Jose vs Pep. Red vs Blue. United vs City. On the third gameweek of the English Premier League season, the first Manchester derby of the campaign, of Jose and Pep’s reign’s, has arrived.
United have enjoyed three wins out of three in the Premier League under ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho, with the added bonus of winning the community shield prior to the beginning of the Premier League fixtures. Guardiola’s Man City team have dominated the vast majority of all of their games to date, also winning everyone of their Premier League games so far, alongside gaining Champions League qualification. In one of the most highly anticipated Manchester derbys of recent years, both sides will be looking to continue their 100% records. Only one can.
Jose Mourinho started his first Manchester derby with a couple of surprising inclusions, as well as familiar faces dropping to the bench. De Gea started in goals behind a back-four of Valencia, Bailly, Blind and Shaw. Fellaini played as defensive-midfielder, with Paul Pogba in a slightly more advanced position to the left of him. Mkhitaryan surprinsgly made his full debut, seeing the in-form Mata demoted to the bench. Rooney started behind Ibrahimovic whilst Jese Lingard played on the left, seeing Martial leave the starting 11.
New boy Claudio Bravo made his City debut in goals. There was a back-four of Sagna, Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov, which saw Zabaleta and Clichy both lose their starting berths. Fernandinho started as the 6, with David Silva to the left of him as an 8. As the right central-midfielder was Kevin de Bruyne, who played a more advanced role than he has been so far this term. Sterling and Nolito played as the wingers, centred by young Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho, who took over from the suspended Sergio Aguero.
Mourinho’s Initial Man-Orientation
Knowing the potential of Manchester City when cleanly progressing through their build-up phases, Jose Mourinho instructed his Manchester United team to adopt a man-marking approach in phase one of City’s build-up, which was most significant at City goal-kicks.
City chose to build in a (1)-3-3-3-1, this was a relatively adaptable shape for United to man-mark from their 4-2-3-1. Stones and Otamendi would drop very deep on either side of the 18-yard box, moving into the vacated space centrally was Fernandinho. Kolarov and Sagna pushed up the wing slightly, while David Silva frequently dropped into a deep 8 position within the left halfspace, to support and offer a vertical escape from the press from here.
Ibrahimovic and Lingard positioned themselves close enough to Otamendi and Stones to deter Bravo from passing to them, whilst remaining compact enough with the centre to prevent Bravo from penetrating the first line easily. Rooney marked Fernandinho whilst also attempting to block any passes through the halfspaces. Fellaini and Pogba stuck tight with Silva and De Bruyne, following them as deep or high as the City midfielders went. Mkhitaryan stayed tight with Kolarov on the wing, whilst Shaw pushed up a few metres on his wing, putting him within pressing distance of Sagna. From goal-kicks, when Bravo couldn’t move with the ball, this made it almost impossible City to play out through their first line, as well as it being extremely difficult for Bravo play into the second line without lobbing the ball. Realising they weren’t going to be able to play out from the back, City used vertical movements both towards and away from their own goal in order to stretch United’s vertical compactness and create space behind United’s first line of pressure. David Silva often dropped very deep into the left halfspace, sometimes even just a few yards ahead of Fernandinho, which dragged Fellaini a lot higher than he would have liked to have been. De Bruyne would move onto the last line alongside Iheanacho, where the pair would gamble off of one another’s flick-on headers, where City’s goal actually came from. By moving onto the last line, Pogba was pulled extremely deep, which often created huge spaces in between the first line of pressure and the defensive block. Bravo’s superb technical skills allowed him to drop chipped passes into the halfspaces for Sagna and Kolarov to attack, in battles against Shaw and Mkhitaryan, which they were likely to win.
This high pressure in the initial phase of opposition build-up was something we seen Mourinho deploy in his final El Classico meeting with Guardiola.
Another Full-Back Variation
In a game, particularly first half, of Manchester City dominance, one of the only areas United looked to have any sort of focus on controlling was their defence to attack transition. With Guardiola’s positional play being attack-orientated during his tenure at City so far, he decided alterations would need to be made, in order to nullify the counter-attacking threat of a Mourinho team. With Zabaleta and Clichy dropped for Sagna and Kolarov, this suggested before the game that the movement of the full-backs would perhaps be something to do with the his.
In early games of the season, we seen inverted movements from City’s full-backs primarily in a bid to improve connectivity and create dangerous situations on either wing. Today, we saw IFB’s again, though not for the same purpose. As the ball moved out to either Sterling or Nolito, rather than making a supporting movement towards the ball, Sagna and Kolarov pinched inside into their respective halfspaces.
Creating a narrow 2-3 defensive block, this prevented United from countering through the halfspaces, the areas where Mkhitaryan and Rooney are so good at counter-attacking through.
Dominance Through Juego de Posición
Though they had some difficulties in progressing cleanly from phase one, Guardiola’s Man City had no problems in dominating the match in the following phases of possession through strong use of positional play.
The dynamics through the centre from City were excellent and very effective in manipulating the low-mid block of United. The rotation of John Stones and Fernandinho made it difficult for Rooney and Ibrahimovic to effectively block or mark the pair as the movements were quick and difficult to track. Stones movements into the 6 position allowed for Fernandinho to drop even deeper than usual and Otamendi to split even wider, creating more space centrally.
Spanish midfield magician David Silva excelled throughout the match, his dropping movements allowing him to dictate from deep momentarily, in a role he has never taken so much responsibility in before. His midfield partner Kevin de Bruyne often made alternate movements with Iheanacho, with one of them making a stretching vertical movement, whilst the other searched for an open passing lane from deep.
The positional play during ball circulation was excellent. Rather than horizontally circulating, increasing the possibility a non-penetrative U shape, City often used the dropping movements and overloads in behind United’s first line to recycle centrally and open play up through the opposite centre-back. From here, the receiver was usually the free-man and with the help of some movement from the ball-near interior, a dribbling lane was often opened up for them to drive forward into midfield. As this occurred, central players around the ball would make supporting movements to prevent isolation in the centre of the field, which was often successful and allowed them to combine in an area now of numerical superiority and escape the press into a now underloaded area of the field.
Coming out on top as deserved 2-1 winners, despite a nervy ending, Guardiola’s side’s dominance against such strong opposition pleasantly surprised many. Though City have been performing at a very high level so far this season, perhaps none have topped such a dominant performance against truly challenging opposition in Manchester United. Mourinho will be disappointed not just his side’s relatively poor performance, both in terms of dynamics with the ball and lack of intensity in a City’s later phases, but also with the result, which he will no doubt see as three points dropped in the title race.