The Manchester Derby: Five Potential Tactical Talking Points

Its finally here; two of the most successful managers of the modern era go head to head in their first meeting as new managers in the Premier League with both at different points in their respective careers. Good enough both Manchester teams have started very well, maintaining 100 % records thus far. With all the hype surrounding this clash, I have been looking at the interesting tactical sub plots that may present itself by Saturday lunch time; if the past encounters between teams managed by both managers is anything to go buy; it may be a brutal affair. Here are my potential talking points from a tactical perspective;

Obsession with Alterations

I believe to a large extent there is a general consensus that Pep Guardiola  can be quite arrogant and obsessive with how he sets up his team especially in the big games. He makes so many adjustments in game that it is borderline compulsive, this is not to say he does these for the fun of it or without a desired out come well thought out. Especially at his time at Bayern ; where the Bavarians start with a flat back four, only to switch to three at the back as the game wore on and I do not expect any different in this clash. Manchester City on paper will be lined up as having a back four; but as they start to boss possession, get comfortable and control the game; their shape invariably shifts to a back three with the full backs joining the midfield as potential defensive midfielders or as he has shown at certain time; the full backs push up to the halfway line of the pitch as Wing backs providing coverage in instances where teams seek to isolate the center backs occupying the wide areas of the back three.


With Mourinho; there wont be much in alterations, he is known to be as single minded as can be; alterations as far as he is concern may depend on a few surprises in his line up to address anticipated game plan of his opponent or in personnel changes as the game wears on. Mourinho would look at the City midfield that no longer has Yaya Toure expecting to dominate or impose the physical strength and size of his team on a team that has quite a number of light weight figures in their team; expect a few brawls and mismatches in midfield.

False Nine

With the absence of Sergio Aguero through suspension; Manchester City have lost a prolific striker always up for the occassion; with seven goals in eight Manchester Derbies, the Argentina loves and craves this fixture; but now gives his manager a major selection headache upfront. There is the option of youthful and Energetic Kelechi Iheanacho; who has been a worthy substitute many  at times; getting double figures last season; but those his selection work with the game plan? I make bold to say no; Kelechi’s talent has never been in doubt; however with the way we expect City to focus their play in pressing United up top would limit him and hinder Guardiola’s overall game plan; based on this notion, I won’t be surprised if Nolito or David Silva get the nod as a False Nine.

Image result for Kelechi Ihenacho

The reasoning behind is quite clear; Pep is a control freak, he wont want to give the United any inch to build momentum from the back; so you can expect the False Nine to be on Paul Pogba or Fellaini once they receive the ball with their backs to the play. This give City additional superiority in terms of numbers in midfield still; now this is not to say the entire tactical thinking or considerations for the game favours Manchester City overwhelmingly; United too have a few questions of their one to counter whatever City bring to the mix and we will get to that subsequently.

Still not built in Mourinho’s Image

As with Manchester United; I believe Manchester City are also a work in progress, but over the years Jose Mourinho has built his reputation on pragmatism and putting together physically imposing sides. I still feel that this United side are still a little bit off what you would call a team built in the Mourinho image; yes he address a lot of this imbalances in the transfer window with his signings that have obviously changed the complexion of the team from a physical stand point, however in terms of the compact, drilled and organized nature of his previous sides in big games; this United side still seem a bit short.


I do think Jose Mourinho, more often than not doesn’t get the credit he deserves at times for his team’s ability to mix it during the entire course of a season. As the season progresses; things will take shape, a note of warning though to United fans; if the team seem to play on the back foot for a large part of the game; set up to counter attack; remember Sir Alex was quite masterful at doing this to teams that sort to control games; so no grumbling.

Play Direct and Isolate

All the key battles seem to be in midfield because of both the expected talent on display and the expected congestion in that area; so expect United to be very direct in their play,worry City aerially and from set pieces; cue the much maligned Daley Blind; his range and variation of passes would be pivotal to Mourinho’s game plan as Manchester United look to bring the ball out of defense bypassing the already crowded midfield; his passes would be primarily set out to bring about one v one situations between Zlatan and John Stones and United’s wide men and City’s other two defenders in the event they switch to a back three.

Image result for Daley Blind

Quick Balls into such channels gives United the opportunity to utilize its pace in wide areas as City continue to focus on dominating the midfield; it is imperative United seek to isolate Otamendi or Fernandinho as its best attacking chance of gaining an upper hand in a game that is expected to be keenly contested.

Zlatan needs runners

If you have watched Zlatan Ibrahimovic has his career has progressed and as he has aged in the game; more and more the role of players that play along side him have become integral to Zlatan’s success as been the arrow head of the attack. In a game where United will be possibly starved of the ball for a vast majority of the game; opportunities Mourinho’s side creates must be utilized; this is because as stated above once United are able to isolate Zlatan and one of City’s Center backs; there must be runs of the ball and into space for the strike to do two things; lay off the pass to the on rushing player or use said player as a decoy to shoot on goal or whatever alternative is available.

Zlatan header

It is important for United’s overall approach to be in such manner as Mourinho is one that is not too concerned or won’t be bothered with not having the bulk of possession or controlling the game. For him; whatever he has laid out as planned for this game; if executed to a T with victory for United would be his main comfort. I believe that for some odd reason; Mourinho would have been preparing for this game mentally from the day the fixture list was released.

My Verdict

We all expect a fascinating encounter; but experience has shown that more often than not that high caliber matches of this nature end as an anti climax because both managers are obsessed with not wanting to lose.  So I expect a 1-1 draw.

Adeyemi Adesanya
Sports Business Consultant and Football Intermediary; Risk Management & Due Diligence Consultant; Freelance Football writer & Pundit on Radio & TV and Man.Utd Fan

7 thoughts on “The Manchester Derby: Five Potential Tactical Talking Points

  1. I do not know what to expect from the match in terms of scoreline but I do not doubt the fact that it would be some firework of tactical masterclasses.

    If Mou’s experience of the PL and his hunger to give Pep a hot welcome are anything to go by, then, I’d say if we are having any winner today, it would be the real Manchester.

    And expect United fans to turn the stadium into something else today too.

  2. The easiest way to beat a pep side is to sit back and let them have the ball then beat them on the counter..So I say a united win because there will be space to exploit at the back of Mancity. .2 nil in favour of united

  3. I tink pep will go for nolito to spearhead d attack…navas and sterlin on d wings,silva and de bryune in midfield.Mourinho will be reserved,lookin to go for d counter and dat is d weakness of guardiola’s teams…it will be a one all draw…

  4. 4 – 4 bloody draw, red cards and plenty controversy… Penalty for a dive outside the box to give Man City a last minute equalizer after David DeGea and Pogba get sent off for fighting each other

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