Manchester United vs Manchester City Ten Hag and Bruno with FA Cup
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Manchester United vs Manchester City (2-1): The Red Devils Rise From The Ashes Like a Phoenix

Manchester United academy boys Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo reminded their fans of Sir Matt Busby’s days and Sir Alex Ferguson’s glorious era when they stepped up at Wembley Stadium. The pair netted a goal each in Saturday’s Manchester United vs Manchester City, FA Cup final derby.

The Red Devils hadn’t been living their best days as they finished eighth in the league, their worst rank ever within the Premier League era. Not only that but there were speculations 24 hours before the FA Cup final saying that Erik ten Hag’s future as Manchester United coach is uncertain, whatever the result of the Derby. So, the atmosphere around the players is toxic, which could negatively impact their performance.

On the other side of Manchester, Pep Guardiola’s boys came off a victory at the Etihad Stadium against the Hammers. A win that officially announced them as Premier League Champions four times, respectively, and six times within the Spanish coach’s tenure. So, the spirits and the morals are at the highest level.

Heading into the clash, Erik ten Hag made three changes from the last game against the Seagulls in the Premier League. Raphael Varane returned to the backline next to Lisandro Martinez after he picked up an injury. Marcus Rashford retained his place as a left-winger, whereas Alejandro Garnacho operated as a right-winger instead of Amad Diallo.

Pep Guardiola changed his centre-backs from the last game against West Ham United, as Manuel Akanji and Ruben Dias made way for Nathan Aké and John Stones. Mateo Kovačić replaced Jeremy Doku. That saw the Croatian play next to Rodri in the midfield and Josko Gvardiol held the width of the pitch.

Manchester City Without Answers to the Red Devils Compact Block

Since the whistle of the referee, both Manchester sides revealed their intentions. Guardiola’s men started to settle in Manchester United’s half, circulating the ball and switching positions, especially the players in the central corridor, in the hope of creating a gap where they could hurt the red side of Manchester.

On the other hand, Erik ten Hag knew that his team was going to spend most of the time without the ball. So, he set his team in a 4-2-4 mid-block out of possession, waiting for the right moment to transition.

It’s fair to say that the Red Devils applied Erik ten Hag’s instructions from the book. Sofyan Amrabat and Kobbie Mainoo were ordered to man-mark Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden and to follow them wherever they floated.

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Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho positioned themselves narrow and inside, closing off the central lanes with Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United’s wingers tracked back whenever Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker or Josko Gvardiol and Phil Foden shifted wide to match them numerically near the touchlines.

As always, we mentioned that the man-marking approach is weak when players are late and distant from the other players supposed to be marked. Manchester City took advantage of such situations with their positional movements, rotations, and late runs, but without a threat to Onana’s net.

Here, Bruno Fernandes points to Garnacho to go press Gvardiol. The latter, benefiting from time and space, to receive the ball freely. In the meantime, Kevin De Bruyne shifts across and Phil Foden runs down the inside of the channel, taking with him Sofyan Amrabat.

That resulted in Raphael Varane evacuating his zone and jumping over De Bryune, which opened up the space behind where Foden received the ball from the Belgian midfielder and crossed the ball towards Haaland. However, Lisandro Martinez, arriving early in the box, clears the ball away.

In the late buildup, Manchester City constructed their attacks with a 2+3 shape. Nathan Aké and John Stones formed the first line. Ahead, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva alternated to join the double pivots: Rodri and Kovačić. The trio faced a compact, narrow block composed of four players from the red side, disconnecting City’s players involved in the buildup from linking with the front players.

5 MCI VS MNU

Pep Guardiola responded to that by going to the wide options. Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne had the licence to roam, exchanging positions to create a confusing state within Manchester United’s blocks. The prime example is when Bernardo Silva hugged the touchline going in 1v1 against Diogo Dalot and passed the ball to Foden, who noticed Kovačić with a late run attacking the box. The process resulted in Kovačić taking the ball from Foden, cutting back towards the edge of the 6-yard box, and begging for someone to finish the job.

Erik ten Hag tried to overload the central channel by narrowing his wingers inside alongside Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay at the same height of the pitch. Pep Guardiola instructed Rodri and Kovačić to push in zone 14 to generate numerical superiority; however, Manchester United’s captain and McTominay kept tracking back, disabling the effect of City’s midfielders movements. But one of Rodri or Kovačić succeeded in getting away from their markers; they were a real threat by receiving in half spaces and playing cutbacks to the ones coming behind.

