Three reasons why City Women triumphed in the Manchester Derby – tactical analysis
Manchester City hosted Manchester United at the Academy Stadium on February 12, 2021 in the 15th fixture of the FAWSL and it was a very competitive match that witnessed Manchester City’s convincing 3-0 win over an unbalanced Manchester United in this match. The win gave Manchester City three additional points that allowed them to be second of the league at the moment, one point ahead of Manchester United and with a postponed match yet to play.
However, the Red Devils are now holding the third spot after they were at the top of the standings. Nevertheless, they will need to do their best in the upcoming fixtures in order to secure this spot and strive for the second spot which would qualify them to the UEFA Women’s Champions League in the following season. And of course, this will not be easy given the quality of their opponents.
So in this tactical analysis, we will delve deeper into why Manchester United lost this match, what did they do wrong in terms of tactics, and at the same time carrying an analysis of Manchester City’s strong performance and what were the keys to their deserved win in this Manchester Derby.
Gareth Taylor chose to start this match with the 4-3-3 formation relying on Ellie Roebuck as a goalkeeper, Lucy Bronze on the right flank, Steph Houghton and Abby Dahlkemper as centre-backs, and Alex Greenwood as a left-back.
In midfield, Keira Walsh, Georgia Stanway and Caroline Weir were the three midfielders who contributed both in attack and in helping the defence and winning the ball back. And In front of them Chloe Kelly played on the right-wing, Lauren Hemp on the left-wing and Ellen White as a striker.
While on the other side, Casey Stoney started the derby with the usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Mary Earps was the team’s goalkeeper, Maria Thorisdottir played as a right-back, Amy Turner and Millie Turner as centre-backs, and Ona Batlle as a left-back.
The midfield consisted of Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem as central midfielders and in front of them Jackie Groenen played as an advanced playmaker with both Ella Toone and Leah Galton on the wings, while Christen Press was the team’s striker.
Manchester City’s effective pressing and United’s passing issues
Both teams started the match with the intention of winning the battle of midfield and having more possession of the ball in order to create threat. However, Manchester United were not 100% focused in the build-up phase and the Citizens’ continuous high pressing affected their build-up even further. For instance, in this picture you can see how many Manchester City players were surrounding and pressing on Manchester United’s defenders and goalkeeper.
This left the Reds with no other options than clearing the ball away and therefore losing it to their opponents. And that’s partly why Manchester City had 59.48% of possession throughout the match. During most parts of the match, we felt like Manchester United couldn’t keep the ball at the back and wait for players’ movements, they were obliged to pass quickly due to pressing, and this resulted in them making many wrong passing decisions which prevented them from getting fruitful attacks.
As a result, confidence and concentration levels dropped especially in the final third. We saw many passes going to the direction of Press, Galton and Toone but many of them were a bit distant or lacked the necessary power.
Yet, even when Manchester United had some opportunities they usually made mistakes in their final third passes during this game and that prevented them from exploiting many scoring chances especially when their opponents’ defensive bloc was high.
In fact, Manchester United made only 16 accurate passes from a total of 41 passes to the final third, with a 39.02% rate. And that was not sufficient for them when facing a team like Manchester City.
In the following picture for example, Galton had the ball inside the box and she instantly went for the pass to the player who was marked without even looking at the movement of Press who escaped from her marker and moved a bit backwards to receive the ball.
And in this next example, Batlle was in a perfect situation with three Manchester United players waiting to receive a pass while running at the back of Manchester City’s defence. And as you can see, she was completely able to cross the ball to Toone or Press who were both going to be in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper if provided the pass.
However, Batlle passed the ball with too much power in the direction of Galton but the latter was not able to catch it since it was too faraway from her, and Manchester United lost a goalscoring chance.
This problem was recurrent and Manchester United’s players were not able to spot the right passing options despite Manchester City’s defensive errors at times. Here, once again, Manchester City defenders left too much space at the back and Toone was intelligent enough to run towards that space and ask for the ball. However, Press decided to not give her a through pass and she cut inside instead and make a backward pass.
Manchester City’s attacking numerical superiority and individual abilities
Manchester City often attacked with six players without counting the full-backs who helped a lot in attack as well. And it is enough to say that Bronze was the one who scored City’s first goal to consolidate that. And in the non-possession phase, the team defended high as we said above, but with many players and two close lines of instant pressing to get the ball back.
It can also be noticeable that Stanway joined White as a striker especially when the team was defending, while Weir and Walsh were very high and at the same line with the wingers, forming a 4-4-2 formation.
Bronze was also behind some of her team’s biggest scoring chances. In this action, she intercepted the ball at the left side of midfield and made a through pass to Hemp who continued her run and crossed to White, but Earps was able to save her shot.
Manchester City’s individual talent and skills made a lot of difference during this match since a player like Weir excelled thanks to her support to the attack, her smart movement and impressive control of the ball, as well as her beautiful goal. The Scottish player has been underrated but she proved especially in the last period that she deserves a lot more credit for what she does on the pitch.
She has got the creativity of excellent midfielders and the passing/shooting precision which is much needed in any team. She passed 41 times of which only five were wrong, with a percentage of 88%. And she scored a chip “alla Totti” that ended the match with a 3-0 advantage following Hemp’s second goal too.
Also, Kelly, White, Hemp and Walsh played a big role in this match by being always compact when out of possession and organised when attacking. While Hemp and Kelly’s pace, dribbling skills and crosses created the difference as well and were the source of many chances for Manchester City.
Manchester United’s poor finishing
Despite the good run of form of Manchester United this season, the team failed to be decisive upfront in this match and they were not able to exploit their opponents’ mistakes at several times. And apart from failing in the final passes, the Reds were also unable to finish the few scoring chances they had and only two from seven shots were on target.
The most notable of these chances was this one which was started by Groenen’s excellent long-ball in the back of defence and in the direction of Press who was able to get the ball before Roebuck but failed to put it into the net with a chip.
And following Manchester City’s second goal, Press got another big chance but was not able to score partly thanks to Roebuck and partly due to making wrong decisions. As you can see below, Press was in a situation in which she could have made the mission easier by passing to Jessica Sigsworth who was able to score with one touch since the goal was empty and she was not marked.
However, Press preferred the solo effort and dribbled past Roebuck but at the end the goalkeeper was able to save Press’ shot. And the Reds missed the chance of getting back into the match.
Manchester United will now look to bounce back as soon as possible to find their best form and get back to their positive results. And to do that, they will need to be more decisive and fluid in the final third. Also, it should be said that Tobin Heath’s absence was felt in this match since her attacking addition is surely important.
While on the other hand, Manchester City were able to win over their rivals and secure the second spot despite the absence of Sam Mewis. And with the impressive performances of their players, the team will be able to compete with Chelsea over the league title in the coming weeks while hoping for a loss or two for the Blues.