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Pep Talk - 08: Manchester Derby victory!

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United (L) annd Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City (R) shake hands before kick off during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Guardiola got one over his arch nemesis at the weekend
Modified 26 Sep 2016, 23:43 IST

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City emerged victorious against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the Manchester Derby this past weekend. The match, other than being the clash of city rivals, had the significance of being the ideological battle between Guardiola and Mourinho.

In the end, the goals scored by Kevin de Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho helped City in defeating United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Manchester United. 

Starting line-ups:

Manchester City: Claudio Bravo; Aleksandar Kolarov, Nicholas Otamendi, John Stones, Bacary Sagna; Fernandinho,  David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne; Nolito, Raheem Sterling, Kelechi Iheanacho.

Manchester United: David de Gea; Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia; Paul Pogba, Maraoune Fellaini; Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

Guardiola started with a 4-3-3 shape while Mourinho went ahead with a 4-2-3-1 shape with occasionally narrow wingers. 

Starting line-ups.

Claudio Bravo – Manchester City’s saviour on a day when Manchester United pressed high.

Following Joe Hart’s exit to Torino after a small period of turmoil, Guardiola got a chance yesterday to show just what kind of goalkeeper he needed for his team to be more functional and dynamic in terms of playing. Yes, Claudio Bravo committed a howler. But against a Manchester United team that embodies most of the qualities of English football like the long balls, directness, acting on the counter and physicality, it is never easy for a debutant keeper who is new to Premier League.


Apart from that mistake that led to Ibrahimovic's goal and two late decisions in the second half, where Bravo was trying to lure United into committing more forwards to high-press so as to play a long ball, the game from the Chilean’s perspective was a solid one.

With his understanding of the game, ability to read situations as and when they develop, willingness to go forward and support the backline that was being pressed by Manchester United, Bravo showed just how different his mentality was to a typical English goalkeeper. With his involvement in the game, Bravo stamped on the fact that goalkeepers of his ilk were much necessary for Guardiola’s style of play to be effective.

In fact, in the post-match comments, Guardiola himself praised Bravo’s performance “What Claudio Bravo did was one of the best performances I have ever seen”.

Also Read: Pep Guardiola hails Claudio Bravo's performance as one of the best he's seen

Looking closer at Bravo’s game, he acted like the 11th outfield player for Manchester City. The big picture is, he was thus creating 11v10 advantage for City from the very moment an attack was getting initiated. Step by step, City was progressing higher up the pitch by converting this macro-numerical advantage into smaller or micro-numerical advantages in the other zones of the field.


Playing outside the 18-yard box, Bravo assisted Manchester City’s defenders in easily evading the pressure out on them by Mourinho’s team. Beating high-press was easy because Bravo was offering an extra passing option for his teammates and was also helping them in spread out and make United work hard during high-press. Quick launch of attacks was possible due to the availability of many passing options for the goalkeeper.

Options for Bravo to restart the attacks quickly.

When any of his teammates was getting trapped on the wings, Bravo’s advanced sideways run was offering an escape route to that player. After receiving passes in such situations, Bravo was suddenly switching the ball to the centre back positioned in the far side half-space. This was giving Manchester City players access to the gaps in the defensive shape of United. As a result, we saw City play numerous passes through these gaps. 

Bravo moving higher-up to offer a passing option and restart the attack to target the far side.

Bravo’s involvement outside of the penalty box was giving numerical superiority for Manchester City while attack build-ups. As shown in the earlier image, this was freeing up players in between United’s defensive shape. Moreover, the 4v3 superiority just outside the box coupled with the positioning of City players was creating 3v2 and 2v1 superiorities higher up the pitch as well. 

Bravo’s involvement outside of the box created numerical superiority at the back and in different zones.

The first goal of the game resulted when Kolarov and Bravo teamed-up and attracted the high-pressing forwards of United closer towards the penalty box. This stretched United’s defence. Pogba and Fellaini moved and widened the space between the lines.

The long pass from Kolarov landed in this space. Iheanacho dropped down into this space to flick the ball to De Bruyne, who was running through this gap. Bravo, thus played an important role in the initiation of the attack that led to the first goal.

Even though United had quick forwards, City maintained a high-line. This was partly because Bravo was moving outside the box to pick up loose balls and restart the play.

