When I was at Nottingham Forest, we were the best away team in the Premier League. We had the best record and scored the most goals away from home.
Our approach on the road was straightforward. We got bodies behind the ball and tried to break from the edge of our box to the edge of theirs as quickly as possible. We would practice doing just that, over and over again in training, with the aim to make the transition in 10 seconds flat.
It helped that I was a quick, aggressive and strong striker. But the tactical setup and counter-attacking mindset was what made us so successful away from home.
That brings us to David Moyes' Manchester United, whose 4-1 loss away at Man City this week, was as example of what not to do. Moyes tried to play 4-4-2 at the Etihad, which is an absolute no-no against quality teams these days.
It makes more sense at Old Trafford, with United making use of all that space and setting up to attack. But you're going to get overrun in midfield every time if you try that formation away at teams like City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal (or the top teams in Europe for that matter).
United should have played 4-2-3-1 against City. I would have had Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini shielded by a three of Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney, with a lone striker up top (ideally Robin van Persie, though he was injured of course).
The simple fact is that three beats two every time. City took advantage of United's lack of numbers centrally and that allowed them to get at United's defence, both centrally and in wide areas.
United need another MF. Over-rely on Carrick. Outnumbered in midfield v City. No Scholes + less Giggs = even shorter there despite Fellaini— Jonathan Northcroft (@JNorthcroft) September 25, 2013
It was Carrick and Fellaini in the Manchester derby, but it could just as easily have been Carrick and Tom Cleverley, or Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. They needed more support.
Back in the early Sir Alex Ferguson days, United could get away with setting up like that away. But the modern game and modern tactics call for more cover in midfield. If you get beaten in that area of the pitch, it often dictates the tone of the entire contest.
David Moyes needs to adapt quickly. The mythology that came with Ferguson's United will erode with every loss suffered by Moyes' team, and the best way to avoid defeat away is to ensure you get your tactics right.
He got them wrong against City. I wonder if he'll make the mistake again this season.