Three things we learned from the Manchester derby

Manchester City's Chloe Kelly battles for the ball with Manchester United's Jackie Groenen and Ona Batlle.
Manchester City's Chloe Kelly battles for the ball with Manchester United's Jackie Groenen and Ona Batlle during the FA Women's Super League match at the Academy Stadium, Manchester. (Photo by Tim Goode)

Manchester is certainly blue for the 2020/21 season as the Cityzens dominated the most important Manchester derby in women’s football history with a comfortable 3-0 win.

That win puts Man City one point ahead of their bitter rivals having played one game less. City look set for a title battle down to the wire whereas Man United now require Arsenal to slip up to guarantee a top-three place.

It was a game neither side could afford to lose. Yet, based on the performances, it seemed like an end-of-season game with nothing riding on it.

They were slow, lacklustre, lethargic and seemingly disinterested for the most part as passes went astray and the pressing was none existent against a City team who thrive off having the ball comfortably.

After a slow start under Gareth Taylor, City are starting to come good at the business end of the season. Vice versa with their rivals, as Casey Stoney’s side could be potentially unravelling.

The highly anticipated derby showcased what both teams are like at the moment. It also displayed how each side may fare during the run in for the title and a Champions League place, but what else did we learn from the match?

City looked effortlessly good

Despite winning 3-0, City could have easily gone up another gear or two and put United to the sword. Instead, they set out for a more professional performance.

The way Taylor set his side up to dominate and frustrate their rivals was remarkable. They stamped their authority both on the Women’s Super League and the city of Manchester.

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It is testament to how great City have been as of late that many players appeared to have an ‘off’ game and still performed to a high standard. This made their rivals seem extremely average and far from being title contenders.

Players such as Chloe Kelly, Georgia Stanway and Ellen White had average games for their standards, especially the former who has been one of the best players in the WSL this season.

City have world-class players all over the pitch, so on paper, the result may not come as a shock. However, it was the manner in which they went about the game unflustered that made their rivals seem leagues apart in terms of quality both mentally and on the ball.

Manchester United are lacking a leader on the pitch

There was a real lack of cohesion amongst the United players during the most important Manchester derby in WSL history. This was apparent just before and after Lucy Bronze put City ahead, as Katie Zelem and Leah Galton were stood pointing to the same area of the box which was vacant. Both were seemingly confused as to who should be there and, in the end, nobody took control of the situation.

When the Red Devils went behind there was yet again more pointing, shouting and people turning their backs on others. It was certainly not a good sight for United fans who have become accustomed to seeing their players fight for each other and have an ‘everyone vs themselves’ mentality at times.

When things were getting tough for United, nobody looked willing to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and show their quality.

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Far too often, passes went astray with people just hitting and hoping for one of Ella Toone of Christen Press to make something of a long ball forward.

Their passing accuracy was just 75% for the entire game after attempting 414 passes. City, who understood and controlled the situation, completed 449 passes.

Not many United players seemed too bothered with what was unfolding in front of them. Or, perhaps they didn’t know how to change it. Either way, it’s incredibly worrying for a side who is being touted as title challengers to seemingly lack so much backbone in the biggest game of their season.

Deploying Groenen as a second striker was a negative approach which backfired

Going with two up front against City would usually be seen as both bold and brave from Stoney. However, when one of those ‘strikers’ is yet to register a goal for the club, it’s a different game plan.

Jackie Groenen’s role seemed to be triggering the press and ensuring Kiera Walsh didn’t dictate the tempo of the game.

However, the press was extremely ineffective. Most of the time, the Dutch international was chasing the ball while Press only occasionally joined in. This made it very easy for Steph Houghton and Abby Dahlkemper to have time on the ball and pick out forward passes.

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Out of 24 attempted pressures, Groenen made just eight of them successful. These came when the Reds won the ball back five seconds after applying the pressure. Therefore, Groenen’s press had a 33% success rate.

Houghton and Dahlkemper had a very untroubled evening in Manchester, racking up 83 and 82 touches respectively. This highlights just how ineffective and costly the pressing idea was. However, Walsh did manage only 46 touches. That was the third-lowest out of any player that started the game.

Ultimately, the problem for United was that City noticed their plan early on. As a result, the Blues began bypassing the press and playing out wide more often.

To show this, Alex Greenwood ended up having more touches in United’s final third than her own defensive third. Such was the emphasis on getting the ball out wide and nullifying the hectic midfield battle.