With their rivals battling it out for the title, many Manchester United fans would be hoping that their team lay down in this derby to aid Manchester City, the lesser of two evils with Liverpool in top spot. Some poor recent form meant United are falling behind in the race for a Champions League spot though, so they were really in need of the three points.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chose a 3-5-2 formation, making several changes from the team that lost to Everton, while Pep Guardiola continued with his usual 4-3-3.
United did a good job of frustrating City in the first half, although their neighbours were very much in control.
City had Fernandinho drop close to the centre-backs when Ederson had the ball, positioning himself between Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. This won the City centre-backs some space to use the ball in, as Rashford and Lingard couldn’t press them without leaving open a pass for Ederson into Fernandinho.
Once the ball was played into Vincent Kompany or Aymeric Laporte though, United would attempt to trap City against the touchline, that side’s forward pressing the centre-back while blocking the pass into Fernandinho and the other moving across to support. The outside centre-midfielder would move across to cut out passes to the full-back while others would get tight to any City players dropping deep to collect the ball.
City had a few struggles early playing out this way, but they soon worked out they could just pass out to one side then switch over to the other with a cross-field ball – United having just three men in midfield leaving the opposite full-back in plenty of space.
As soon as United’s press was broken, they would drop off into a 5-3-2 shape. They put a particular emphasis on protecting the centre, while the backline was very quick to drop off at any sign of danger. This meant that although City had plenty of the ball, they found it difficult to threaten through the middle.
United also managed to create a few chances despite City’s dominance – the pace of Lingard and Rashford causing Kompany and Laporte problems just from quick balls played in behind.
City did take the lead shortly into the second half though. Paul Pogba took his time getting back into position after pressing Kyle Walker out wide, opening up a simple pass for Ilkay Gundogan into Bernardo Silva, and Raheem Sterling won the Portuguese some space with his movement, making a run in behind Victor Lindelof that forced Luke Shaw to follow him. Silva runs at Shaw and squeezes a shot past him, just out of reach of David de Gea. One of the rare times City could get players free through the middle, they punish United.
Soon after City doubled their lead with a counter-attack. Sterling danced away from pressure to push into United’s half then, with Sergio Aguero’s run dragging Matteo Darmian away, he slipped a ball through to substitute Leroy Sane to finish past a fumbling De Gea.
Solskjaer kept throwing on attackers in hope of a comeback, but City simply maintained possession, keeping United at arm’s length to ensure their three points.