Manchester United press in the midfield but poor shape results in the lack of coordination while pressing.

To stifle Manchester City’s passing through the middle, Manchester United pressed in the midfield and decided to stay narrow in order to stop the progression of attack through the centre. The wingers were narrowing down their position by moving towards the half-spaces.


Manchester City had to try to move the ball first to the wings, during build-ups, in order to make room in the central channels of the field. The compact 5-man midfield of Manchester United also enabled them to trap City’s central midfielders and win the balls in order to launch counter-attacks. 

United’s narrow shape helped in pressing in the central regions, but left space open elsewhere on the pitch.

Mourinho played to his strengths by making Manchester United stay narrow and compact. However, due to the positional rotation of the Manchester City players in the midfield and some man-orientation by United’s central midfielders and wide players, while defending, City usually found gaps in between United’s defensive shape.

Manchester United was getting split into two between the two central midfielders with an ocean of space between them – giving permission for City to take advantage of United’s lack of compactness in the middle. So when United players tried to press, they ended up creating free space for their opponents. 

A wide gap between Pogba and Fellaini led to the loss of compact shape and resulted in confusion.

Since United players stayed narrow, they had to shift from one side to another in order to deny diagonal passing options for the wingbacks of City. As explained above, in the lower middle third City players took advantage of this by playing quick passes from one wing to another via Bravo and switching the ball to the far side in order to gain entry to the space left open by United.

Manchester City players’ positioning

In order to beat Manchester United’s numbers in midfield and help the attack get progressed from the defensive line to the forwards, Silva was dropping deep alongside Fernandinho while build-up. He was playing around the central midfield region even when United was defending deep.

Thus, he effectively played as a #8. Fernandinho didn’t seek to drop down and split the centre backs as United mostly played with only one striker up front. Even when United was changing to 4-4-2 while pressing, the Brazilian was keeping Rooney, playing as shadow striker in 4-4-2, busy. This was because Bravo was involving in the play and was providing support at the back.

De Bruyne continued with #10 role. Of the three central midfielders of City, he was positioned higher than the other two. To fill up the space left behind by Silva’s deep movements, the Belgian was moving sideways towards the left wing – thus enabling either Iheanacho to drop down and Sterling to attack the #9 space or Sterling to move towards the half-space.


On the left wing, Nolito and Kolarov were pairing up and alternating between the wings and the half-spaces. Mkhitaryan’s narrow position and Valencia tendency to press the ball carrier resulted in many chances being created from this wing.

City’s shape, due to the dynamics explained above, was situationally changing to a lopsided 3-5-2. Note that with this shape City had nearly 5 players positioned around the centre. Apart from the flexibility and unpredictability, it was adding to City’s attacks, this was allowing them to counter-press Manchester United in the central region and try to win the ball back.

If not, they were pushing United players out wide and using the outward movement of the ball to regroup and be compact in front of the penalty box. The pressing resistance of City increased in the midfield region due to this situational change and  we witnessed United’s attempt to stop the attacks through the middle fail. 

Change in shape to a lop-sided 3-5-2 increased the flexibility and stability in possession phase.

In the Manchester Derby, we rarely got to see Kolarov and Sagna acting line inverted-fullbacks. Guardiola was using the movements of his midfielders, wingers, and wingbacks to cancel out United’s numerical advantage in the midfield. If he had decided to use only the inverted-fullbacks against United narrow 5-man midfield, then during the counter-attacks, United wingers could’ve easily found the space behind the wingbacks and stretch the defensive line.

After Iheancacho was substituted and Leroy Sane was brought on, the young German played as a winger. De Bruyne played as the centre-forward. With his involvement in the #10-space during attacks, De Bruyne was creating a midfield diamond. From here he was spraying passes to the wingers. But since United was hell-bent on staying narrow in front of the box, City couldn’t break down the defence, even though it had many chances.


Manchester City, with its fluidic playing style and positional play elements like positional dynamics, goalkeeper involvement, press resistance – all of which have been explained above – beat Manchester United, that played with a sturdier and direct style. In the first half, it looked as if City had all the attacking power and United had none at all. Also, errors and poor defensive plan against City resulted in space creation and losing of compactness. 

Published 13 Sep 2016, 11:01 IST
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