured, as was the reported reason for his substitution for Kagawa at half time, there was little logic in keeping him on past the 10 minute mark – if he wasn’t, then there was little logic in keeping him attached to the right touchline, as there were promising signs in his possession based game early on. What is more worrying is why the manager would seek to alter his approach just five minutes into the game, having presumably prepared his players in the preceding days around his tactical outline. The nature of the change was also a strange one, as Rafael seemed to be coping much easier with Clichy and the narrow Nasri (with Cleverley’s and Carrick’s help) than Evra was with Navas, Silva and Zabaleta – Navas’ inclusion a masterstroke by Pellegrini, seeking to pin Evra and Welbeck back, overloading the right side.
It was no surprise that the goal originated from that side, after some fantastic inter-play between Zabaleta, Silva and Navas – albeit the final pass into the area came from great work by Fernandinho from the centre, finding Nasri exquisitely, after Rafael failed to recover from the important tackle he made on Silva.
Moyes changes to a ‘diamond’ at half time
With Kagawa’s introduction for Cleverley at half time, came the second tactical alteration. The Japanese star took up the vacancy on the right side, but slightly more narrow; Mata continued in the centre with Fellaini, whilst Carrick seemed to drop deeper still, sitting in front (and often dropping in alongside) of the centre halves. The approach became something of a diamond, and particularly because Welbeck was less inclined to provide width on the left, and instead supported Rooney at the spearhead of the attack as much as possible – this was partly the reason Fellaini retained a left-side position throughout, and indeed looked frustrated with his lack of involvement.
It was evident that United weren’t coping despite the changes, and despite seeming to get back into the game before half time. City’s dominance of the ball, high press (typical of Pellegrini’s ethos) and magical movement of Silva and Nasri in particular soon paid dividends. The only surprise was that the second goal came from a corner, as Dzeko was amazingly allowed to score from a volley from 7 yards out, Rio unfathomably allowing him to escape his clutches with too much ease. The manager’s last crucial change (before throwing on Hernandez relatively late on to bolster the attack) came mid-way through the second half, where he replaced the ineffectual Fellaini with Valencia, reverting back to the tried and tested wing-play approach – pulling Rooney back into central midfield alongside Carrick. There was an argument that the team and shape at this point was one in which he should have started the game (Scholes was left ‘amazed’ of course that Valencia hadn’t started the game after his impact versus Olympiakos).
Mata and Rooney fail to gel and so do the team
It was not a surprise that Moyes’ confusing tactical instructions from the start had a direct impact on United’s blunt attacking capabilities. Despite the 15-20 minute flourish in the first half, United’s play was predictable and disjointed. Whilst Welbeck was yet again fantastically committed, brilliant with the ball on the counter, and trying his upmost to penetrate the penalty area, he was often isolated and far too removed from the midfield – particularly in the second half where he replaced Rooney in the 9 position, with Mata, Kagawa and the Englishman too deep and not able to get close to Welbeck in the final third. United often resorted to the long ball up to Welbeck’s feet, and by the time one of the midfielders were close enough, Kompany (despite his early booking) sniffed out the danger with ease.
City’s players drove through the centre on the counter-attack with a two-goal lead, and sought to give Silva the ball as quickly as possible. Sadly, there was never an opportunity for United to get back into the game at this point, and there was often a misunderstanding between Kagawa, Mata and Rooney around ‘expected movement’. In fact Mata was anonymous, and it was a surprise he stayed on for the full 90 minutes.
Moyes’ lack of clarity of instruction from start to finish was deeply worrying – especially against cross-town rivals. A 3-man centre was an approach Fergie used often against City, and it was encouraging to see Moyes learn from his mistakes at the Etihad in September. However, the lack of congruity the team displayed immediately after going 0-1 down in the game meant that City took the game to United with ease. Cleverley and Fellaini were played out of position, and with Rooney asked both to lead the attack and to play central midfield, and Mata asked to play across three positions throughout the game (wide right in a 4-3-3, central and left side), both key players had minimal impact on the game.
Whilst Fernandinho and Toure were always likely to dominate the centre, United’s disjointed approach gave them extra leverage, and the link play between them and Silva especially, was the catalyst for City’s dominance and execution of the Chilean’s game plan. Pellegrini kept City’s traditional 4-2-3-1 approach for the majority, but importantly gave his players simple and concise instruction – focusing on their assets and where they play best first and foremost. Moyes and his coaching staff on the other hand failed to prepare well on the evidence of the display, and the multiple tactical alterations within the game gave rise to uncertainty amongst his players. That’s two home 0-3 defeats in a week and a half against the club’s fiercest rivals, and despite the empowering win versus Olympiakos recently, there are no signs at all that improvement is on the horizon.