David Moyes  made two changes to the side that defeated Bayer Leverkusen midweek. Danny Welbeck led the line in a 4-4-1-1 with Wayne Rooney positioned behind him. Ashley Young was also included in the starting eleven, pushing Shinji Kagawa to the bench. Robin van Persie was excluded from Moyes’ eleven due to a thigh injury he suffered earlier in the week.
Manuel Pellegrini made one change to the side that comfortably dispatched of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League, as Alvaro Negredo pushed Edin Dzeko to the bench. Negredo led the line in a 4-2-3-1, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho formed the double-pivot, while Vincent Kompany and Nemanja Nastasic formed a centre back duo.
City blitzed United from the opening whistle, displaying superiority over their rivals all over the pitch, as United produced a diabolical performance.
City’s dominance in the opening 20 minutes of the match was down to hunger and determination, but also due to United’s shape without the ball. Moyes’ men dropped off into two banks of four and allowed City’s double-pivot space to play positive passes and drive forward. Valencia sat narrow, Carrick and Fellaini tried to stay compact, whereas Young was in a wider position – as they aimed to minimize pockets of space and movement between the lines.
Unfortunately for Moyes, City’s intricate passing and space to push forward, allowed Pellegrini’s men to assert their dominance on the match. Aguero was dropping into pockets of space to hold up the ball and link play with the midfield, while Toure pushed forward providing an attacking thrust in advanced positions.
However, United did enjoy a fair amount of possession throughout the match, which saw City also drop into two banks of four – the difference being City’s compact shape and their wide men dropping deep to protect their fullbacks.
United’s shape allowed City to dictate the tempo of the match – Moyes’ cautious approach in big matches was evident, but his idea to soak up pressure at the Ethiad was absurd.
A consistent theme throughout the match was the enjoyment City had on the left flank. City possessed two full backs that enjoy getting forward in Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta, which is why Moyes’ decision to drop Kagawa was logical – here he fielded two wingers that he felt were disciplined enough to protect their fullbacks, but could provide width and pace on the counter attack.
Surprisingly, United failed to dominate an area that they expected to cope with. Young did a great job defensively in keeping Pablo Zabaleta quiet, as the Argentinian fullback didn’t have a significant influence going forward. But despite Young’s efficient defensive work on Zabaleta, the English winger was lethargic in attack, often providing poor crosses into the box and conceding possession.
Valencia enjoyed a great outing against Leverkusen mid week, and based on past experiences he’s a key cog for United in big matches, but the Ecuadorian was the weak link in the opening 30 minutes. Nasri picked up narrow positions to help sustain possession and Smalling stuck to him, thus leaving ample amount of space for Kolarov to attack.
There were four occasions which Kolarov got forward freely with Valencia failing to track the Serbian fullbacks run.
1) In the 10th minute Kolarov surged forward and provided a devastating cross that Nemanja Vidic cleared for a corner.
2) Minutes later, the Serbian repeated the same run, but his delivery went over the head of the on-rushing Navas, who was able to control the cross and maintain possession.
3) Aguero’s opener in the 16th minute was down to Nasri’s ability to hold up the ball on the left flank, allowing Kolarov to attack the space behind him to receive his pass, and play in a terrific ball for the Argentine striker.
4) Seven minutes later, Kolarov got the better of Valencia again, but he lost control of the ball, and made a comical appeal for a penalty.
In the span of 23 minutes, Kolarov attacked the space behind Smalling four times, and this was a key component to City’s attack in the first half.
United going forward
Welbeck and Rooney looked bright earlier in the match prior to City’s dominance, as they were finding space between the lines to receive the ball. Fernandinho and Kompany did a great job in containing the English striker at certain moments throughout the match, but Rooney worked hard to get into key areas to link play with his teammates.
City’s energy levels dropped minutes after Kolarov’s cry for a penalty, and United began to enjoy more possession. Yet, United didn’t create any legitimate goal-scoring opportunities and failed to get behind the City backline.
There’s been a recurring theme in United’s matches against the top sides thus far, where their passing tempo is slow, penetration is non-existent and the link between midfield and attack is disappointing.
Carrick and Fellaini had space to play passes, but they were often sent sideways, opposed to between the lines. Carrick’s passes lacked conviction, while Fellaini was patient with his passing, rarely attempting to play a ball forward.
It was a dire first half outing from United going forward, as Rooney was the only player that looked capable of bringing Moyes’ men back into the match.
Ultimately, this was when the match escaped United, as they were aiming to take the match to City from the start of the second half. But once again it was the play from City’s left hand side that played a key role in their third goal. Nasri cut in centrally as Kolarov surged forward, but this time United’s right side coped, as Valencia followed Nasri and Smalling stuck with Kolarov. But Nasri played a ball into the box for Negredo, who comfortably turned Nemanja Vidic and squared a ball for Aguero to side-foot past David De Gea.
