Manchester United welcome Manchester City to Old Trafford this Sunday in the Premier League in the biggest game so far this season. City are still unbeaten in the league and are 8 points ahead of their city rivals which might force Jose Mourinho to alter his normal big game tactics. Another huge factor influencing Mourinho’s tactics for the game is the absence of Paul Pogba whose sending off against Arsenal sees him miss out. With Michael Carrick still out with a heart problem and Marouane Fellaini doubtful, Mourinho doesn’t have many options in midfield. He also claimed that Nemanja Matic is injured for the game but will still play. With his options limited in the key area of central midfield, Mourinho has his task cut out to stop the Manchester City juggernaut.
The 3-4-1-2 formation
The 3-4-1-2 formation has helped Manchester United beat both Watford and Arsenal away in the past two weeks. With an in-form Jesse Lingard operating in the number 10 role, Mourinho has allowed his team to be more attacking than usual in tough away games. Although on the flipside, United did concede a considerable number of chances against Arsenal and they had to rely on David De Gea to keep the score down.
The biggest issue with this formation is that it puts enormous pressure and workload on the two central midfielders. Against City, this will cause United even more problems as they would be outnumbered in the center of the park allowing the likes of De Bruyne, time and space. Matic and Herrera would have to cope with De Bruyne, Silva and Fernandinho on their own although Mourinho might designate one of the centerbacks to man-mark De Bruyne just like Lindelof followed Alexis Sanchez freely across the pitch.
Back to the 4-2-3-1 formation
The 4-2-3-1 has been Jose Mourinho’s favoured formation after his initial success with the 4-3-3 formation in his first spell at Chelsea. The wingers are expected to work hard along with the number 10 pressing the opposition’s deep lying playmaker. Against teams which dominate the ball like City, United’s 4-2-3-1 will be pushed very deep with little support for the striker. Lukaku so far in his United career has struggled to hold up the ball well which doesn’t bode well when the entire team in pinned back deep in their own half. Both the left winger and the right winger will have to defend deep against City’s attacking full backs and without Paul Pogba, United will struggle to counter.
Man-marking across the pitch
United’s victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford saw a man-marking master class by Ander Herrera on Eden Hazard. What was missed in many of the post match analysis pieces was that it was a total man-marking exhibition across the pitch at many times during the game. Every United player had a specific role and a specific player to mark which they did it to perfection. Young and Valencia marked the opposite wing backs, Darmian marked Pedro and Costa was occupied by one of the center backs. Later in the game when Conte brought on Fabregas, Mourinho immediately replaced Lingard to bring on Carrick who was instructed to mark Fabregas.
The problem with taking a similar approach against City is that the Premier League leaders have a lot more attacking outlets and Guardiola’s commitment to push as many players as possible forward creates different in-game attacking patterns which might be difficult to handle if United choose this approach. If David Silva who has an injury doesn’t start the game, United can focus all their energy on cutting off the supply to the front three by marking De Bruyne and Fernandinho out of the game. But with Silva involved, all three of City’s midfielders are dangerous with the ball and man-marking them will be a high risk approach as they can easily bypass the press with a quick combination of passes.
Certainly the game would have been more interesting and possibly more open if Paul Pogba were to be available. As soon as Pogba was sent off against Arsenal, Mourinho’s mind would have instantly re-evaluated his preparation for the City game. Another interesting thing to ponder would be whether Mourinho is willing to risk playing Marouane Fellaini, who has not started in sometime, in the derby. Fellaini certainly offers a different option and City do look vulnerable defensively in the air especially without Stones.