Manchester City have flown with the English Premier League title, at least hypothetically.
In a continuation of events, Pep Guardiola‘s extended Manchester City‘s winning streak after sinking Manchester United with a 1-2 win at Old Trafford. The Red Devils had not lost a single game in their backyard since the same team defeated them with the same scoreline in September 2016, losing the home derby again.
Manchester United are now 11 points behind the league leaders, putting an embryonic end to the discussion of the two-horse title race this season. The game was entertaining in all aspects as both teams showed the character that Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho embody against each other.
Pep’s team carried the ball and Jose’s boys looked for a break. While City triumphed against their arch-rivals, the disappointing part was the way United conceded from poor set-piece defending cost Red Devils the title at least, hypothetically.
First things first, The hosts were barred from fielding the influential Paul Pogba owing to his suspension and the scenario made Mourinho shift to his traditional play note. The Portuguese likes to defend with 6 and attack with 4 outfield players, which was evident from the team formation of 4-2-3-1, where Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera played subsequent roles of #6 and #8.
The absence of Paul Pogba was massive. He acts as a bridge between the attack and the midfield, that Jesse Lingard failed to perform. After much success with the back 3 formation, Jose shifted the team to a regular 4, tinkering with the team’s natural instincts on the pitch and that extra bit of security. The team looked to be attack-minded on the sheet but was more of a high-press machine on the field.
On the blue side of Manchester, Guardiola did the same with his backline but displayed a regular midfield and front three. The jaw-dropping factor was the gutsy move to bench Manchester Derby top-scorer Sergio Aguero in place of Gabriel Jesus, who added more variety and dynamism to his positional extravaganza.
Significance of Midfield
A midfield connects the defence to the attack and it is always significant in high-intensity matches like these. Manchester United did not have the services of Paul Pogba and thus, had to resort to Ander Herrera, who is far from being his substitute in terms of the attacking flair and creative capacities the Frenchman provides. As far as Lingard is concerned, he is more of a running horse who can win you a match with his one-off flare, like the one at Emirates last weekend, but against well-oiled machines like City, you need better technical abilities.
Manchester City had a fluid midfield. Fernandinho as the destroyer in the team proved a win-win situation. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva rotated their positions as box-to-box and number 10 midfielders with ease, causing trouble to the United defence and midfield, making it difficult for the home side to man-mark them.
Above all, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic were troubled throughout the game that they were often seen being called up by the referee Michael Oliver for warnings.
Forward line chaos
Guardiola fielded a team that adapted to his primary tactic of the False 9 perfectly. Jesus shifted to the left to accommodate Sterling in the centre and with Sane on the right, City stretched the United defence. They were seen shifting their positions quite frequently in a bid to nullify chances of man marking. On several occasions, Jesus would tuck in from the left but could not succeed in making any effort count.
Romelu Lukaku’s errors lead to United conceding two goals
Sterling’s low height was complemented by the ball played at the feet, and at no point throughout the 90 minutes did City try to cross the ball aerially. Jesus and Sane ensured the width, and with creativity behind them, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were not allowed to go forward with immense ease.
For United, the ball supplying ability was at rest. Anthony Martial started on the right wing and failed drastically to make even his staple dribbles, let alone leaving defenders behind in embarrassment. Romelu Lukaku did not do anything on the ball, except firing a shot miles above the goalpost. While his off the ball moment is considerable but is only applaudable when the team performance fairs.
Both teams conceded goals through individual errors. David Silva’s goal was a result of Romelu Lukaku’s back header towards David De Gea while defending a corner, while Rashford stuck home through an uncomfortable display of Fabian Delph at the Left Back position.
Things got ugly when Lukaku’s second attempt towards clearing the ball during a defence of a set piece got stuck on the back of his teammate and Otamendi scored on the rebound from a nearly identical first goal. Delph went on to make several more errors but United could not capitalize on those.