Suwaid- What do you do when your backup plan fails?
Erik ten Hag started the season with a different team than the one from today. We’re going to call the team that got a pummeling from Brentford: Team A, and the one that got it from City: Team B.
Team B looked like a product of the second half against Brentford. We might be looking at a Team C soon – one that’s a product of the second half against City. Anthony Martial (if he can stay fit) and Casemiro (still doesn’t look sharp) might add something to Team C. There might be a few others like Donny van de Beek, Martin Dubravka or an academy player like Zidane Iqbal but that feels quite unlikely at this moment in time.
Erik ten Hag will soon run out of plans. There’ll be no Team D this season. He’s also a manager that doesn’t like to change his team very often. This is a manager that makes his players train 11 v 0 – he loves his automatisms and there’s nothing worse — for a manager of the type — than constantly changing the squad to hamper the progress that’s being made on the training ground.
Erik ten Hag’s got the fans on his side and there’s no manager waiting in the wings to take his spot but that shouldn’t excuse him from defeats like this. Team C’s going to be his final hand and things could get ugly if it doesn’t work.
Casey- Take something from this
To paraphrase the movie War Games, the only winning move when playing against Erling Haaland, is not to play at all. The striker is an inevitability at this point, adding another hattrick to his impressive tally and demolishing United like he has every other team so far (bar Bournemouth which is still an incredibly weird anomaly).
However, to fully attribute all six goals to a preordained destiny, would miss the point in a lot of ways. United could have played better and given themselves a much better chance. The best example of this was for Phil Foden’s third goal - a rushed passing move meant that United gave up possession cheaply and then a defensive mix-up meant that Foden was both played onside and left unmarked.
But unlike the movie War Games, where there were two clear opponents, United will not be playing City every week. And there were some positives to take away in the second half which they can apply to their next few fixtures, such as Anthony Martial’s brace and Luke Shaw’s cameo.
One poor game against the best team in the league should not force Ten Hag into DEFCON 1, but at the very least the club should learn from their mistakes.
Trambak- Disoriented United
As Sir Alex Ferguson wrapped his face with despair and frustration after witnessing United’s severe meltdown against their near rivals, I faced a similar impasse when searching for words to write this takeaway.
Of course, it wasn’t expected of Erik Ten Hag to outclass Pep and steer United to an emphatic win over Manchester City but neither did fans expect United to become a punching bag for their rivals after showing some form against Arsenal and Liverpool.
Speaking of team chemistry, the word for it should be ‘horrible’ in the first half. It was a rare occasion when the likes of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes were able to string together a few passes with their teammates in order to build ‘something’ of an attack from scratch. City’s continuous and controlled pressure completely disoriented United’s passing lanes helping Pep’s men to intercept and quickly counter.
Not saying to imitate any team but the same dilemma was faced by Real Madrid in their last season's Champions League encounter with Man City — Pep gave no chance for Real to breathe in the first leg, mounting up continuous pressure and intercepting the ball at dangerous areas. However, Ancelotti hit City with their own medicine in the subsequent half of the first leg and sharpened it with a combination of midfield mastery and young attacking legs in the second matchup — Real passed around the ball with ease, often building from the back, frustrating and immobilising City’s pressure.
Like in most of their games, the Catalonian mastermind employed the same tactics for United in an attempt to tear apart the Red’s shaky defense and use the likes of Phil Foden and Erling Haaland to deal the final blow.
United fans shouldn’t stress themselves much over this defeat as the result was predicted but not the scoreline.
It was the second two goals that raised concerns - Pauly
The first two goals were always going to happen given United’s tactical choice of sitting deep and trying to hit City on the counter. United had been vulnerable to conceding pockets of space in their own box even when dropping deep and City were always likely to make them pay.
It was when United went 2-0 down that the red flags started to get raised. Shortly after going 2-0 up, City started to allow United to posses the ball a bit.
Perhaps it was because City were taking their foot off the gas and toying with their rivals. Perhpas it was because Kyle Walker was injured on the sideline and they were temporarily playing with 10 men, but United had about a minute of sustained possession. During that minute, United did absolutely nothing. They were never threatening, there were no penetrating runs and no passes that looked like they were going to lead to anything substantial. Eventually an ambitious ball was played and ended up in the hands of Ederson and from there it was off to the races.
Just over 20 seconds after Ederson caught Christian Eriksen’s ambitious pass the ball was in the back of United’s net. United were picked off with the type of vicious counter attack that they’re known for delivering to opponents. Just over six minutes later, City did it again.
Possession teams are most vulnerable to quick transitions and counter attacks. As soon as City started allowing United to have some possession, this weakness came out. Erik Ten Hag is a possession coach and whenever he gets United fully playing the way he wants them to play this will likely be their biggest vulnerability.
The concern right now is that while this weakness is already there, the patterns of possession football aren’t. United had the ball for large swaths of time but never looked like they knew what they were going to do with it. The strengths aren’t there yet but the weaknesses already are, that’s going to need to be addressed quickly.