Manchester City breezed past title-holders Manchester United 3-0 in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Tuesday. In the 150th league derby between these two great rivals, Manuel Pellegrini’s side kept up the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table.
However, it was an evening to forget for David Moyes and co., as the Red Devils lost for a 10th time this season—the first time in the Premier League this has happened—six of which have incredibly come at home. It was also the Red Devils’ third straight defeat against their city rivals and the third campaign in a row that City had won at the "Theatre of Dreams."
So what went so right on the night for the visitors and so disastrously wrong for the home team? Well, let’s look a little closer at the tape for some answers…
City’s Silva lining
Right from the very kick-off, City made their intentions that they were going after United perfectly clear, with their midfield magician David Silva conducting operations in the hole just behind lone frontman Edin Dzeko (see below).
In fact, the home team had even altered both their personnel and shape from Saturday’s morale-boosting win at West Ham United specifically to counter City’s powerful and fast-paced midfield trio of Silva, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
Moyes had gone with Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in a narrow midfield three, but they could get nowhere near the diminutive and twinkle-toed Silva all night long, especially in the opening exchanges, as Silva kept on drifting unnoticed into pockets of space in front of the United back four and picking up possession.
Between Silva's key role in the visitors’ opening strike after just 45 second (the first time that United have ever conceded inside the first minute in the Premier League) and setting up Dzeko for a clear opening later in the half, the 28-year-old was United’s chief tormentor at Old Trafford.
Rio’s not so grande
Such is the lack of alternatives at the moment in central defence that it was hard really to question Moyes’ decision to recall veteran Englishman Rio Ferdinand to start alongside Phil Jones at the heart of United’s back four.
With the Scot currently missing both Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans through injury and club captain Nemanja Vidic suspended after his sending-off against Liverpool in United’s last home game, there was no other option than to pick the 35-year-old in what will surely be Ferdinand’s final Manchester derby.
Unfortunately for Moyes, though, Ferdinand was badly at fault for the visitors’ second goal. Eleven minutes after half-time, after a right-wing corner, that man Dzeko was just too smart and quick for the ageing defender at the near post (see below), netting his second goal of the evening with a delicious volleyed finish.
And disappointingly for the United boss, it was not the first time that City had tried that same near-post corner routine on the home team. The Blues attempted it on three occasions in the first half and also just minutes earlier, with Fernandinho coming close to scoring.
Front-foot defending from captain fantastic
Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany was acclaimed by Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher as the best defender in the world after his silky-smooth display at the back against United at Old Trafford on Tuesday, and it would be hard to disagree with the former Liverpool and England central defender.
The imposing Belgium international was instrumental in helping to suffocate Wayne Rooney (see below) and other forward-thinking players Juan Mata and Danny Welbeck right from the start, putting City on the front foot and in control of proceedings.
And in much the same way that Kompany had done when the two teams last met at Eastlands in September, the 27-year-old helped his fellow defenders hold a high line throughout. The captain, in particular, turned in a commanding and authoritative performance as he led from the front in City’s fifth straight clean sheet.
The curious case of Juan Mata
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of United’s demoralising defeat at the hands of their city rivals was the sheer confusion and utter disarray that seemed to characterise much of their display, especially in those crucial opening minutes.
In fact, substitute Antonio Valencia could even be seen preparing to come on within the first five minutes as a reaction to City’s total domination of proceedings, although in the end the United manager resisted the urge to make an early change and instead rejigged his line-up to try to quell the visitors’ constant forward thrusts.
The Scot decided to move Cleverley outside to the right flank and shifted Mata from his starting position on the left of lone frontman Rooney into a central midfield role, with Welbeck now on the left wing.
However, this early tactical switch simply highlighted the ongoing problem that Moyes has still to resolve. Namely, how to get the best out of his club-record signing and get him playing like he did for Chelsea these past few years.
Disappointingly for many, Moyes could have used the recent injury to Robin van Persie to play Mata in his more favoured role just off the main striker, similar to where his compatriot Silva enjoyed so much success at the other end of the pitch with City.
But for some reason, even without the Dutchman or Adnan Januzaj on Tuesday night, Moyes opted not to until City had scored their second, by which time it was too late for Mata to make any meaningful impact.
In fact, it criminally took a full 75 minute for the £37.1-million signing to pick up possession in a central position in the hole and run at the visitors’ two defensive midfielders and back four (see below), which was the exact role most experts imagined the playmaker had been bought to perform.
For some unfathomable reason, in a match he had to win at home against city rivals and missing two other attack-minded players, Moyes chose not to utilise his new big-money signing in his best position.