The League Cup has reached its Semi-Final stage, and Manchester United host Manchester City in another edition of the Manchester Derby, as Pep Guardiola’s side look to avenge their humbling earlier this season over the two legs.
Manchester United were held against Wolves in the FA Cup, adding a replay to their hectic January schedule, and the needs for reinforcements in January have been made evident by Ole Gunnar Solksjaer being unable to rotate to the same extent as many other sides, and his potentially tiring squad could be stretched further for the visit of Guardiola’s men on Tuesday night.
Manchester City have bounced back from a 3-2 defeat to Wolves with three victories on the bounce, with City’s deeper squad coming to the fore in recent weeks, despite their increased fixture backlog. Looking to avenge the league defeat, it should be an enthralling first leg, and opens up some interesting tactical issues.
A lot can be taken from United’s victory over City earlier in the season, and it will be no surprise to see Solksjaer take an identical tactical approach to try and give the Red Devils a first leg advantage after Tuesday night.
It was a strong counter attacking display, as Solkjaer’s side employed a 4-2-3-1 exactly as planned, targeting the City full backs and City high line, and in particular the front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James gave Angelino a torrid time, as they targeted the lack of pace and defensive support that the Brazilian full back was given, much like Liverpool were able to so in their 3-1 win over City earlier in the season.
The targeting of City’s high line and vulnerability of the full backs has been a common theme of City’s struggles this season, and how Guardiola adapts to the threat of United’s front three after the earlier defeat awaits to be seen, but an interesting tactical switch when struggling at home to Sheffield United may offer up one way Guardiola will look to adjust. With Sheffield United’s Lys Mousset and Callum Robinson targeting the space in behind with long balls over the top, much like United have done, City switched to a deeper back three for the second half, with Rodri dropping deeper alongside Fernandinho and Eric Garcia, which subsequently allowed the wing backs to push high as normal, and giving Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez a free role to drift centrally, alleviating the worries from having less bodies centrally. This allowed City to guard against the pace in behind by having wider defensive cover, and this extra man helped keep the Blades at bay for long periods in the second half, and it would be no surprise to see Guardiola opt for something similar on Tuesday.
Key to United’s victory was the structure and resilient nature of their midfield at the Etihad, with Fred and Scott McTominay impressing, whilst Jesse Lingard also completed his defensive duties. McTominay’s energy to press, as well as awareness to win three tackles and making three interceptions helped keep the normally influential Kevin De Bruyne quiet, whilst on the ball both he and Fred’s distribution and composure helped United play through the extremely high City press, and as a result expose the frail City backline, targeting the aforementioned pace over the top. Given City dominated with 72% possession, it was no surprise to see how important this performance was to United, and this brings into play a massive worry for Solksjaer’s side on Tuesday.
Both McTominay and Paul Pogba are expected to miss out, and has often been the case when paired together this season, Nemanja Matic and Fred have struggled, and City will be key to target these central areas, where Matic in particular may struggle to cope with the influential De Bruyne in central areas. For all the hard work that United managed against City, De Bruyne did still manage to create five chances, and up against the much less mobile Matic, an increased tempo on the ball and the movement up front for City is certainly going to cause worries for United, and it could be a long evening for United, especially if their loss to Arsenal is anything to build upon.
Luke Shaw was given a torrid time by Nicholas Pepe on New Years Day, and it would be no surprise to see Guardiola opt for Riyad Mahrez, who possesses the similar traits of the Ivorian winger, to try and trouble Shaw. With a potential back three to help alleviate the threat from over the top of Rashford down that flank, it could see Shaw overloaded once again, especially with the right back encouraged to bomb forward and occupy the full back. Matic offered little support for Shaw on the night, and with him potentially occupied centrally by the creative midfielders, it could see City target this flank, and a long evening for both Matic and Shaw.
Despite United’s earlier victory in the season, the warning signs are back for Solksjaer’s side, as midfield woes could prove to be the difference.
Despite United’s win earlier on in the season, Guardiola looks to be adapting to the threats posed by the Red Devils attack, and this, coupled with United’s injury woes in the middle of midfield, make City a promising prospect. Available at 1.90 (Bet365), Manchester City to win and Over 1.5 goals is a tempting prospect, especially when considering how poor United were against Arsenal, and City’s rampant attack in recent weeks.
With Mike Dean on the whistle, cards could flow as is normally the case for the referee. With United struggling and potentially up against it for long periods,
Manchester United to have more cards takes an appeal at 2.62 (Bet365). Although City have a reputation of tactical fouling, and United do pose a threat to see these accumulated, the constant barrage of City pressure and frustration from United players could boil over if City control the game as expected, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see United rack up the cards on Tuesday night. The line ups do leave a lot to ponder regarding the individual player markets, but if Mahrez is to start up against Shaw and Matic on the flank, I’d be considering these as options for bookings, especially when considering the torrid time Shaw had against Pepe.