In short – No. There was no way that anyone could have predicted that Manchester City could have inflicted such a painful and humiliating defeat on Manchester United before the kick-off. But was a United defeat on the cards? Honestly there was a very good probability of that happening.Let’s get right to business.
Fergie scrapped the 4-5-1 that he employed against Liverpool last weekend and reverted to the succesful 4-4-2. But two very interesting changes were Nemanja Vidic being dropped from the squad and Jonny Evans starting ahead of Phil Jones in the central defensive role alonsgside Rio Ferdinand and Carrick being dropped altogether. Darren Fletcher started alongside Anderson in the centre of midfield and Danny Welbeck started ahead of Javier Hernandez. For City, Mancini’s hand was forced into relegating Nigel de Jong to the substitutes bench due to his injury. This meant that Yaya Toure dropped back to a central midfield role from the advanced role he played against Aston Villa last week and James Milner started in the right side of a attacking troika alongside Silva and Balotelli, behind Sergio Aguero in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
United vs City – starting formations
United had adjusted well against Arsenal who played a similar 4-2-3-1 earlier in the season. But unlike Arsenal, City varied their tactics and as a result United’s 4-4-2 suffered. The first tweak Mancini did to his tactics was having Milner interchange positions with Silva and cover both wings. Especially whenever United’s wingers were on the attack, Milner tracked back diligently and helped his full-backs out. Milner covering both wings and generally being a major nuisance resulted in an extra man when City came forward on a particular wing and made United’s full-backs contend with two wide players attacking their wing. Cisty’s first goal was a prime example of that – Milner and Silva engaging Smalling and the former then laying the ball on a platter for Balotelli to score. Until that point it was the home side who were doing most of the attacking. But City’s one moment of success showed the flaws in United’s gameplan.
Another point that has to be raised at this point is United’s defense giving Milner, Silva and Balotelli all the time in the world when they had the ball. Silva’s to Milner, Milner’s pass to Balotelli and Balotelli’s finish just didn’t have any player in a red shirt trying to prevent them. Rio Ferdinand’s positioning also has been pretty poor on a disturbingly increasing basis. Another of United’s issues has been the lack of a creative midfielder. I had mentioned this earlier as well, Cleverly is being sorely missed by this United side. Even today, Carrick would have been a better bet in the midfield than Fletcher.
United did have shots on goal in the first half but they were mostly from range and at Hart. Infact United had the better first half stroking 306 passes compared to City’s 234. A mouthwatering comeback was definitely on the cards. But just 64 seconds into the second half Jonny Evans’ recklessness got himself a red card and exposed United who were feeling the strain of their 4-4-2 being outwitted. After the incident City hit 262 passes while United could muster only 183 at a success rate of 78%. A noticable feature about United’s gameplay was that they were intent on passing the ball bang onto their wings, but with Milner and Barry tracking back into the wings it was increasingly difficult for United’s wingers to get their crosses in. Nani especially had a very torrid game. He was handled very effectively by Clichy but that was also a result of the Portuguese’s reluctance to pass the ball to Smalling who had darted into City’s box more than once only to throw his hands in frustration on seeing Nani try to pass it to Young or Rooney.
United’s substitutions also didn’t help them as Hernandez and Jones struggled for positions as City had started exerting their dominance over the fading hosts. The situation was ideal for a work-horse like Park Ji-Sung but Fergie thought otherwise and by the time the game ended, United’s players had given up. Three goals in the stoppage time just added more sheen to the score-line, but City had won the battle very comfortably long before that.