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article imageCity & United turn to defensive solidity in drab Manchester derby

By Tyrrell Meertins     Oct 25, 2015 in Sports
With David Silva and Sergio Aguero unavailable for selection, Manuel Pellegrini was without the league's best striker and play-maker on Manchester City’s trip to Old Trafford, depriving the away side of pace, creativity and guile in the final third.
Nevertheless, Pellegrini has displayed improved pragmatism this season, often opting for a 4-2-3-1 against strong sides, and here, Yaya Toure started behind Wilfried Bony, with Fernandinho and Fernando protecting the back four. The main surprise in either XI was the inclusion of Antonio Valencia over first choice right-back Mateo Darmian, as the Ecuadorian was handed the task of coping with the in-form Raheem Sterling.
Though previous encounters between the two city rivals have been filled with goals, Pellegrini’s selection, combined with Louis Van Gaal’s renowned big-game caution, offered a lacklustre showcase. Manchester United and City dominate possession on a weekly basis, but here, there was a stark contrast regarding the manner in which they defended without the ball.
The congested midfield zone witnessed Van Gaal’s men man-mark the City trio – Morgan Schneiderlin was tight on Yaya Toure, Ander Herrera swarmed Fernando, whilst Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up towards Fernandinho. City struggled to build attacks out of midfield, and Toure’s movement into deeper positions highlighted his frustration with the lack of service.
On the other hand, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin maintained deeper positions – the former tended to drift into pockets of space in the left channel – and though, Herrera received possession in good positions, City willingly dropped into two banks of four to limit space between the lines. United’s difficulty under Van Gaal involves their inability to penetrate through midfield and create chances, and City were content with maintaining a solid shape, and pressing when required.
Neither outfit was capable of finding an opening in midfield, and the ploy to dominate wide areas was equally unsuccessful. The physical presence of Marcos Rojo and Valencia nullified Sterling and De Bruyne’s threat, whereas Juan Mata’s movement off the flank into central areas was ineffective. Martial was the liveliest wide player in the first half, forcing Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho into bookings, but his influence faded as the match progressed.
"We had 90 minutes’ control of the game against a side like Manchester City," Van Gaal said. "I cannot complain. But you want to win and we did not.”
"We didn't create much but City adapted their line-up to our line-up. It was tough.”
With both strikers isolated up front, and very few runs behind the defence, City relied on Fernandinho breaking up play in midfield or running beyond Schweinsteiger, whereas the combination between Toure and De Bruyne steered Pellegrini’s side into dangerous positions. Though Wilfried Bony’s hold up play was positive in the first half, but as City dropped deeper, the Ivorian may have preferred a strike partner upfront.
United’s possession remained futile in open play, and apart from a wonderful move involving Martial and substitute Jesse Lingard, the Red Devils’ best chances stemmed from set-pieces. Van Gaal subsequently turned to Marouane Fellaini – the Belgian was a key cog in United’s previous derby win – for Schweinsteiger, but Pellegrini quickly reacted by sacrificing Yaya Toure for an additional aerial presence in Martin Demichelis.
"I am satisfied with a point but I do not like to play in this way," said Pellegrini. "It's easy to play in this way. A lot of people call it tactical games, mind games, but it's easy to do.
"It's important to have a point here, but I don't think it's the way teams should play.”
Van Gaal’s decision to start Valencia was justified, and his patented defensive man-marking approach nullified City’s star players, but Pellegrini’s caution and timely alterations was equally impressive in a match filled with several standout defensive displays. City has been far too open in big matches under Pellegrini, and though he may not appreciate the style, the Chilean’s pragmatism showcases his growth at the Etihad.
From the team selection, to the overall approaches adopted by both managers, this followed the standard “big game” pattern – a cautious affair with very few chances – between two sides that are expected to be title contenders in May.
More about Manchester United, Manchester city, Rooney, pellegrini, van gaal
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