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Manchester Utd vs Manchester City ( Dec 10 2017 ) Tactical Preview

It's the Manchester derby, what more can I say. Always a battle when these two come together, and the current league positions makes this even better. City are top of the table and lead Utd who are in 2nd place, by 8 points. City win this, they go 11 clear; a draw, still 8; and a loss, Utd cut it to 5 and we have a title race. As a Man Utd fan, I obviously want a 5 point difference come end of the game, so how can Utd set up for this? I will try and give a broad tactical plan.

As always, my preparation is 2 steps for these types of games;

1- Recognizing the strength and quality of the opponent and setting up to negate this as much as possible

2- Finding ways to exploit the opponent's weaknesses

In order to do this, let me first analyze how Man City play in their offensive organization. I went back and watched a few Manchester City games, and these are the major things I noticed;

Manchester City play a 4-3-3 formation. 4 CB's, 3 CM's ( 1 as a DM ), and 3 forwards( 2 wide, and 1 CF ). The image shows Jesus as the CF butmore than likely, it will be Aguero. Still, you never know. Also, Stones is injured, and we will probably see Mangala there. My plan is based on opposing this set up, but Pep can always spring a surprise and play with a weird formation. I'll leave Jose to worry about that.

They usually play a high line, and seek to compress play as close to the opponent's goal as possible. The major features of their attacks are;

- Ball circulation in the centre with Silva and De Bruyne to make the opposition defense stay compact in the middle, while Sane and Sterling remain as wide as possible. The natural reaction of the opposing defense to this is to either stay compact in the middle (full backs pinched in more towards to middle), (which will leave space for wide forwards Sterling and Sane to exploit), or for the fullbacks to be closer to wide forwards Sterling and Sane ( leaving just the 2 CB's in the centre, as the midfielders are occupied with De Bruyne and Silva, this is not good (Hopefully there is a spare man somewhere to fill in) and is very susceptible to the passing combinations of Aguero, Silva, and De Bruyne through the middle.

Once Silva, De Bruyne, and Fernandinho start circulating the ball, before you know it, there will be a very quick switch to one of the wide forwards ( Sterling or Sane ) who has stayed wide and is in space, or who has made a run infield or behind the defense because the defense was compact and focusing on the middle. One of Sane or Sterling will make these runs, once he receives the ball, Aguero makes a run in the box, De Bruyne makes a run, the other wide forward makes a run too, into the box. There is always a passing option, added to the fact that a fullback has attacked the wide space vacated by either Sane or Sterling when they make runs infield. Chance creation then comes from a cross ( more than likely a low cross from either the wide forwards Sane or Sterling, or a fullback overlapping ), or a cut back, or a concentrated pass and move combo in the centre involving Aguero, De Bruyne, and Silva.

A couple of things to notice;

1-Most times, 1 full back attacks at a time ( more on this later as this leaves space behind to be countered)

2- The two wide forwards have multiple movement permutations, but most times, one is making an infield run, the other stays wide, and then runs into the box once the one who made the infield run has received it.

3- Sometimes the runs from Sane or Sterling are to pull out defenders, leaving space for a City fullback to attack and cross.

4- The ball to Sterling or Sane mostly comes from De Bruyne and Silva, but Fernandinho can also launch some, even Aguero ( passing combo with De Bruyne and SIlva, Sterling makes a run infield, Aguero lays it off ).

The intelligence of Sterling and Sane is crucial to how City play, and stopping them is a priority.

So how should Manchester United set up in order to negate all these, and score goals ?

Off the top of my head, 2 different formations stand out for this: The 4-3-3, and the 3-5-2. I will try to talk about both. The formations may be different, but the approach to this game will be the same either ways.

In the absence of the awesome Paul Pogba, Man Utd should not be attempting any unnecessary build up or ball circulation. Everything is going to be direct. Long balls to Lukaku for a knock down, long to Fellaini for a knock down or control, second balls after the aerial launch and quick attacks from there. The main features will be attacking the spaces left open by the attacking City fullbacks, driving through the middle if Fernandinho's line has been broken, quick transitions from 2nd balls, and intelligent movement/combos from Lingard, Martial, and Lukaku.

We saw the high press to force the Arsenal defenders to make mistakes in the last game, I doubt I will want much of that. This will be deeper, and the press will only get intense when the ball gets into midfield. This is where Matic and Herrera are key, even Lingard. Deny as much space to De Bruyne and Silva, harry them, cut off their passing lanes, etc. Once we break, Lingard, Martial, and Lukaku will be very important.


4 CB's, 3 CM's to match the City 3, and 3 forwards. The wide forwards to take advantage of open spaces given by attacking City fullbacks, and to track back to help mark Sterling and De Bruyne. In the defensive phase, this is key. Best scenario is the 4 defenders staying compact in the middle, and Lingard and Martial helping to cover Sane and Sterling, and the 3 CM's covering the City 3 CM's. Very important. A lot of work will be done by our wide forwards; wont be surprised to see Rashford start if Jose goes with 4-3-3, but I think Martial's quality up top should give him the edge. But he has to drop a lot in this set up. Deep defending and fast breaks into spaces vacated by the City fullbacks, minimal build up, and 2nd balls after aerial launches.

Look out for Lukaku knock downs. Depending on fitness, my 3 CM's to start would be Matic, Herrera, and Fellaini. I really want to put Lindelof as one of the CB's; he's in superb form and can launch accurate long balls ahead. I'll let Jose decide that one. Take note of the positional orientation of the 3 CM's. 2 at the base to counter De Bruyne and Silva, 1 ahead .


What's better than having your wide forwards drop in the defensive phase and helping to cover the City wide men Sterling and Sane? Having wingbacks do this job, and leaving your killer forwards further up the pitch and not wasting too much energy dropping.

Ashley and Valencia will shadow Sane and Sterling, even if Sane or Sterling goes infield, follow them. The space left that will be attacked by the City fullback can be covered by one of the 3 CB's of Utd. This gives a very secure defensive shape, 3 CM's ( Matic, Herrera, Lingard as the roamer, driver, and presser in the middle ), and Martial and Lukaku up top.

Herrera and Lingard's pressing to win and instigate transitions is key, Herrera and Lingard's attacking of 2nd balls once the ball drops is also key. Watch out for these. Martial will have the license to roam along the forward line left or right, same as Lukaku, and can take advantage of spaces left behind by the City fullbacks. Fellaini doesnt start in this system but he can always be plan B later on. Either ways, it all depends on fitness.

Set Pieces

City have been very susceptible to them; corners and freekick crosses. The near post flick from a corner especially. Expect Utd to try and take advantage.

So what do you think? 4-3-3 o r 3-5-2? Personally I am leaning towards the 3-5-2. We'll find out on Sunday. There's also the possibility of Jose using something else other than these 2, I don't put it past him.

In summary, I'm expecting a very difficult game. City will have chances, and more than likely City will score, but we just have to ensure we score more ( duhhhh ). Every player needs to bring his A game. City aren't that great defensively, and if their main attacking features are hindered, can be hit with transitions from second balls and breakaways. I hope Manchester United wins, and we cut it to 5 points. Goodluck to the team.

P.S: Depending on how the game progresses, Guardiola may bring in 2 second striker ( Jesus if he doesn't start ) for one of the wide forwards ( or anyone actually ). This means more infield runs from this striker and more central overloads. Utd defenders have to adjust accordingly.

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