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article imageManchester City's width & pace was enough to hold off United

By Tyrrell Meertins     Nov 2, 2014 in Sports
In terms of form, Manchester City and Manchester United headed into Sunday’s derby match at the Etihad Stadium with dissimilar track records.
United fought from behind to earn draws at West Brom and against Chelsea, whereas City suffered two straight defeats against West Ham and Newcastle United. Likewise, stylistically, the contrast between both sides in big matches is vivid, with Louis van Gaal focused on organization and man-marking in his reactive approach, while City aim to push men forward and retain possession.
Similar to their approach against Chelsea last week, United focused on man marking in central areas. Wayne Rooney stayed close to Yaya Toure, Marouane Fellaini pressed Fernando, and Daley Blind occasionally tracked the movement of Stefan Jovetic when he drifted between the lines. Equally, Angel Di Maria quickly closed down Pablo Zabaleta, the United fullbacks stuck tight on James Milner and Jesus Navas, and the centre-backs followed Aguero and Jovetic when they dropped off to receive the ball.
United’s best chance stemmed from their intent on stifling City in central areas. Rooney, Fellaini and Blind forced Toure to concede possession, thus leading to the United captain sliding a pass into Di Maria, but the Argentine low cross was cleared for a corner.With David Silva unavailable, and Samir Nasri recently returning from injury, Pellegrini opted to play with direct wide players, which could explain the lack of creativity in open play. Jovetic and Aguero rarely combined, but United’s high line benefited the Argentine’s game.
City’s best chances in the opening period saw the home side play passes behind United’s high line. First, Milner moved centrally and slid a pass behind the United defence to Aguero but David De Gea made a key save. Afterwards, Fernando dispossessed Robin van Persie and Vincent Kompany instantly lobbed a hopeful ball over the United defence to Aguero, but Marcos Rojo recovered well and forced his compatriot to take a shot from a difficult angle.
Van Gaal’s side, however, also suffered in wide areas. United’s lack of pressure in midfield saw Fernando make a forward run into the left channel before delivering a quality ball to Aguero, but De Gea made another quality save. The second move saw Toure drift to the left to create an overload, thus leading to Zabaleta storming forward and combining with Aguero and Navas, but the Spaniard fired his shot directly at the United keeper.
City created the better chances in the open half, as United struggled to get behind the home side’s back-line, but prior to Chris Smalling’s dismissal, Van Gaal's side prevented Pellegrini’s men from dominating the match. Di Maria was a likely source of creativity from set pieces, but his deliveries were inconsistent –– Fellaini squandered his quality balls, and there was a mixture of over and under-hit crosses.
Smalling’s dismissal forced United to drop into a 4-4-1 with Rooney moving to the left, and there was more space available for the wide players to surge into, and their teammates –– specifically Toure –– to create passing angles and connect penetrative passes. The key to City’s success in attack is their use of half-spaces when the fullbacks push forward. Milner struggled to get the better of Antonio Valencia, so City continuously played in Navas down the right, but apart from striking the post in the latter stages of the second half, Van Gaal’s back-line comfortably dealt with the Spaniard’s deliveries.
Aguero’s winner, though, was a well-worked move that epitomized City’s ideal attacking move. Toure played a delightful pass –– between Di Maria and Valencia –– to the onrushing Gael Clichy in half-space, and Aguero guided his near post cross past De Gea.
"I'm very happy with the three points," Pellegrini told Sky Sports.
"I think we played very well up until the moment we scored the goal, but when we scored the goal maybe we finished playing thinking that the game was over, but it wasn't over."
Oddly, City didn’t continue their onslaught following Aguero’s winner, and the home side was extremely poor with the ball, thus leading to a late United surge. Van Persie and Di Maria forced Joe Hart to make key saves in the latter stages of the second half, but Pellegrini’s decision to introduce Fernandinho added another physical presence in midfield, and helped City close out the match.
Although United enjoyed a positive 20-minute spell in the second half, the weakness within the squad still lies in the defence; meanwhile, it must be noted that they also struggled to create clear-cut chances against Chelsea and City over the past two weeks. While Smalling’s inanity placed United in a difficult situation, Van Gaal’s men provided no signs of scoring until they were forced to chase the game.
"We were so close, despite of playing with 10 men. We created still more chances than in the first half. We were close but not close enough today and we have to improve,” Van Gaal stated.
This wasn’t the ideal City performance, but the win keeps the pressure on league leaders Chelsea. Here, Aguero’s sprints exploited United’s high-line, and they were successful in wide areas as the match progressed. Still, City’s difficulty closing out what should have been a straightforward victory highlighted another issue Pellegrini must sort out.
More about pellegrini, van gaal, Rooney, Sergio Aguero, etihad stadium
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