Kompany gives City the edge
While the Manchester derby was hardly going to live up to the gargantuan expectations that had been built up by the media in terms of quality, it was still an intriguing game.
Firstly Manchester United made some interesting decisions; Phil Jones came in for Rafael at right back and Park Ji-Sung played in midfield alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, with the champions going with a 4-3-3. Wayne Rooney played up front on his own – which most United fans maintain is his best position – flanked by Ryan Giggs and Nani.
One of the things that stood out was how close Phil Jones played to United’s centre backs in the right back position when United were defending. Partly this was probably natural on Jones’ part, as he’s primarily a central player, but it also meant that there were few gaps between him and the right centre back, meaning the likes of Samir Nasri and David Silva struggled to thread balls in between them for Aguero. Another effect of Jones’ narrow positioning was that it forced City wide, and with Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero not offering much in the air, not to mention United having a lot of players back to defend the crosses, this helped United limit the clear-cut chances afforded to their opponents.
Still, Alex Ferguson’s men couldn’t keep City out, conceding from a corner on the stroke of half time. Vincent Kompany got the goal, easily losing Chris Smalling to power home a header from Silva’s in-swinging corner. Kompany, along with the other centre back Joleon Lescott, is City’s main aerial threat (Yaya Toure is also tall but heading doesn’t seem to be his strong point) so you’d argue that United should have planned better with how to stop Kompany from getting on the end of corners. Ultimately though, it was Smalling’s lack of focus & experience that saw him dragged to the ball, leaving Kompany free to emphatically head home what turned out to be the winner.
To sum up the first half, Man United did well to limit the chances City had; other than Kompany’s header, the Blues registered one shot on target in the first half from a decent position near the penalty spot. There were three off target efforts, including a wayward, rushed volley from Aguero from a tight angle. City’s other three attempts were blocked before breaching the six-yard area in front of Joe Hart.
City managing to break through during the first half despite United’s relatively good organisation in forcing them wide showed a good variety in their play, because while they were stopped from threading balls through they still managed to score from a set piece. Still, it highlighted a short-coming in their attack – neither Aguero or Tevez are particularly good in the air, shown by how City struggled when forced to cross the ball into the box; most of the crosses were low ones, which were mostly cut out easily.
Many teams have tall target men such as Peter Crouch at Stoke, but at City the technical demands are much higher, and they can’t simply sign a tall player who’s good in the air – there must be a good amount of skill there too. Firstly they tried for this type of player in Emmanuel Adebayor, but he failed to make the long-term impact they were hoping for. Edin Dzeko was a similar signing, but after a good start to the season finds himself struggling to get into the team. With Fernando Llorente making noise in Spain and Europe for Athletic Bilbao, it may be that City consider replacing Dzeko with the Spaniard.
In the second half, the game was much more end-to-end. City lived mainly off of counter attacks which eventually led to spells of tentative dominance in United’s half – Yaya Toure’s power was vital in starting off these counters. While City, as stated earlier, had few clear cut chances in the first half, they had more in the second half as United, pushing for an equaliser, left less players back and focussed less on defensive organisation and more on breaching City’s defence.
Vincent Kompany was man of the match, and he was excellent in defence alongside Joleon Lescott, with United also feeding off scraps up front. They had no answer to City’s defensive compactness, which was excellent especially as they managed to transition from resolute defending to free-flowing attack seamlessly. United had few runs in behind the defence, who as it were were playing close to Joe Hart, and first Barry then de Jong tracked Rooney whenever he dropped deep. That left the midfield battle as 2 v 2, but Scholes and Carrick couldn’t take advantage of this new numerical equality; perhaps not quite energetic enough to do so.
Another thing which was worth nothing was the similarity of United’s wide players – Young, Valencia and Nani are all good players (although Valencia is the only one who has been consistent this season) but they’re all mainly speed & trickery based. Valencia is a good team player, but none of them are particularly renowned for their passing or playmaking skills. With Scholes and Carrick sitting relatively deep, United had no playmaker in advanced areas, which limited them when it came to breaking City down and unlocking the stubborn blue walls of defence.
United’s 4-3-3 was set up largely to contain, as they would have taken a draw while a loss would have been disastrous to them. However, with Scholes and Carrick their sitting midfielders, they had no naturally defensive holding midfielder to protect the defence properly a la Gareth Barry. While Scholes and Carrick do well at keeping possession against the likes of QPR at home, they were somewhat overrun by City and didn’t offer enough offensively between them.
In the end City’s discipline defensively having gone 1-0 up was commendable, and they were fully content to hold onto their lead – they knew fully well that they could frustrate United due to a lack of creativity against a stubborn, well-organised defence, and that’s how it panned out.