Saturday 9 December 2017

Shutting down City holds key to derby day victory

United's game-plan of containment and counter-attack worked a treat against Arsenal last time out and will be key again in the derby.

City have struggled in their last three matches against Huddersfield, Saints and the Hammers when confronted with teams that frustrate and stifle. Not only do United have the most miserly defence in the league, but Jose is a manager renowned for his spoiling tactics in high-profile fixtures. Without the suspended Paul Pogba pulling the strings in the middle, and like it or not, adopting a similar approach by sitting deep and hitting on the break looks the best bet in beating them. 

United are at home and on a club record-equalling run of 40 matches unbeaten at Old Trafford, so the expectation and temptation will be for the Reds to open up and attack City. As much as we all want to see Jose go for the jugular,  I can't see him doing so as that would play right into City's hands -  they would just pick us off and it's exactly what Pep's team would want us to do. 

The key battle will come in the middle of the park, with United set to go with the same 3-4-1-2 formation that Jose has utilised in recent weeks. Paul Pogba's suspension will not only be a huge blow for us as a team, but also a massive loss for the fixture as a whole. The battle between Pogba and Kevin de Bruyne - the two best pound-for-pound midfielders in the league this season - had been a mouth-watering prospect for the neutral: a match-up almost as eagerly anticipated as the contest itself. Who Jose chooses to select in Pogba's absence is his biggest selection call. Although Marouane Fellaini is available, Ander Herrera looks likely to get the nod and partner Nemanja Matic, who will play despite carrying an injury. The Basque is often at his best on the big occasions, and his energy, work ethic and industry could be key in disrupting City's free-flowing rhythm. 

It's entirely possible that Herrera will be deployed as De Bruyne's man-marking shadow, as he was used in similar circumstances to shackle Eden Hazard when Chelsea came to Old Trafford. Herrera was simply magnificent that day as he rendered one of the league's most creative and eye-catching talents almost anonymous and forced him to the fringes. He will need to be at his best to shut down De Bruyne, who has been unstoppable at times, and if he does so, it will give United a pivotal platform to build from in midfield. 

It's not just the form of the Belgian that have set City on such a roll this season, though. He is just one of many threats all over the field, with David Silva and Leroy Sane at the forefront of everything. 
Red hot Sterling and silky Sane could not be better suited to provide two key cogs in Pep's fluid 4-3-3 system, and both have contributed goals and assists in abundance, often at key times. 
United's front three will stay tight and narrow, and the two wing-backs, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, will have licence to provide United's attacking width, but they will also need to drop back and help out defensively - we'll have a back three with the ball but a back five when City have it. 

This will be a fascinating and intriguing collective and individual battle. 

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