Truth/Bollocks: Manchester Derby

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I’m going to be honest and just say that the first point is similar to what I have been saying about Manchester United for the last six years: so, skip it. I’m kidding.

Utter Truth: “Defenders are to blame for derby defeat”

I have said this over and over again until my voice goes and my wife wants a divorce: MUFC defenders are terrible and the main problem with the squad. When put under real pressure, they crack. I do not believe they are 100% responsible for the overall problems with the squad, that would be short-sighted, but I do think they are the main problem and the biggest reason for this particular defeat.

When asked what went wrong in the match, the large majority of Manchester United fans do not even mention the defenders. Instead, they focus on Rooney and selections. Not even mentioning the defenders, who let in two pathetic goals and forced the club to be down 2-0, at home, against probably the best team in the league is ridiculous. Let’s get started:

The Manchester derby was Saturday and the blue side dominated the first half (passing, physically) but really did not deliver proportional, high quality chances or pressure.

Despite the passing and speed dominance, most of their crosses and passes in the final third were well off target, not threatening or pressuring the Manchester United defenders to a high degree. If you do not believe me, believe Pep who said that Manchester City is not ready to complete against the best in Europe for this reason.

“If you ask me whether we are ready to compete in Europe, we are not ready. We create, but in front we need more.”Pep Guardiola

They did, however, provide two chances: both were pedestrian but both provided goals.

The first was so pathetic that it defies logic: Kolarov, who tried this tactic three times before (making this situation worse in my opinion), cleared it long from almost the back line, 60 yards, and Kelechi Iheanecho nicked it to Kevin De Bruyne for the opening goal. The ball was in the air approximately 3.8 seconds, so let’s say four: that’s four seconds and the defenders, especially Blind, could not deal with it. Pathetic.

The second goal was not as pathetic as the first (what could be, really) but De Bruyne picked up a blocked shot on the right side of the area and he turned inside Blind and Lingard far too easily. Just so we are clear, that’s two players in a crowded area. De Bruyne shot a left-footed effort against the far post and Iheanacho tapped in the rebound. Double pathetic: past two defenders and not played offside by the United defenders.

In a second, I will talk about selection but, MUFC fans, I want to get this sentence in your brain:

“I remember Manchester United getting out-passed and out-played under Sir Alex in many big games …”

In this case, “I remember Manchester United getting out-passed and out-played under Sir Alex in many big games but I do not remember the MUFC defenders giving up two pathetic goals.” Maybe one, occasionally, but the defenders kept United to within one goal and gave them a chance to win or draw.

Utter Bollocks: “Selection was the main problem for MUFC”

Double negative: I’m not going to argue that selection was not a problem for Manchester United but I am going to ask a series of questions for those MUFC fans who, after four seasons of facts, cannot accept the fact that the defenders are the main problem. Besides the MUFC fan-hating Rooney supporters, who blame him for pretty much everything that goes wrong on the pitch, there were two other players that even those fans thought were very poor: Lingard and Mkhitaryan.

First question: is it not possible to just be outplayed by a superior team and certain players, in certain positions of the field, where the other team is very dominant, just look extra bad? Here comes that line I asked you to remember: “I remember Manchester United getting out-passed and out-played under Sir Alex in many big games, where many players looked like Lingard and Mkhitaryan, but I do not remember anyone, the large majority of those times, saying Sir Alex got the team selection wrong.”

Manchester City had 200 more passes in the first 30 minutes than Manchester United, not to mentioned the team in red was down a goal at that moment (see next point). When you are getting outplayed like that, certain players are going to look worse than others. It does not mean that their inclusion was the main reason for the defeat. There were many players who looked bad in the first, not just Lingard and Mkhitaryan.

Sometimes, players need time to get into the game, especially in Mkhitaryan’s case (new to the EPL), and having defenders that let in an opening goal like that one does not help that cause. Also, maybe with a tactical switch, those players would get into the game over time. I will address the subs shortly but let’s talk about goals.

