Pep Guardiola’s clinical Manchester City make light work of Manchester United

Rahul Madhavan
By Rahul Madhavan
12 Min Read

“If Manchester United fans were getting giddy off the back of those four consecutive wins, then boy, it’s gone quiet at their end again now because Manchester City are on a different plain.”

Peter Drury’s words from the commentary box perfectly summed up the Manchester derby. Manchester City were set right from the word go and there was a feeling around the stadium that Pep Guardiola’s team was ready to pounce on Manchester United like a lion hunting its prey.

Manchester United arrived in crosstown with a sense of hope. A hope that their worst days under the new manager, Erik Ten Hag, were behind. But what followed was a drubbing in the hands of their rivals. His team were ripped into shreds in the lustful green grass at the Etihad Stadium. Even Brentford’s Twitter handle got into the act, further pointing out their misery.

But for Manchester City, the image of the score line and the goal scorers were rather poetic. Living in the shadows of their neighbors for several decades, victories like these invigorate a sense of justice, a feeling of a continuous rise despite the red half claiming otherwise. And for the goal scorers, well, nothing gets better than two boyhood blues scoring a hat-trick each. Sunday’s script was written for Manchester City and their buoyant supporters and no one else.

Pep Guardiola got it right, Erik Ten Hag’s team did not. That was the consensus around the world. But Guardiola, for all his tactical masterstrokes over the years, devised a perfect tactical map once again, which arguably went under the radar. The story of master v protégé: Chapter 1 clearly stated the master is still in control of the land and there will be no shift in eras, at least for the time being. And here is a look at how the master taught a harsh lesson to his student in the 188th Manchester Derby.

A scintillating first-half display by Manchester City

Manchester City had concerns at the back and midfield, as both John Stones and Rodri were ruled out of the clash. Ruben Dias was surprisingly dropped, with Nathan Ake preferred over him. Gundogan replaced the injured Rodri, while the front five remained the same from the game against Wolves.

Manchester United have been one of the league’s in-form side and Erik Ten Hag named the same starting 11 again. Marcus Rashford loves a derby day goal and United hoped he could cause the makeshift City back line a few problems.

Man City went with their typical 4-3-3 shape. Pep usually at least inverts one of Cancelo or Walker to create a passing angle to the winger, but this time their fullbacks were wide. United, meanwhile, lined up in a 4-2-3-1 structure off the ball and adopted a man-marking approach. But the problem started here. Marcus Rashford was left upfront and had to deal with a two-versus-one situation against Man City’s first line. This meant that one of Ake or Akanji had the time and space to carry the ball into the vacated space.


City also utilized Ederson’s ability on the ball and hence had a 6v4 numerical superiority in the first phase. Additionally, Gundogan, who was tightly marked by Bruno Fernandes, manipulated him throughout the half and also made runs from the blindside of the Portuguese.

The passage of play below perfectly captures how the blues create an overload. Ake carries the ball forward, which forces McTominay, who is in charge of Kevin De Bruyne, to change his direction and charge toward him. This, in turn, frees up De Bruyne and isolates Grealish against Dalot. Now, McTominay is forced to provide support to his teammate, which creates the space for De Bruyne to have a pop at goal.

Guardiola also instructed Erling Haaland to drop deeper and make himself available for a pass. The Norwegian had the most touches (34) in a City shirt ever since he arrived. He acted as a linkup and usually took one or two touches before turning the ball over to the wide areas or passing it back to the center halves.

Man City clearly had the man advantage in the first phase, but it was their performance in the second and third phases that destroyed United. A regular pattern this season has been De Bruyne’s overlap or underlaps from the right-hand side, which eventually leads to a Haaland tap in the far post.

However, on Sunday, the home side had other ideas. Bernardo Silva, starting from the left along with Jack Grealish, caused troubles for Dalot and McTominay as Man City looked to create chances from the left side. Silva’s performance, in particular, went under the radar and he ran the show from minute one. He constantly rotated positions with Grealish and Cancelo, but his runs in behind Dalot were crucial for Man City.

This was also partly due to De Bruyne dropping deeper in the first phase and this exposed United’s man-marking approach. The Belgian, when positioning himself alongside Gundogan, pulled Eriksen out of position, leaving an enormous space in midfield.


This was also the cue for Walker to push high up the pitch to create an overload.


In the below sequence, Gundogan drops blindside of Bruno Fernandes and as mentioned above, McTominay (who was marking Bernardo) was dragged out of position. When Grealish receives the ball, he is in a 1v1 against Dalot, and Bernardo, starting from the half spaces, runs in behind the fullback and delivers an excellent cross.

And for Man City’s third goal, Silva this time pulls wide, therefore attracting McTominay alongside him. Gundogan is already ahead of his marker (Bruno) and is assessing his forward options.


The blues form a simple triangle, as Gundogan quickly passes it to Grealish, who is in acres of space since Dalot does not get tight to him. This results in the winger carrying the ball, which in turn drags Eriksen out of position, allowing space for De Bruyne to pick out Haaland with his trademark pass.

On top of this, Manchester United’s rest defense was also poorly positioned to deal with City’s counterattacks. When United had a period of possession towards the end of the half, De Bruyne was positioned high up the pitch, but the Red Devils’ defense struggled to deal with City’s threat on the break. This ultimately led to the fourth goal, as De Bruyne shrugged off Eriksen and had acres of space to pick passes.

Manchester United show signs of improvement in the second half

Erik Ten Hag’s side needed to show character after a devastating first half, and they exactly did that. Of course, after a 4-0 lead, Man City were playing in their second gear, but United were more aggressive out of possession and closed the space down effectively. And the aggression and intent started from the top with Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford.

In the first half, Fernandes focused on taking out Gundogan out of the game, but Gundogan, being of the most intelligent players in the Premier League dragged his marker around the pitch to create the space for the likes of Ake and Akanji to carry the ball. However, in the second 45, Fernandes effectively was quick to close the space for the center-backs, while Rashford was tasked also moved across to cover Gundogan.


Additionally, in the first half, Man United in possession struggled to string a bunch of passes together as the likes of Eriksen, and Fernandes were forceful and looked to ping through balls to Rashford immediately once receiving. Nevertheless, this also turned around after the half.

Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof were cool and calm on the ball and looked to penetrate City with some line-breaking passes. In the buildup phase, Eriksen pulled out wide, essentially playing as the left back with Luke Shaw higher up the pitch. Sancho, Fernandes, and Antony operated in the half spaces and Eriksen was constantly able to find Fernandes or Sancho in the pocket of space.


Again, Eriksen drags Foden, who is looking to close the passing angle to Shaw. As a result, there is a wide overload and Sancho is able to receive the ball on the turn. Since City pressed in a 4-4-2 shape, United had the man advantage in midfield and took advantage of their opponents’ casual approach out of possession.


However, City were destructive in transition with the front four running riot. Haaland and Foden completed their hat-tricks before Anthony Martial scored two towards the end. On a dark day, the Frenchman was the only positive for United as he continues his fine form under the new manager. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, watched the game from the bench once again and it looks like Ten Hag isn’t going to pick him up any time soon.

For Manchester City, the day couldn’t have gone any better. However, Guardiola was critical of his team slipping up possession and struggling to perform the simple things in the second half. Having said that, his side remains the only unbeaten team in the league and the sight of their fifth Premier League title in six years is becoming a real possibility.

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