How Mourinho will try to stop Manchester City
Manchester United’s 2-1 victory against Juventus in the Champions League has thrown the result of today’s Manchester derby in doubt. A series of comeback wins has proven that Jose Mourinho still has the backing of his players, while their late win in Turin drew clear comparisons with their surprise result at the Etihad last April.
For United to beat Manchester City they’ll need to improve considerably; Pep Guardiola’s team won’t be as forgiving as Juventus or Bournemouth were over the last seven days.
Will United make the mistake of defending deep and inviting City pressure?
Unlike any other elite club in Europe, Man Utd rarely press high, instead dropping back into a low defensive shape that invites pressure; it is the foundation of their tactical and psychological shortcomings under Jose Mourinho.
United tend to drop off straight from the first whistle and don’t apply pressure to the ball until opponents are halfway inside their half, which explains why Mourinho’s side so often appear nervous and static.
A similar approach at the Etihad and the hosts will not give them the opportunity for a second-half comeback.
Will Mourinho confront Guardiola’s team high up the pitch?
Matches from the 2018/19 season hint at a non-confrontational approach from the visitors, but United’s 3-2 victory at the Etihad last season suggests otherwise. United were surprisingly aggressive and high pressing back in April, setting the tone for a chaotic game of football by throwing everything at City for the opening 20 minutes.
United tried to stop City from playing out from the back, tackled high up the pitch, and pierced City’s soft underbelly when the chances arose. It was surprisingly brave — reckless, even — and in fact failed to prevent City marching into a 2-0 led. But United had surprised their hosts, sewing a seed of self-doubt that ultimately allowed Mourinho’s team to emerge with three points.
What midfield combination can stop the Silvas from controlling the game?
Whichever option Mourinho chooses, at some point the game will settle and the hosts will enjoy long periods of possession, at which point we have to ask: is there any configuration of the Man Utd midfield capable of controlling David and Bernardo Silva?
Marouane Fellaini surely deserves a start after his game-changing cameo in Turin, which probably means Mourinho will deploy a 4-3-3 with Fellaini, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba in the middle.
Will movement of Sane and Sterling prove too much for Young and Shaw?
Even if United can restrict the influence of the Silvas, there is a mismatch on the flanks that should allow City to go about their usual business.
Stopping Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling is almost impossible, and yet United will have to do this with arguably the two weakest full-backs in the top six.
Luke Shaw is frequently caught ball-watching, either losing his runner or simply standing five yards out of position, while Ashley Young showed at Bournemouth why he isn’t a natural right back.
Can Bernardo Silva cope with Pogba and Martial on the counter?
Anthony Martial’s form is United’s best chance of scoring on the counter-attack, not least because —with Pogba’s support — he is on a potentially under-stocked side of the pitch. Bernardo Silva still struggles with his defensive responsibilities, opening up a pocket of space for Pogba.
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