Second question: goals change games. This is a point that has completely eluded so-called smart Manchester United supporters who do not believe the defenders are the main problem. They know the concept that goals change games in football but it does not seem to come into play when they start coming up with reasons why the team lost.

United, after being outplayed, gave up a pathetic goal in the 15th minute: that changed the game. These fans simply expect Manchester United to come back when down two goals, or one goal, to a world-class team managed by a world class manager. For me, if down two goals against this Manchester City team, I do not expect a victory but I do expect passion and drive (which we got in the second half). Maybe, if those defenders did their job like Manchester City’s defenders in the first half, the game would be different. Manchester United may have found their way into the match in the second half, not having to come back from two and then one goal.

Third question: would the changes, if they started, made a difference from the start? At half-time, Rashford and Herrera were the replacements for Lingard and Mkhitaryan, the former operating on the left with Rooney switching to the right. At first, there was an extra spring in United’s step, with Rashford doing what he goes best: speed and attacking defenders. Unfortunately, for all their extra vigour, clear chances were few in the remainder of the game.

Two things: being out-played, down by a goal, and where your first goal came as a keeper mistake, any top team will come out of the gates with vigour, especially at home. If that did not happen, we would be having a totally different conversation. Further, Manchester City, being a goal up, knowing United’s only goal was a keeper mistake, had the confidence. Would they have had that level of confidence if the defenders did not concede those two pathetic goals? They also had the luxury of knowing that United was coming out strong and could tactically adjust, stifle the United attack to get through the first 10 minutes of the second half – which they did.

For those who thought Herrera looked very good, remember, this is a Manchester City that did not have Aguero and their subs were defensive, playing a false-nine for much of the second part of the second half. That means that Manchester City was not as big of a threat in attack, allowing holding mid-fielders to move forward into attacking space more easily.

I am not saying that Herrera did not look good (his decision making was improved in my opinion) but you need to look at the bigger picture. If Herrera had started against this Manchester City that were quicker and sharper in the first half, he probably would have looked weaker than he looked as a substitute.


Utter Truth: “Not mentioning the defenders is ridiculous”

I am not going to get into the dozens of reasons why Rooney does not deserve the intensity of his criticism, especially from so-called Manchester United fans. After the defeat, I counted 100 tweets (in chronological order) from Manchester United supporters (via their bios) and 82 of them were about dropping (or blaming) Rooney. Yes, there were some mentions of Jose’s selection as well as Lingard and Mkhitaryan but none about the defenders.

Let’s have a look at the one of the biggest, if not the biggest Manchester United fan website in the world: “The United Stand.” After the match, they tweeted this out:

Options included Jose (probably for Lingard and Mkhitaryan; also Rooney, knowing them), the referee, City too good (fair enough) and “Carrying our Captain”. As you can see, no mention of the defenders. Instead, they go after Rooney who was, by far, not the worst player on the pitch and, after half time switches, asked to play out of position, again.

Interestingly, of those 100 tweets, none mentioned Pogba. If you were to go to Twitter posts from other club supporters, there were many. Makes you wonder why Manchester United supporters would be on their captain so much will no mention (or little mention) of Pogba. Oh wait, I know why: they blamed Rooney for Pogba’s poor performance.

Many MUFC fans are saying the formation hurts Pogba. They basically say that Rooney’s position and slow movements hurt Pogba’s ability to be a box to box midfielder. First off, the players only do what the manager tells them to do, so perhaps the problem is with the manager not being able to figure out a formation where all the superstars can play together. Pretty sure Barcelona, Real Madrid (remember the Bale / Ronaldo issues) and other big clubs have figured this out.

Also, Rooney switched to the right side for about 20 minutes of the second half, opening up the so-called channel for Pogba, and Pogba did not look worse or better in that time period.

Personally, I do not blame Pogba because it is short sighted. I also think Rooney is a problem at times, just not the biggest one.

If you are a Manchester United fan and are talking about this match right now and do not mention ‘defenders’ as at least a strong reason why we lost this match, then I question your objectivity.

Thanks for reading and be sure to call bollocks in the comments, below.

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Derek Newman

Derek is our host/producer and he really does not have time to write articles.

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