Counter-attacking game plan executed at the Etihad

Posted by Martin Laurence (

The Manchester derby certainly lived up to all expectations as United secured a 3-2 win at the Etihad, with City suffering their first home defeat in the league in almost two years.

A Robin van Persie free-kick eventually sealed all three points for the visitors via a deflection, and although the stats don't immediately indicate an impressive display from either side, United's game plan worked perfectly for the first hour.

The Red Devils' opener was quite brilliant, with Young, Van Persie and Rooney combining for a stunning counter attacking goal, while the space given to allow the latter to double his tally just before the half hour mark was inexcusable on the hosts' part.

City pulled one back on 60 minutes after a superb double save from David De Gea - excellent on the day - only saw the ball reach United old boy Tevez, who pulled back for Yaya Toure to stroke the ball home. Pablo Zabaleta's late leveller looked to have earned Mancini's side at least a share of the spoils after the Argentine was also given free roam to attack a corner from the edge of the box and drive home through a raft of United bodies. However, it wasn't to be for the reigning champions.

A glance at the statistics may suggest that City were dominant, but the fact of the matter is that United were more than happy to let the title holders have the lion's share of the ball and hit them on the counter attack. The home side had 56% possession and a far improved pass accuracy, with the statistics here quite alarming.

Mancini's side completed 82% of their passes on the day, which is their worst accuracy in the league this season, but United's figures were incredibly down at 72%. When considering their average accuracy prior to Sunday's game was 88% (a league high) it is abundantly clear how Ferguson changed tact against his main rival for the title this season.

Only twice in the past three seasons have the Red Devils amassed a lower accuracy in a single game, with Tom Cleverley the visitors' top passer with an 85% accuracy. Meanwhile, Michael Carrick, who hadn't recorded an accuracy under 84% in a league game this season, saw his figure plummet to 73%.

Ferguson's side instead restricted their opponents in the first half by sitting deep and breaking at electrifying pace, with City mustering just five shots in the opening 45. The key to United's attacks was, however, the speed at which they got the ball out wide to exploit City's neglect in protecting their full-backs, particularly on Gael Clichy's left hand side. match match analysis

A look at the average player positions of each side on's match report of the game shows the real key to this encounter. While Valencia (seven) and Young (18) stayed wide, with the latter doing great work to help out his full-back, producing three tackles and two interceptions, Nasri (eight) and Silva (21) constantly looked to drift inside to have an impact on the game, leaving the wide areas exposed for United to run riot, particularly in the first half.

While much should be admired in Zabaleta's endeavour to get forward in support of attacks, his positioning had a bearing on the entire game. Given the armband after the early departure of Vincent Kompany, Zabaleta (five) clearly took it upon himself to make things happen for the home side. His average position was higher than that of both Toure and Barry in City's midfield and in turn restricted Clichy to a wholly defensive role on the opposite wing.

United had as many as 57% of their attacking touches down the Frenchman's flank to further ensure that he was pinned well back into his own half, while a meagre 19% of their advances came through the middle of the pitch. While City also focused their attacks down the right hand side (43%), the key difference was Young's willingness to cover where David Silva did not, particularly for United's second goal.

Though United's statistics from this game seem unspectacular, their game plan was executed superbly, and the effort of the players was clearly that of a team desperate for revenge.

All stats courtesy of

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