Manchester United v Manchester City (2-1): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

Manchester United v Manchester City (2-1): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

  • Tactics
  • January 17, 2023
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Some games demand a bit extra from the players, the coaches, the staff, & the fans included. They have a bit of panache, rivalry & flavour added to them, & so is the case with the Manchester derby. 

Coming into the game the stage was set, the aim was clear & the result was vital for both managers. City had to win to come in touching distance with Arsenal & a win would take United above Spurs & into the top four. 

Old Trafford was up for it & so was Erik ten Hag. United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Anthony Martial up top, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, & Marcus Rashford behind him, & Casemiro forming a double pivot with Fred. Ten Hag also trusted Wan-Bissaka in the RB spot & Malacia in the LB role, as Shaw & Varane came in at the base of defense.

Pep didn’t back off either, putting out his strongest XI. Ederson in goal, Ake & Akanji were at the heart of defense as Cancelo & Walker took the full-back roles. Rodri was the single pivot behind 2 interiors i.e. Bernardo Silva & De Bryune. Mahrez, Foden & of course Haaland completed the lineup in City’s typical 4-3-3.

man united vs man city tactics premier league 2022/23
Man United vs Man City pass maps Premier League 2022/23

City began playing out in their usual 4-3-3, almost a default set-up with the 2-3-2-3 in build-up. Meanwhile, United pressed in a narrow 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-4 mid-block set-up.

This approach meant City’s interiors could not receive the ball on the turn & attack as they were tracked by United’s wingers. In fact United’s structure prevented City’s progress almost completely.

Rodri was shadowed by Eriksen or Martial cutting out the central passage of the play, while Fred was man-marking Kevin De Bruyne. United were also keen to pounce on any pressing triggers to force a turnover. 

man united man city tactics premier league 2022/23
Man United’s 4-2-3-1 vs Man City Premier League 2022/23

City’s ideas to cope with this were rather simple. Bernardo Silva dropped in often to form a double pivot & found Cancelo or Walker out wide as United’s press forced them to the flanks. As a result, Walker & Cancelo were the only ones with time & space to do anything proactive on the ball.

man united tactics vs man city premier league 2022/23
Man City’s full backs in space against Man United’s 4-2-3-1 low block Premier League 2022/23

Ten Hag’s approach was pragmatic but effective. United were defensive, but they also were a real threat in transitions. They always had an outlet upfront & supporting runs were made at lightning speed. With Martial being the outlet & Bruno Fernandes & Rashford providing supporting runs, Eriksen or Casemiro often played the releasing pass to begin the transition.

man united vs man city tactics 2023
Man United’s direct passing approach vs Man City Premier League 2022/23

The first half played out exactly as United hoped for. City could not catch a sniff of a chance & were reduced to an xG of 0.13. They couldn’t break past United’s block at all for the first 20 minutes, having no touches in United’s box around till the same time. Haaland had just 2 touches in the first 20 minutes, as United nullified his goal threat. At halftime, the teams were at a stalemate with the score still at 0-0.

The second half began with a surprise. Rashford who was seemingly injured in the first half was expected to be taken off. It seemed to be the case when Antony was preparing to come on, only for Antony to replace Anthony Martial instead. Rashford being fit & staying on was a big relief for the United faithful as Antony came in & replaced Martial in the central role initially.

United’s direct approach was working. It was slow progress, but effective.

man united man city tactics pass maps
Man United & Man City’s progressive pass attempts Premier League 2022/23 (Credit: markrstats)

City began the second half switching gears though. Their tempo increased & they were better at finding their way through United’s block. Soon enough, they looked threatening. Pep added fuel to the fire by bringing on Grealish for Foden on the left. 

man united man city cumulative xg tactics
Man United & Man City’s cumulative xG for chances & opportunities Premier League 2022/23 (Credit: markrstats)

The breakthrough came via the usual route though with Kevin De Bruyne coming up clutch yet again. The Belgian made a beautiful unmarked run into the box after being fed through by Mahrez on the right wing.

De Bruyne continued his run & lobbed the ball across the face of the goal for the oncoming Grealish to nod in. City’s higher gear after the break proved fruitful as they got the elusive first goal against a side that were determined not to let them score.

man united man city tactics
Kevin De Bruyne match stats & pass map vs Man United Premier League 2022/23 (Credit: markrstats)

Soon City’s counter-press become better too, as United tried to build up slightly more rather than going direct. Their shape became a 2-2-3-3 in possession & a 4-2-3-1 high block.

The real shift came in the 71’st minute when Ten Hag called upon Garnacho to replace Eriksen. What followed was United’s best spell offensively as Garnacho, Rashford & Antony; 3 players who are immense in transition, overran the City defence for some spells in the second half. With Garnacho on the left, Rashford down the middle, & Antony on the right & Bruno holding the 10 role with Casemiro & Fred as anchors in the double pivot, United began looking lethal on the break.

Soon enough United got what they asked for. Wan-Bissaka’s brilliant run broke City’s press & found Casemiro in space. The Brazilian quickly found Rashford who was offside but was deemed onside by the assistant as he did not touch the ball. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes who made a run alongside Rashford latched on to the pass & finished it astutely. It was rather controversial, but the referee’s word stood final as VAR did not intervene.

man united first goal vs man city premier league 2022/23
Man United’s first goal vs Man City Premier League 2022/23

City then committed all their players forward in attack, but United were prepared.

Garnacho who was wide left was left in space as Walker & Akanji had pushed up. He aligned his run to not be offside as he was fed through by Bruno Fernandes. At the same time, Antony’s in-field run from the right pulled a helpless Cancelo central, leaving the wide outlet for Wan-Bissaka.

Garnacho continued his run into the box, squared up with Ake, & tried to find Antony, but the ball ricocheted off a rushing Akanji’s face & back to the youngster. On his second attempt, the Argentine wonderkid swiftly turned around onto his left & played a delightful ball across the box to find an unmarked Rashford who finished it neatly. Stretford End was bouncing & Old Trafford was jubilant as it turned 2-1 to United.

man united vs man city second goal premier league 2022/23
Man United’s second goal vs Man City Premier League 2022/23

From then on it was all about closing out the game for United & City trying to equalise. City’s urgency was seen in their approach as they directly shifted to a 2-3-5 immediately after United’s second goal. Ten Hag sent on Maguire, Lisandro Martinez, & McTominay to close out the game as United sat back absorbing all of City’s attacks in a 5-2-3.

Soon enough the final whistle blew & it was ecstasy for the Red Devils at Old Trafford. After being thrashed 6-3 at the Etihad earlier in the season, the win meant bragging rights for United in the Manchester derby. It also was a testament to the progress United have made under Erik ten Hag this season since their early losses.

The win took United into 4th, just a point behind City. Meanwhile, City’s loss was Arsenal’s gain as the Gunners moved 8 points clear at the top following their North London derby win over Spurs.

Also read: Brentford vs Liverpool (3-1): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

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