The Manchester derby is over for this time. United beat City away at the Etihad Stadium and maintain their lead in the Barclays Premier League. Two goals from Wayne Rooney gave United the lead, until Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta brought the home team back in contention. It was beginning to look like one of those nights until Robin van Persie scored from a free-kick in the ninetieth minute to give United a solid win.
In this edition of the Scouting Report I firstly wanted to highlight the goal by Pablo Zabaleta and secondly the defending of Manchester United and, in particular, Rio Ferdinand.
Having already touched upon the difficulties of defending set-pieces and especially corners previously, I am this time going to highlight the second goal scored by Manchester City. In the 60th minute, the home team got a corner from Rafael’s mistake which was taken by Carlos Tevez. Swinging the ball into the six yard area, the football bounced out towards the penalty spot and was received by City defender Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the penalty area. As we all know, without hesitation, the Argentine struck the ball first time and ended up in the left corner of David de Gea’s goal.
Manchester United tend to defend corners in a zonal marking formation, with 2-4 players man-marking the opposition’s offensive players. In this example David de Gea left a player on the far post, while the other post was controlled by a player zonal marking a short distance outside. Looking at the left half in the picture below, City did a good job of pushing United’s players down towards their own goal. This left a big area around the six yard area and despite getting the defensive formation right, is an area the defending team needs to assess for second-hand dangers will arise.
Examining the basics of a successful the defensive play therefore suggests that the corner kick should first of all be intercepted in some form. Getting the first ball is vital- either through a headed or footed clearance. Depending on the actual clearance or pass, the second ball is the next thing to consider as this often proves as dangerous as the first. What other points are there to consider? Once the ball is cleared, or won and controlled by the opposition, the focus should really be on holding possession whilst team mates join the attack and defence steps up. Unfortunately, whilst working on parts 1 and 3, United forgot to deal with part 2 and subsequently lost their lead- possibly down to the disruption the substitution of Antonio Valencia for Phil Jones just before the corner. If the big centre half was to take a position in the six yard area, he should have had someone move out to cover Zabaleta. Nonetheless, when Zabalata’s equaliser nestled in the bottom corner of the net, the football betting news must have immediately had City down as clear favourites for the win, oh Rvp!
Defending by numbers
My second point relates to Manchester United’s team defending and especially the performance of the central defenders. The starting back four is more or less always Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra and can be all praised for keeping the attacking players of City under control. In particular, the cooperation between Ferdinand, Evans and the two central midfielders (Carrick and Cleverley) worked excellently- with Yaya Toure in particular muffled all game.
Focusing on the right side of playing half above, I wanted to highlight the defensive play of the group collectively and how it was successful. Vitally, the team was their aggressive all over the field. A quality we have been looking for which hopefully left the opposition with a few bruises after the game. The high-tempo play of the midfielders enabled the central defenders to press Balotelli and Aguero in different ways. The first example is how it allowed them to get really close whilst trying to kick the ball loose from between the attacker’s feet. The other one is the way it allowed them to move in front of the attacker to either intercept of clear the ball. As City failed to exploit the space in behind our defenders effectively, both Rio and Evans were really were able to take advantage of the tight areas that the midfielders helped create as seen above.
Even though Rio Ferdinand got a poor rating from some journalists, I actually think that this was one of his better games lately with him commanding his area, making vital clearances, moving the ball forward to offensive players whilst showing determination, toughness and leadership.
A noticeable feature of the back four was the way they defended when there was an open city player with the ball at his feet, compared to how they defended when the same player was put under pressure. If the attacking player was able to play some sort of trough pass the back line dropped back and made the player in possession to pass the football in front of the defenders. If the player on the ball was being pressed they very smoothly moved up the pitch, either leaving the attacker in an offside position.