Manchester City could finally escape with a victory from the tricky opposition they faced against Southampton and West Ham United last week. Both matches remained level until the end when Raheem Sterling and David Silva grabbed late winners.
Before that, Saints and Hammers managed to halt Citizens frenetic attack and reduce the number of City’s clear-cut opportunities, even though Fraser Forster and Adrián had to intervene relatively often to support their teams’ solid defensive display.
How could they almost do the miracle? Their defensive lines have the answer. Both Pellegrino and Moyes utilised a three-man back line aided by two fullbacks, plus another line of four very close ahead of them when they didn’t have possession of the ball. Manchester City’s watermark this season has been the seek of through balls between their wingers and their inner midfielders and they tried to desperately stick to it, but Southampton and West Ham smartly managed to break this kind of connections.
This tactic approach of course prevented them to create danger when getting the ball back and only could attack in isolated opportunities that were easily defended by Man City, but it’s reasonable that two struggling teams will be content with a point in the most difficult trip of the season. But, can we expect Manchester United to do the same?
Of course we can. Mourinho’s first and most important goal next Sunday in the derby will be to frustrate Manchester City’s torrid attack and try to punish on the counter or set pieces. But to play for a draw is not exactly what he needs the most at this stage of the season.
Manchester United trail City by eight points and have the chance to reduce that difference to five and inflict Pep’s team their first defeat of the season challenging their powers is perhaps what the Red Devils should look for. Man City have had a tough last ten days, Guardiola should be tormented trying to figure out if his team invincibility is finally threatened and what to do to maintain their slickness, so it is time for Mourinho to create more problems in his nemesis head instead of to giving him a quiet match with few defensive aspects to worry.
However, Mourinho has changed and he is no longer the manager that he used to be when at Inter Milan faced Chelsea and Barcelona in the Champions League using four defined attacking players. He has transformed into a manager for whom the “safety” of a 0-0 against a big rival is more appealing than the inherent and unavoidable risk of playing to win matches and not only content with frustrate the opponent.
One could understand that the best approach for Southampton and West Ham United was that of thinking first how to defend and then attack if they were left to, but should Mourinho mimic that line of play? He doesn’t care. He will just do it.
Feature by Alejandro Pérez, author of the book “More than 90 minutes”, available here: https://thatfootballbook.com/.