Premier League 2022/23: Haaland takes over Manchester as City cut United to shreds – tactical analysis
Erling Haaland is nine goals away from last season’s golden boot winning total. There are 30 games left to play. The terminator netted his third hat-trick on the bounce at the Etihad, taking his tally to 17 goals in all competitions – by October 2nd.
Despite missing some key players, City looked at their dazzling best. No matter who plays, everyone knows their role perfectly.
Pep Guardiola‘s men were all over United from the start, dominating possession and creating chance after chance. When City worked the ball into the final third, they felt unstoppable.
The Red Devils were not switched on to begin the game. Against Liverpool, you could feel the intensity and desire from the first whistle. It instantly felt that it was going to be their day. Pressing, chasing down scraps and winning challenges to set the tone. They failed to demonstrate this in the derby. They looked lethargic and made it easy for City to control the tempo early on.
“If you don’t fight — which we didn’t — you are going to have a problem against Manchester City. This is different to Brentford, that day we didn’t run. Today we wanted to run but there was a lack of belief.” declared a frustrated Erik ten Hag after the game.
This tactical analysis highlights the key tactics deployed by City in Sunday’s frantic Manchester derby. The analysis delves into how City used their centre-backs to move up the field, exploited gaps in United’s midfield and thrashed their neighbors using their Norwegian monster.
With Rodri suffering a late setback in training, İlkay Gündoğan started as the deep-lying midfielder. Manuel Akanji and Nathan Aké lined up at centre-back, raising a few eyebrows before the game. The pair performed superbly and played a significant part in City’s win.
Erik ten Hag named an unchanged team from the win against Arsenal last month. After four straight league wins, the Dutch manager stuck to his in-form men, leaving out Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro once more. Anthony Martial recovered from an Achilles injury to make the United bench.
Centre-backs pushing up
United attacked and defended in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Against the “bigger” sides, they have not been pressing high in the ten Hag way, but opting to sit a bit deeper and hit on the break with the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
The early signs were that Manchester City had a 2v1 overload against Rashford at the back. They exploited this with Akanji and Aké aggressively dribbling forward to gain space and create gaps.
Rashford closes the passing lane to Aké. Akanji can easily carry the ball forward or pass it to someone else with space and time to his advantage. United are covering the City players tightly here so Haaland drops in to receive, dragging Martinez out.
Haaland collects the football from his former Dortmund teammate and plays a back pass to Aké. From there, Rashford has been taken out of the game and cannot close down the Dutch international in time. He dribbles forward, attracting pressure and forcing another United player, Fernandes, to step up.
Bruno, who is initially focusing on the positioning of Gündoğan, decides that he needs to start helping out higher up and blocks Aké’s progress. The City captain, though, makes a run behind him, and Aké can slip the ball easily into his path. Now, City are on the attack.
The pattern we have seen from City this season is setting up with inverted full-backs on either side of Rodri. Given that United are structured in a narrow shape, Pep decided to keep Kyle Walker and João Cancelo out wide.
If Antony and Sancho tucked inside and did not cover their full-backs, City could play it wide to their feet – as Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia were pinned back by Foden and Grealish.
If United’s wingers got out to Walker and Cancelo, it created spaces in the middle for the City centre-backs to run into.
As Rashford is caught in the middle again, Aké bursts forward into midfield, becoming a deep-lying playmaker alongside Gündoğan and pins a diagonal ball out to Foden.
Foden controls the ball and Kevin De Bruyne charges on the overlap, creating a 2v1 overload with Malacia. The Belgian drilled in the game’s first dangerous cross into the box towards Haaland, which was cleared by the defenders after multiple blocks.
In the build-up to City’s first goal, Grealish plays a stray pass and the ball ends up with Sancho in a promising situation for United to break. But instead of playing it to Fernandes, Sancho decides to take Akanji on and is dispossessed by City’s deadline day signing.
Ten Hag was seemingly not happy with what went down, “I will show the team tomorrow we could have been on the front foot. In the first goal, we won the ball and could have created a chance and gave it away. That is unacceptable”
Akanji steps forward after winning the ball, he feeds De Bruyne and then continues his run forward. Moments later, Foden opens the scoring.
Both managers have recently stressed on the importance of having right and left-footed centre-backs – giving the team more balance and more routes to play out.
“We needed a right foot and a left foot today in the right and left position,” Guardiola said afterwards. “It was important for our build-up to have a left and right and I have a lot of confidence with Nathan and all the actions in the first half he did perfectly.”
Midfield gaps and overloads
As mentioned, United were not pressing aggressively, but they were not sitting very deep either. It was a peculiar approach by ten Hag and his team which did not seem to work. United constantly got found out and it created huge gaps in their midfield, which Silva and De Bruyne managed to exploit.
