Premier League Tactical Preview: Manchester City v Manchester United

Match odds - Manchester City: 2.20  The Draw: 3.40  Manchester United: 3.30

With the Premier League title race already neck and neck, Sunday's Manchester Derby will have as much spice as ever.

United are currently top of the league by three points, but City are unbeaten and in particularly good form at the Etihad, where they have not been beaten for over a year.

As City host Sunday's encounter they are slight favourites at 2.20, but it is worth noting that they have not been firing on all cylinders of late.

Roberto Mancini's troops have crashed out of the Champions League as well as looking limp last Saturday against Everton. United, meanwhile, have been picking up points but looking vulnerable at the back, conceding three to Reading last time out.

Probable line-ups

Both managers typically deploy a 4-2-3-1, but Mancini is prone to a 3-5-2 in games he wants to keep tight, while United have opted for a variation of a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation, with no width, on occasion.

It was the popular 4-2-3-1 formation that Sir Alex Ferguson plumped for against Chelsea back in late October, when United came away from Stamford Bridge with all three points.

The Red Devils started that game in tremendous fashion, using the wings to mount attacks and deservedly taking an early two-goal lead. Faced with a similar away fixture this Sunday, Fergie may again deem this to be the most effective option, with Valencia and Young providing the attacking prowess out wide. Rooney can then drop in and help the central midfielders with RVP will lead the line on his lonesome. Tom Cleverley is a doubt for the game having picked up a knock against Cluj on Wednesday, but Anderson can adeptly fill in, should the young Englishman succombe.

I fully expect City to match United's 4-2-3-1. Carlos Tevez has been used sparingly of late but his importance to the side, especially in big games, is undeniable. Mancini should start him behind fellow Argentinian Sergio Aguero, while Kolarov will be selected at left midfield to add defensive cover for Clichy as well as offering more natural width in an otherwise narrow midfield - David Silva will, of course, cut in from the right. This is a well balanced City side. Similar to the way they lined up for their 2-1 victory over Spurs a few weeks back.

United's shaky defence

United have conceded an alaming 21 goals in the league this season, compared to just 11 for City. Against Reading we saw United exposed at set-pieces and down the flanks. Evra and Rafael struggled with Reading's width, and tellingly the young Brazilian full-back was taken off before half time.

This was also the case earlier in the season, when Spurs triumphed at Old Trafford. Bale and Vertonghen caused problems running at Manchester United's right hand side from deep that day, which contributed to the goals they scored.

United are weak in this area, which could mitigate using Valencia wide right. As well as being an effective attacker the Ecuadorian winger also understands his defensive responsibilities and will track back willingly for the side. With this in mind, United might see attack as the best form of defence, looking to take the initiative early, as they did at Stamford Bridge.

City's counter attacks

With United's perceived weakness at the back, especially at right-back, City could exploit them in these areas with their powerful and incisive breaks. City conduct most of their attacks down the left and after Rafael's performance against Reading they will feel they can find joy in these areas, even if Smalling does replace him. It may also vindicate Mancini in selecting Kolarov in the advanced position on the left, doubling up on United's right back. This is his heat map for the game versus Spurs:

We can see here that Kolarov does both a job getting forward in attacking areas but also covering back when required. Importantly, playing Kolarov gives Mancini tactical flexibility as he can shift to a 3-5-2 with him in the side. The Serbian is also an adept set-piece taker, which is an area where United are weak at the moment. He has four free kick goals for the Citizens and is at tasty odds of 18.00 to open the scoring.

Meanwhile, the majority of United's attacks, 39%, actually come from the right hand side. So this City's left versus United's right battle is set to be a key determinant.

Man City's defensive midfield pivot against Rooney

The Man City midfield pivot has not looked quite right this season. New signing Javi Garcia has failed to hit the ground running, which has seen Yaya Toure dropped back into a defensive role alongside Gareth Barry. One would expect Yaya, City's most physical and domineering midfielder, to play deeper against United as he did versus Everton:


As a sitting midfielder, Toure is somewhat shackled, and City will miss his impressive lung bursting runs. But he does provide ample cover for the back four in this reserved role, allowing Tevez and co to undertake the attacking tasks. 

With United likely to include Rooney as their no.10 it could be a key physical battle that develops between Yaya and Rooney in this area, as Rooney will look to roam the area between City's back four and midfield. 


With United's inability to keep clean sheets, and free-scoring form, this will likely be a great game for the neutral.  

Both managers will start with a 4-2-3-1. The key players will be Toure and Aguero for City, and RvP and Rooney for United.

In the likely absence of Vidic, United are far from assured at the back. Without him they are definitely vulnerable both at the centre, from set pieces and out wide from attacks down the flanks. City will look to capitalise on this through overloading United down the left flank (United's right).

Both managers have been tinkering with formations. The outcome of this game will not decide the league title, but City must at least avoid defeat to keep up with United. Either way, this promises to be a very close, and fascinating duel at the Etihad.

Unibet are refunding all losing first/last goalscorer bets if Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez scores first on Sunday. Click here for more information

Amit Singh is Editor of Think Football, the thinking person's football website. You can follow him on Twitter @think_football