To beat City, Manchester United could steal the Spurs gameplan

Posted by musaokwonga

A derby win against noisy neighbours Manchester City would be of Manchester United's best results ever, says Sir Alex FergusonGettyImagesA derby win against noisy neighbours Manchester City would be of Manchester United's best results ever, says Sir Alex Ferguson

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Fortunately for Manchester United, the recent history of their local derby with Manchester City is too glaring to dismiss. The last two games saw them beaten 1-0 away and 6-1 at home, the latter defeat so humiliating that by the final whistle Old Trafford was as silent as a crypt. These losses were very different in their manner. At home, they conceded heavily after pushing too far forward at 3-1 down with ten minutes to go. Away, only needing a draw to stay at the top of the Premier League, they played with an uncharacteristic conservatism, and did not manage a shot on target.

The post-mortem of either of these matches would have been an unpleasant business for Sir Alex Ferguson. Luckily for him, Manchester City are playing with nothing like the rhythm that they showed last year; unluckily, though, they still have the same firepower, and are in vengeful mood, having failed to qualify even for the Europa League. This is perhaps the last force that Manchester United’s ailing defence would wish to face. Manchester United’s own season, of course, has been a curious one. Their back four has been unsettled, and fragile; their wingers have been injured and out of form; their midfield has been battered like a barn door in a gale, and their attack has, for the most part, been majestic.

The lessons are simple, if difficult to execute. The first is that Manchester United, since they cannot outrun or overpower Manchester City’s midfield, must disrupt it. Pressing will be of paramount importance, and if they take the field with a two-man central midfield as they did last season at Old Trafford then they will be in severe trouble. Narrowness, in the form of a diamond formation, would also be a mistake. What could work well is the aprroach that Tottenham Hotspur took against Arsenal at the Emirates, prior to the sending-off of Emmanuel Adebayor. They withdrew Adebayor into midfield, allowing him to spread the ball wide to onrushing wingers. Though Manchester United’s wide players are not in the best of form, they do not want for speed, and their incursions will be useful in pushing Manchester City onto their heels. Robin van Persie might be isolated in the opening stages, but that would be a small price to pay for a more cohesive shape. His delivery from set-pieces will be vital in this encounter.

A 4-5-1 of this nature would not only be a relief to the eyes of Manchester United fans, but would have a genuine chance of achieving a favourable result. It’s not clear whether Andre Villas-Boas would appreciate Sir Alex Ferguson’s theft of this gameplan, or even if the great Scot would steal it; but he might be well advised to do so.

ESPN Conversations