Pep Guardiola‘s choice of full-backs meant that he wanted Manchester City to play a certain style. With Oleksandr Zinchenko and Joao Cancelo on the pitch, Manchester City tried to pass through United’s defence. But as it turned out City should have been trying to go beyond Manchester United and that is down to Pep Guardiola’s full-backs.
Pep Guardiola’s Full-backs Cost Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s Different Full-backs
Manchester City play a really different game when Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker are on the field versus games with Zinchenko and Joao Cancelo. Cancelo and Zinchenko both have a better touch than City’s other full-backs. But Walker and Mendy offer width and verticality in possession, which is far more important to the team.
When Zinchenko and Cancelo are playing full-back, Manchester City’s vertical width only comes from two people- Mahrez and Sterling. But both of them are aiming to cut inside on their stronger foot rather than reach the byline. It forces the crosses to come in from different and mostly less dangerous angles.
It also forces Manchester City players to be at their absolute sharpest. In some situations, it brings the best out of City. But sometimes it backfires heavily when some of Manchester City’s players aren’t playing at their best.
An Awful First Half
As the game was getting ready to kick-off there was plenty of excitement for City fans. Pep Guardiola had handed Phil Foden his first start in the Manchester Derby. And the 19-year-old had gotten on the ball early on and looked up for the occasion. But boy did things change as the half wore on.
It wasn’t one moment when the air let out. After about ten minutes Manchester United started growing in the game. By twenty minutes they started getting the better possession opportunities. And by thirty minutes they had scored one and should’ve scored another.
The problem for City was their lack of sharpness in possession, but it was more than just that. City’s most important position combination play is the left-hand side triangle of Raheem Sterling, Benjamin Mendy and David Silva. Pep thought he could get by with Ilkay Gundogan and Oleksandr Zinchenko in those positions. But it’s their sloppy play that failed Manchester City the most in the first half.
Not having that combination forced Man City to search for ways to drag in multiple United defenders. That search, without precision passers like Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne, was sloppy. But City showed that, time and again, they rarely string two sloppy halves back-to-back.
As the second half began it’s not like Manchester City came flying out of the blocks. Some of their sloppy play persisted. But it’s hard to improve on the sloppy play when most of it is coming from Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Ukrainian left-back played poor passes on seemingly every ball he touched.
Even after Pep replaced Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva with Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez, City continued to struggle. They were creating chances, but not great ones, nor ones with the usual City precision. Nor were they the type of chances that City create that scare opponent.
There was barely any getting behind the Manchester United defence, and Pep had to make a change. So he brought Benjamin Mendy on for Zinchenko to try and stretch United’s backline. But the reality was it was too little too late for Manchester City to get anything they were looking for.
Now there is clearly one player missing from this match report and that is Ederson. The Brazilian goalie had easily his worst performance in a City shirt at Old Trafford. He was lackadaisical; he had moments where he lost the ball under his foot and under his glove. That was before he gifted Scott McTominay a goal with an awful distribution pass.
Nobody is ever going to mistake Ederson for the world’s best shot-stopper. The thing that makes him a top-level keeper is his distribution with his legs. But teams aren’t as naive to the passes he tries as they once were. That awareness has cut down on the opportunity he has to impact the game with his legs.
The concerning part is that if he’s not going to impact the game with his passing than how good is he? Manchester City needed him to save one savable ball for this to be an entirely different game. But he didn’t and that leaves us here.