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Manchester United Transitions

While Manchester City had the advantage of possession, Garnacho stepped up and put his name on the scoresheet, netting the opening goal. Before that, Onana played a long ball targeting Marcus Rashford, but Rodri was able to catch it and head it down to Walker. The latter played it back to the Spanish defensive midfielder, who missed passing the ball.

10 MCI VS MNU

Amrabat retained possession and found Dalot in the fullback spot. Garnacho ran behind Manchester City’s backline to make the Portuguese international play the ball over. Due to a miscommunication between Ortega and Gvardiol, Garnacho found the ball in front of his feet, played wrongly by the Croatian left-back, and put it in the net, making the United stands light up.

9 MCI VS MNU 1

After 9 minutes, the same pattern repeated itself. Kevin De Bruyne missed a Rodri cut-back. So, Manchester United retained the ball, Bruno Fernandes went to Kobbie Mainoo, and Rashford switched the play to Garnacho on the right side, taking advantage of Wan Bissaka’s underlap. The latter found the way to Bruno, who magically spotted Mainoo on the edge of the 6-yard. The United academy prodigy flicked the ball with cold blood into the net.

Second-half Adjustments

It was obvious that Manchester City needed dynamic players on the flanks to create a chaotic state to disrupt the Red Devils compact block.

In the first half, Guardiola’s men hadn’t been able to penetrate centrally the way they usually did. That was because of the way Amrabat and Mainoo marked and controlled Kevin De Bruyne and Foden. Even when he pushed his double pivots on Fernandes, McTominay secured support by tracking them back. Dalot fulfilled his mission by facing his national teammate, Silva. On the other side, it was calm until Doku came on and Manuel Akanji replaced Nathan Aké in the back line.

Manchester City kept attacking their rivals, relying on the same concepts. John Stones took Mateo Kovačić’s place in the middle of the park in possession. Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne stretched the width of the pitch, operating in half space, to open up gaps between Manchester United’s lines. Bernardo Silva maintained the same position on the right side. Josko Gvardiol dropped next to Akanji and Walker to make way for Doku on the left flank.

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The Belgian winger brought more action and dynamism through his abilities with the ball: cutting inside and finding players in the box.

For Erik ten Hag’s team, Mainoo, Fernandes, and McTominay had the licence to roam freely. In the middle of the pitch, Aaron Wan Bissaka noticed Garnacho tucking inside, allowing Mainoo to operate on the right flank. Manchester United’s right winger received between the rivals’ lines, pulling out Manuel Akanji, which vacated the space behind for the captain to run in. Bruno Fernandes took the ball from Mainoo, which resulted in a 3v2 situation. However, Bruno’s pass to Rashford was blocked off by John Stones.

Jeremy Doku Impact

As aforementioned, Manchester City lacked some width on the left until Jeremy Doku came in. Pep Guardiola added Julian Alvarez as a second striker to operate in the right-half space. The Red Devils were astonishing out of possession. Erik ten Hag instructed Garnacho to overload the left side, giving Wan Bissaka sufficient support against Doku.

In addition, Kobbie Mainoo controlled the inside channel by sticking with Alvarez to avoid his runs behind and his receiving in case a cross came from the other side. However, the Argentinian striker managed to escape and get rid of his markers. Here, Manchester United set in a 4-2-4 mid-block. Rodri plays the ball centrally to Foden, marked by Fernandes. The Portuguese international isn’t aggressive enough to prevent his man from thinking, waiting, and deciding to play behind the backline to Alvarez. The latter unusually missed the opportunity to put the ball outside.

Manchester United vs Manchester City: Final Thoughts

In the end, Manchester United showcased an incredible performance out of possession, accompanied by XI players’ commitment on the ground. Despite the doubts surrounding the club, Erik Ten Hag’s boys proved they were capable of going toe to toe against a mammoth like Manchester City. Once again, the Dutch coach gave evidence that the performance evolved a lot with the return of the main squad and injuries had been detrimental to Manchester United’s season.

Now, the Red Devils are FA Cup champions. So, the attention will be shifted again to the manager’s future as the club directors conduct a season review, including Erik ten Hag’s performance, to decide on the next steps to take for the club.

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