The Manchester derby has come and gone. Football fans from around the world had awaited the game with bated breath, not so much because of the rivalry between the fans of the two clubs, which was as intense as ever; nor was it because of the sublime skills that was expected from the two star- studded sides, which came aplenty in the game; football viewers waited to witness the renewal of tactical battle between two managers ( Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and Jose Mourinho of Manchester United) who have stridden the football world for the past ten years like colossi.
Pep Guardiola, the debonair former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich coach and justifiably regarded as the Kasparov of modern football, has haunted the fiery and glib-tongued Mourinho like a wraith since they both battled for trophies in Spain about six years ago. Guardiola is no name the tempestuous Portuguese would ever forget in a hurry. He was instrumental to the myriad of problems that eventually avalanched and swept the divisive former Madrid coach out of his La liga adventure. With Mourinho unable to dethrone Barcelona under the managerial direction of Guardiola : one problem came on the heels of the other, buffeting the Portuguese tactician after the manner of the Biblical Job. By the time Mourinho was dismissed from Real Madrid, his Barcelona counterpart had sincetaken football and his team to an unprecedented height.
Disappointingly, the match which had been titled Derby Day Dynamite in anticipation of its explosiveness turned out to be a one sided affair, or rather a mis-match, with Manchester City clearly the more superior team than their more illustrious neighbours. City scored their two goals through Kevin DeBryune and Kelechi Iheanachor while Zlatan Ibrahimovich pulled one back for the home team.
The first half saw Manchester City playing their possession football to a superlative degree. The style serving the dual purposes of aiding defensive and offensive play. City‘s players – brimming over with so much confidence, were like the diverse parts of a machine – working co-operatively for the actualization of a single purpose. The peerless Kevin Debruyne, the inimitable David Silva and the indefatigable Fernandinho fought and won the battle in the mid-field gracefully and effortlessly.
Though Manchester United defended in their numbers they were unable to contain the high octane game of City’s players who attacked and defended as a unit. Silva and DeBruyne, the major orchestrators and inititiators of City’s attacks from the mid-field, troubled United defensive formation throughout the game. Silva was spraying passes left, right and centre to his team mates at key positions. DeBryune was dashing across the front-line, interchanging passes with his teammates in a manner that constantly set United defense line in disarray.
Kelechi Iheanacho operating as a false nine, was constantly moving the ball to the sides to enable DeBryune to exploit the gaping hole that always arose between Bailey and Daley Blind when either of them tried to take the ball from him. It was a deceptive header from Iheanachor that gave DeBruyne the space and opportunity to attack United’s goal mouth through the middle, which resulted in the first goal.
Nolito , operating from the left flank , was effective in prizing open the tangle of legs guarding United’s goal mouth. He would receive the ball on the left flank, and then begin to drive the ball to the right-hand side of the United’s eighteen yard box; this always resulted in committing Valencia and Bailey to chase him with their weaker foot which would then be in a disadvantageous position.
The few opportunities that came Manchester United way were swiftly dealt with by City defenders , who would swarm around any attacker approaching their half in their numbers to regain possession.
Pogba, who was United holding mid-fielder, was anonymous and unable to influence proceedings. He, like other United’s players were all engaged in the strenuous task of chasing the football as City players moved it amongst themselves from one part of the pitch to another. The few times Pogba made dribbling runs towards City’s half of the pitch, Fernandinho proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to him. Maurone Fellaini and Jese Lingard,Pogba’s mid-field partners ,were completely involved in shoring up United’s defensive formation that they had little time and energy to launch any attack from the middle of the pitch
The total absence of any creative play from United’s mid-fielders greatly hamstrung their strikers upfront. Rooney, Zlatan and Mikhtaryan had few passes coming their way because of City’s total dominance in the mid-field.
The second half came with Mourinho introducing Rashford and Herrera. Rashford was threatening from the left flank with his pace and dribbling moves. This time around United made recourse to lofting long balls into City’s goal mouth area, counting on the aerial prowess of Zlatan to produce goals.Otamendi and the ever-improving John Stones rose admirably to the occasion, as long balls came in rapid succession from the crosses of United Players into their eighteen yard box.
The weak link in City’s team was Raheem Sterling. He was never able to get the better of Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard, who jointly snuffed out his attacking threat from the right flank.
City’s goal keeper, Claudio Bravo, still un-weaned from Barcelona’s style of play, was a constant source of worry to his team in the match. It was his mis-judgment that gave United their only goal – instead of punching out a curling cross from Rooney, he chose to catch the ball mid-air with both hands : only to spill it in front of Zlatan who instinctively struck the ball into the open net. There were instances when all he needed to do was to hit the ball high into the pitch, but he would dally in the eighteen yard looking for his defenders to give a simple pass to; at such instances, the United attackers would close him down forcing him to make hasty and faulty clearance.
There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the tactical formation and personnel Mourinho chose to play against City, except for Jese Lingaard and Mikhtaryan that performed below par. United lost the match because Mourinho made to so bold to play an open game against City. With the way United play under Mourinho, there was no way they would have had more possession than City in the match. And the philosophy behind Possession football is simply put: “if the opponent does not have the ball in their possession : they cannot score”.
The only way out for United in that match, to use a Mourinho’s coinage, would have been to park the bus but that would have met with the disapproval of United’s fans, who would have seen that pragmatic approach as a tacit concession of superiority to their bitter rival. Considering the amount of money United have spent on Mourinho’s recruitment and purchase of players this season, sitting back to absorbs the waves of attack from an opponent would have been totally unacceptable to United fans who are use to winning matches through attacking football.
Pep Guardiola the master tactician came away from old Trafford with the three points and thus moving to the summit of the League table. Mourinho, in his characteristic manner, blamed the loss to City on wrong calls from Clattenburg, poor performances from certain players and his choice of personnel to do the job. To the unprejudiced watcher of the game , United lost to far more technically superior side.
Though the league is still at its early stage, Manchester City have shown that they mean business in their league title aspiration.