1. The Counter Attack
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be reliant on the counter-attack against a possession-hungry Manchester City side in this weekend’s Manchester derby. A prominent feature of Solskjaer’s tenure at United has been his side’s ability to be ruthless on the counter and it has been successful on numerous occasions against the noisy neighbors with Solskjaer only losing once to Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League since becoming Manchester United manager. The last time the two sides met, United won 2-0 at the Etihad thanks to goals from Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw, and in that particular game, it was clear to see that the focus was on counter-attacking and defending well.
2. The Formation of 3-5-2
We saw the use of the 3-5-2 in the previous league win over Spurs last weekend with Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani playing in a forward pair. Playing a five-man defence could be crucial with City expected to play a false nine position with either Phil Foden or Bernardo Silva dropping into pockets of space to receive the ball. Playing a five-man defence could help United to limit the amount of space for City to exploit and could allow them to get the ball to the forwards more fluidly. The formation adds defensive stability and allows the pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay to flourish, enabling them to press higher and win possession in the opposition’s defensive third. The use of the 3-5-2 could also help United match up to City’s 3-2-5 attacking formation and stop the likes of Foden, Jack Grealish, and others from collecting the ball in dangerous areas.
3. Using the left-hand side
As we know, United heavily use the left-hand side of the pitch with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw offering plenty of attacking output. With Kyle Walker expected to start at right-back for City, the selection of Rashford could be pivotal to the outcome of the match. Rashford could be key to hurting City’s resilient defence and exposing Walker’s defensive inefficiencies.
4. Playing a midfield three
The use of a midfield three could be imperative this weekend with the aim of matching City’s three-man midfield and limiting the amount of possession that the Citizens get in harmful areas. Manchester City will attempt to dominate the midfield battle with long spells of possession and the use of a midfield three will allow United to press higher and get closer to the City midfield. Playing Fernandes in a three could help the Portuguese as we saw against Tottenham with him allowed more time and space because of him collecting the ball in a deeper position. The selection of Matic could be vital with him being the only recognised defensive midfielder at the club, he can be deployed to screen the defence and disallow City picking the ball up in critical areas.
5. The need to bypass the press
With the use of the 3-5-2, United will be able to manage to bypass the press of City and that will create space in behind with City pushing onto United trying to win back possession. One way that United can bypass the press is by playing slightly longer into Ronaldo or Cavani’s feet and giving them the task of holding the ball up and getting the team up the pitch. Another way United can beat the press is by utilising the wing-backs when playing out from defence and by playing out from the back, it will see City move onto United and allow United to hit on the break. One example of this was in last season’s 2-0 win at the Etihad when Dean Henderson threw the ball out to Luke Shaw whose first touch took him away from Joao Cancelo and he drove through midfield and ended up scoring the second goal. Luke Shaw could be vital in an attacking sense in tomorrow’s Manchester derby.