In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting matches in world football, providing you with an in-depth tactical analysis powered by Wyscout tools and stats. In this edition, we focus on last Saturday’s Derby of Manchester, a goalless and yet interesting clash at the Old Trafford between United and City.

Last Saturday’s Derby of Manchester turned out to be a match with contradictory aspects. The Citizens kept the clean sheet for the sixth Premier League game in a row, but they barely looked like a Guardiola side during offensive phases.

They struggled to create goal chances, giving up on playing the ball in the midfield, instead preferring to try to surprise the opponent’s defense with long shots. And once City reached the final third, they delegated most responsibilities to De Bruyne, who was forced to risk, to speed-up the play, to try to find the decisive pass to create a chance for a teammate. As strange as it may sound, City has the worst offense among Premier League’s top-10 teams, with 17 goals scored.

United, who normally allow more freedom when defending, then taking advantage of spaces to quickly counter-attack vertically, managed the ball better. They were able to better find the link-men in the center in Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, pressing coherently and limiting the Citizens to long horizontal possessions, that kept the ball away from United’s third. On the other hand, they didn’t create much and allowed Guardiola’s side a couple of massive chances.

The biggest one of these chances was probably Mahrez’s, at the 35th minute. A quick counterattack after United failed a high recovery. A significant play in representing the change of perspective from the latest clashes between City and the Red Devils.

United have been used to leaving the ball to Guardiola’s side and found themselves defending with an unorganized defensive line, after failing to press high to recover the ball after Fernandes’ inaccurate pass. Stones intercepted it, passing on his left to Cancelo, who opened space for City’s quick counterattack after leaving Fernandes behind him.

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The pass intercepted by Stones. In this case, United tried to quickly attack City’s unorganized lines.

Cancelo went vertical to Sterling who, with the goal behind him, passed horizontally to Gabriel Jesus, able to control and carry the ball in the opponent third, managing to resist Wan-Bissaka’s pressure.

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The Brazilian then passed horizontally to De Bruyne, who nutmegged Shaw with a neat first touch, serving a perfect assist to Mahrez, alone in front of De Gea on the right side of the box. The Algerian shot on the goalkeeper and De Bruyne wasn’t able to score on the keep out.

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The speed with which De Bruyne sees Mahrez’s cut on his right and plays the ball is exceptional.

The Citizens weren’t able to create other massive chances with counterattacks and kept moving the ball from one wing to the other when building the play from the back. Guardiola’s side managed to consolidate the first possession quite easily, through the deep-lying Fernandinho or Rodri.

Fernandinho mainly played on the right side, in the space left free by Walker. While Rodri moved back in a more classic fashion in the space between the two center-backs. City showed the tendency to build up the play with a three-man first line and only one midfielder. This strategy guaranteed them a safe possession beyond United’s first line of pressure – composed of two players, mainly Rashford and Fernandes – but that prevented City easily moving the ball upwards. With the center of the pitch empty, the most common move was to switch play to the other wing, particularly from right to left, where Cancelo played.

In fact, City’s other massive chance came from the Portuguese full-back, found free on the left by a long pass from Rodri. Guardiola’s side had just spent a whole minute in United’s half, after recovering the ball three times, without managing to create a dangerous situation. They mainly moved the ball from one side to the other, until Rodri found Cancelo on the left.

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During the match, the Portuguese full-back was frequently asked to try to move the ball forward with an individual play. As happened on this occasion, with a cross to Jesus who had just cut behind Maguire. The Brazilian’s first touch forced him to play with the goal at his back and to move wide on the left which was not a good zone to shoot to the goal. In fact, Jesus played the ball back to De Bruyne, whose shot was blocked by Maguire.

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Jesus frees himself behind Maguire and Cancelo finds him with a cross.
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The Brazilian has to move wide and can only pass back to De Bruyne, whose shot is blocked by Maguire.

In general, United kept the ball less than City but were better able to build from the back without skipping any line, finding the two center midfielders – Fred and McTominay – behind City’s first line of pressure, and then Pogba and Fernandes behind the lines.

The position of the two advanced midfielders, opened in the half-spaces during possession to receive in Rodri and Fernandinho’s lateral zones, guided United’s play. When the Citizens’ first line of pressure wasn’t able to cover the pass from the back, Pogba and Fernandes’ position was very annoying for Guardiola’s midfielders, as they were forced to decide if press on McTominay and Fred or move to follow the two wide opponents. Either way, they left a free man that United could exploit to keep the play running.

Pogba and Fernandes’ position helped United in moving the ball up to the opponent third, keeping the ball and avoiding City’s first pressure. At the same time, though, it probably limited the Red Devils’ dangerousness in the final third. Both the Frenchman and the Portuguese were rigid in interpreting their positions, moving freely from one wing to the other to increase the quality of the play, but playing on the side zones meant they struggled in being effective with the final ball.

Fernandes in particular tried to find the decisive play with diagonal crosses from the left third to Rashford or Greenwood. He lost many balls but also created dangerous situations. Maybe the best one was at minute 48 when he found Rashford on the left side of the box and the forward won a penalty before VAR called it off for an initial offside.

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It must be said that neither Greenwood nor Rashford – two quick technical forwards, specifically picked by Solskjaer for their ability to link on the wings and then run behind the defensive line, were accurate and precise when they had the chance to shoot at goal.

In the image below, Greenwood falls after a nice long pass by Fernandes which found him in the right side of the box. The young English forward nicely passed Dias by moving on his left foot but lost his balance just before shooting.

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In the other chance below, Rashford wasn’t able to control the ball and wasted another great intuition by Fernandes, who was able to find him between Stones and Cancelo with a diagonal pass from the right (Dias was out of position after a late pressure on Martial). With a neater touch, Rashford may have found himself in front of Ederson.

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Before this last clash, Solskjaer had won three of the last five matches against Guardiola, beating him home and away last year, with a more conservative strategy than the one used last Saturday. His team played the ball better, were braver and more efficient in pressure, but lacked the accuracy and quality in the last meters.

On the other side, City’s blanket turned out to be too short. The efforts made to avoid conceding dangerous counterattacks made possession rigid and predictable. On one hand, Guardiola’s team kept another clean sheet but on the other, they really struggled to create dangerous situations with the ball. Both City and United were looking for a win to keep up the pace with the top 3 and this goalless draw keeps them both in a sad mid-table position.

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