We did not see the typical City which camped in the opposition’s half. Pep’s men carved United open by drawing in their opponents and passing around them.
When Antony and Sancho decided to move closer to City’s centre-backs and shadow the full-backs, Ederson became more involved. This drew United’s players forward and enabled Ederson to find Cancelo or Walker with a chipped pass.
Exploiting 2v1s on the wing/half-space was a key element in City’s offensive play. Especially on the left side with Grealish, who arguably had his best game in a City shirt, and Silva vs Dalot.
Bernardo would either pin Dalot inside, creating space wide for Grealish or continue his run into the box. Dalot would often be torn between following Silva’s run or staying with Grealish, the ball carrier. Antony and Sancho rarely tracked back to help out their full-backs, which left Dalot and Malacia exposed.
As mentioned, instead of pinning United back and trying to bury them, City passed the ball in their own half. They were moving it slowly and lured United out of their shell to press them high up and then exploited the gaps left in midfield with crisp passes into feet.
United’s front three are all positioned behind Gündoğan. McTominay and Eriksen were tasked to with staying tight to Silva and De Bruyne throughout the game but ended up chasing shadows. This left Grealish with acres of grass to run into when receiving the ball after this sequence, leading to goal No.3.
City’s £100m man drives forward with the ball uncontested and finds De Bruyne in the right channel. Haaland’s movement pins back Varane and Martinez – United’s front six are back-pedalling.
De Bruyne receives the ball in a 2v1 overload with Foden, which prevents Malacia from closing down the Belgian and allows De Bruyne to dribble into the space created.
He whips in a delicious ball, treating us to another trademark De Bruyne-Haaland goal. De Bruyne’s runs and crosses from the right channel to Haaland have become the most lethal weapon in the Premier League.
De Bruyne has already provided eight assists in eight league games this season, equalling his tally from last term, from 30 appearances.
He had to get a shout, didn’t he?
Manchester United were adamant they had a game plan ready to manage him at the Etihad on Sunday. Three goals and two assists later, it is safe to say it did not work.
City’s No.9 is instilling fear into the defenders he faces. His positioning and constant runs gifted De Bruyne and Silva the freedom to roam in the pockets and prevented Varane and Martinez from pushing out of their line.
Given United’s pressing phase in 4-2-3-1, Gündoğan frequently got cover-shadowed easily. Haaland would drop off to provide interesting alternatives for City’s central defenders.
City’s wingers were starting their runs from the touchline accelerating inside to link up with the attacking players. Haaland was considered a focal point to feed balls into and connect with around the box.
When the wingers were in possession in the transition phase, United’s defence simply couldn’t predict where Haaland’s runs will end up. Starting from the left and suddenly going on the second post, and vice versa.
The pass for Foden’s second goal, which effectively ended the derby as a contest, would have made De Bruyne proud.
Aged 22 years and 127 days, Phil Foden is the youngest player to reach 50 goals under Pep Guardiola, surpassing Lionel Messi.
The hunger did not disperse in the second half. Haaland was sliding into tackles like the game was 0-0, still in the hunt for more goals, more involvements.
As United defended with a low block, Haaland didn’t get enough chances to run in behind in central spaces. However, in the second half, as United went with a more attacking approach, Haaland had the opportunities to run in-behind Lindelof and Martinez – nearly scoring at De Gea’s near post.
“I felt when I came to training on Friday there was something a little extra, that something special was going to happen,” Haaland told the media. “I could feel the guys being more fired up than usual.”
He is now the leading scorer in Europe’s top five leagues and became the first Manchester City player to score a hat-trick against United since 1970.
A final mind-blowing stat: Erling Haaland has been caught offside on fewer occasions than João Cancelo this season. Let that sink in!
City earned their third straight Premier League win against their cross-town rivals for the first time since 2014, becoming the first team to win eight straight top-flight home games while scoring at least three goals in each match since 1965.
This win will give them huge confidence to kick on as the favourites to retain their Premier League title. It’s hard to see how someone can stop them.
For United, the derby might have come at the wrong time. After some disruptions in the form of postponements and the international break, the team lost some of its momentum after four straight league wins.
That is no excuse for ten Hag though, as he knows that kind of performance in a derby, or any game for that matter is unacceptable. The Dutchman becomes the first Manchester United manager to twice trail 4-0 at half-time of a Premier League game.
Some of the goals they conceded were utterly amateurish, to say the least. Casemiro needs to start playing. He was brought in for exactly these types of games.
United showed some signs of promise in the second half, scoring three goals – with Martial’s return and brace surely providing a boost. It is about how the Red Devils respond now – they need to ensure this was only a blip.