Manchester United were unable to beat Manchester City away at Etihad after a late win in Turin against Juventus in midweek. It was 3-1 for the hosts in a match where the Devils were making mistakes, but they also scored from Ederson’s mistake, when he fouled Romelu Lukaku in his box.
However, it was a match where it was obvious which team is the better one right now. There was not much United could have done with 35 percent of possession and no shots on target from open play.
Inability To Create
And that gets us to our first point. Manchester United were simply unable to create chances against such a powerful team that loves controlling the match. In fact, the Devils made six shots, one of them being penalty. The other five had an xG total of 0.19, which truly paints a good picture. Matic, Martial, Rashford and Mata all made a shot, but all of them were blocked, while Smalling’s header went off target.
Man United had big troubles taking the hold of the game, as City’s relentless pressing and impeccable passing made it that much harder. Even Man City’s third goal came after 40+ consecutive passes that lead to Ilkay Gundogan’s precise shot for a 3-1 lead. That sequence was everything you needed to see in order to realise the difference between the two sides.
The Central Midfield Problem
Manchester United had problems in centre of the park. Pundits also pointed that afterwards and it was quite easy to see. United had a three of Herrera, Matic and Fellaini, while City had Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and David Silva. City’s “free eights”, as Guardiola calls them, had the licence to roam and control the game from the half-spaces between the middle of the pitch and the flanks.
If you just see the touch map of two Silvas and compary it to that of Herrera and Matic on the other side, you will see glaring differences. But it is not just where the players played on the pitch, it was also how they played. Matic was often overrun, while Bernardo and David continuously moved up and down, left and right, showing all the mobility that the United midfield did not possess.
Sterling And Mahrez Offering Width
And then there are Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. The Anglo-Algerian duo was putting on a show Pep Guardiola truly enjoys. It is not even about scoring or assisting, as much as it is about the players following the instructions. And that is what they did. Guardiola loves having his wingers in a 4-3-3 playing as wide as possible, basically standing high up the pitch alongside the throw-in line.
Mahrez and Sterling in such way have given the space David and Bernardo Silva needed in the centre of the pitch, while also stretching United’s defence. They had 107 touches combined, but only 11 of them came in City’s own half. Remember how everyone says your wingers need to defend too?
Well, it is quite simply – if you attack really high up the pitch right after losing the ball instead of retreating, then you truly can play like that. It was a display in which the differences to United’s wingers were also obvious.