Three minutes later, Kompany broke up play in his third, and played a nice ball to set Navas free. The Spaniard drove forward from his half to the United byline – attacking the space Evra left free – and delivered a well-weighed cross to an oncoming Nasri, who slotted the ball into the net.
United were down four goals to City on the road, and with 40 minutes remaining, a City onslaught looked evident, as United was dejected.
Moyes was quick to react to a dismal opening five minutes in the second half, as he introduced Tom Cleverley for Young to add numbers in midfield. United were now a 4-3-3 with Welbeck pushing to the left – an approach Moyes could’ve started the match with due to van Persie’s absence, to assure midfield dominance.
It’s difficult to assess United’s improved display in the second half, because City looked to have taken the pedal off the gas in an attacking sense. Yet United were better in possession due to the extra passing outlet in midfield, and they began to string passes into wide areas for Valencia and Welbeck to run onto.
Fellaini still looked lost at the tip of United’s midfield three, while Cleverley provided glimpses of penetration in his passing and forward runs – but with the quality in wide areas poor, but slightly improving and City’s lead stretched to four, it was too big a mountain for the champions to climb.
Fernandinho – Fellaini
It was always going to be interesting to see how the two marquee summer signings would perform alongside arguably two of the best midfielders in the league, in Carrick and Toure. Both Fellaini and Fernandinho were brought in to bolster midfields that have suffered in Europe, but have also been overrun domestically, and this was the first big test for both men.
Fernandinho didn’t have one of the best games of his career, but displayed why City splashed £30m for his services this summer. Despite Rooney receiving space between the lines to receive the ball, the Brazilian did well to disrupt and occasionally dispossess the United striker in the final third. Fernandinho provides Pellegrini with adequate balance in midfield – he’s a reliable passer from deep positions, who sits in front of the back four, allowing Toure to push forward in attack. One of City’s weaknesses in the past has been their vulnerability towards quick counters, but the Brazilian midfielder has played a key role in preventing City from being dragged out of position when pushing men forward.
On the other hand, Fellaini’s mental toughness was challenged today, and the Belgian midfielder was futile. Fellaini can be held responsible for City’s second and third goal, where his lapse of concentration left Toure free in the box, along with allowing Aguero to run from midfield to tap in Negredo’s cross. It’s moments of this stature that separate top class players from the rest, and besides his impressive pass rate – solely based on sideways passes that lacked invention – the Belgian endured an unimpressive derby debut.
Fernandinho provides City protection, flexibility and balance in midfield, allowing the attacking players more freedom to express themselves, yet the verdict is still out on Fellaini’s arrival – despite his physical presence, a deeper role lessens chances of him making runs into the box from midfield and he’s far from a genuine match-winner.
City fans were relieved when they heard Kompany was declared fit to play earlier this week. Last year’s runners-up have been often criticized for looking feeble at the back without their captain, and his inclusion in the squad was influential.
The City captain made several vital interceptions and tackles in his third of the field and his defensive work on Rooney was also impressive. Pellegrini’s men looked stable defensively, and were fairly organized for the duration of the match, which is down to the Belgian’s presence at the back.
“Maybe the game meant a little bit more to us than to them. We’ve been looking forward to it, our fans have been speaking about it for a long time and we needed to win. We have a fantastic home record and we know there is no reason we should fear the opposition,” Kompany said.
United struggled to pose much of an attacking threat throughout the match, yet when they did, Kompany made the difference.
Manchester City dominated United in nearly every aspect possible, and their intent to overload the left flank was pivotal.
“We did say it was a difficult start, didn’t we? I said at the time, the way the balls came out of the Premier League bag, I wasn’t convinced… and I’m still not,” Moyes said.
It was an inane statement made by the United manager, considering every team faces one another, and other teams – with lesser talent – has endured difficult fixtures as well. Nevertheless, his cautious approach failed, and it was shocking to see Moyes wait so long to make alterations. More importantly, they continue to look dismal going forward, lacking creativity and penetration, and it’s an issue that needs to be sorted out – United hasn’t scored a goal from open play in the Premier League since their win against Swansea and that’s worrying.
Pellegrini’s men were hungrier, faster, sharper, and created more chances than United making them worthy winners on the day. Nasri continues to show signs of rediscovering form, while City’s core of Kompany, Toure and Aguero all had terrific outings.
“I would be very happy if we win all of the games 4-1 but we must improve every game. Not every game is the same, we are just starting in another way to play and I hope we will improve every day,” Pellegrini said.
“Always winning against Manchester United and the way we won could have an important impact,” he added.
City’s performance was impressive, and once again it showcases why they’re contenders to claim the Premier League title.