Pre Match Review | Manchester City (H)
Sheffield United vs Manchester City - 21/01/2020
English Premier League
Surely even the more optimistic of Sheffield United’s fan base would never have thought they’d be 15 points behind Manchester City in January. A win on Tuesday and other results going their way midweek could see the Blades just 3 points behind Chelsea in 4th.
Last Time Out
Manchester City 2 (Agüero 52, De Bruyne 82) - 0 Sheffield United - 29/12/2019
English Premier League
For Sheffield United, the 2010s started with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough at Bramall Lane, a second half header from Richard Cresswell being the difference between the 2 sides who were both in contention for the playoffs (neither of them managed to finish in the top 6 that season).
Fast forward almost 10 years and Sheffield United are visiting the Etihad Stadium just 9 points behind Manchester City. The previous season City had completed an unprecedented domestic treble whilst Sheffield United had finished 2nd in the Championship and wasn’t being considered to be putting up much of a fight in England’s top division by many corners of the footballing world.
The game was more competitive than the scoreline suggests, Chris Wilder’s side even took the lead through Lys Mousset just before the 30-minute mark, however the goal was overturned by VAR due to the Frenchman being marginally offside after an excellent pass from John Fleck. Their 5th goal that season overturned by VAR.
That aside, there was little between the 2 sides in the first half and the Blades were holding their own, it always felt like it was going to take something special or ridiculous to make the difference.
Fleck was impeded by referee Chris Kavanagh in between United’s penalty area and the half-way line which ultimately led to him losing possession, the ball was picked up by Kevin De Bruyne who threaded it through to Agüero to fire home.
Granted, Kavanagh didn’t actually touch the ball but you couldn’t doubt the influence he had on the phase of play, somehow the Video Assistant Referee and Kavanagh himself didn’t see it that way and the goal was given.
There was little doubt about the authenticity of their second, De Bruyne gave the ball to Riyad Mahrez from a deep possession, the skilful winger headed towards goal taking 4 players with him, laying it off to De Bruyne who finished off the move he started with a brilliant finish.
The Blades also had chances that evening Mousset hit the side netting and Mo Besic also could have scored but the evening could be summed up perfectly in injury time when Billy Sharp’s header hit the inside of the post and rolled across the goal line.
What has changed since the last time we played each other?
Not a lot if, I’m being truthful. Manchester City are now 16 points behind Liverpool as opposed to 14 (the deficit at full time after the game against Sheffield United).
Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sané aren’t available for the trip to Bramall Lane but both are edging closer and closer to a return.
We saw a formation change in their New Year's Day fixture against Everton (which I will get into later) and a great performance in the Carabao Cup against their rivals Manchester United (which saw another tactical variation). Their form since the last game will also be covered as this piece goes on.
“We’ll assess David today, he’s had the weekend to recover and we’ll make a decision today. We have no other concerns – everyone came through the Arsenal game.
I’m delighted with the opportunity and ability to pick from a full squad.” - On the fitness of David McGoldrick
“Man City have had one of them seasons where you get a few injuries, some players haven’t reached the same heights but form is temporary and class is permanent and all those sayings.
They’ve got a tremendous amount of ability and we’re taking on a team that is exceptional.” - On Manchester City
“They want to win, all the time. You don’t get his career, his results as a player and a manager without being driven from a day to day.” - On Pep Guardiola
“When people say if you can improve watching other games and other teams and other managers, this is the one. I have never seen some of the movements that they are doing.
There’s a reason why they are in the position they are, we saw it here a few weeks ago and suffered. I’m really impressed.
I admire how they play and how they are doing, the same manager and a high percentage of the same players from League One and the Championship and now in the Premier League. I like it.
As a manager you see some teams that make you think you can improve and this is the one.“ - On Sheffield United
“John had a problem with the last action [in Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace], Mendy has some muscular fatigue and the others are ok.” - On the fitness of John Stones and Benjamin Mendy
Manchester City’s Recent Form
Since City’s defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers on the 27th December. Pep Guardiola’s side won 5 in a row before Fernandinho’s 90th minute own goal meant that Crystal Palace walked away from the Etihad with a point.
2 of those wins were in domestic cup competitions, one over Port Vale and the other over Manchester United, both were won with a 3-1 scoreline.
In the latter fixture, City were at their scintillating best and were 3-0 up at half time, the margin could have been even greater.
Whilst their 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa saw them go above Leicester City into 2nd place for the first time since 2nd November. A 16 point deficit between them and Liverpool means that the league title is pretty much over, especially when you consider that Liverpool have only dropped points in 1 game all season away at Old Trafford in October.
Opposition Style of Play
I initially wrote about Pep Guardiola’s philosophy of Positional Play in the preview of the game at the Etihad which can be found here.
It’s been 22 days between the 2 fixtures, and thankfully, for the sake of this article. Guardiola has been experimental in the league game against Everton and the league cup clash against Manchester United.
Against Carlo Ancelotti’s side, we saw Manchester City play with a back 3 where 2 of the centre backs were central midfielders in Rodri and Fernandinho with youngster Eric Garcia being the only orthodox centre back. Both have played at the back this season due to injuries and in theory due to 2’s ability on the ball and positioning, can help play through the opposition press and initiate attacks.
This allowed Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo greater freedom to get forward in their role as wing backs with Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne sitting as 2 deep lying playmakers.
After the win over the Blades, Guardiola spoke of how he needed his players to get closer to their centre forwards. This was possible due to the shape of the back 3 and sitting 2, which provided more protection to the wing backs who could stay wide and further up the pithc and for the 2 attacking midfielders Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez to get closer to Gabriel Jesus. This may not be possible on Tuesday due to the question marks over Mendy’s fitness, with Oleksander Zinchenko more likely to play a role of an ‘inverted wing back’ if picked, unless Guardiola opts to play Angelino, who hasn’t played for Manchester City since the middle of December.
In the 3-1 win over Manchester United, City played without a recognised centre forward and instead had the likes of Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne both occupying ‘false 9’ roles in a 4-4-2 formation. Which was problematic for Manchester United’s defenders due to not being sure whether to follow their man when they dropped deep, thus creating space for the wide players and other central midfielders, but with Agüero in such good form and with Gabriel Jesus coming off the bench against Crystal Palace you’d imagine they’d play with at least one centre forward.
Player to Watch - Kevin De Bruyne
There isn’t a lot to be said about De Bruyne that people don’t know already and has featured in all but one of City’s premier league games this campaign which was a 2-0 defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Belgian international has 15 assists already in the Premier League this season and is surely destined to beat Thierry Henry’s record of 20 in a single season.
I can see Bramall Lane being right up for this one and for some reason it being under the floodlights makes me more optimistic. 2-1, Norwood gets one of them.
Over 1.5 goals, 3+ Sheffield Utd corners, 5+ Manchester City corners and 10+ booking points each team at 7/4 (SkyBet); Sheffield United or Draw at 15/8 (SkyBet)
Fitness concerns over City’s defence will see some City changes. It’d be nice to see Besic start ahead of Lundstram who has had a dip in form recently, that being the only change from Saturday before wholesale changes are made in the FA Cup at the weekend. Unless McGoldrick is fit to start over Mousset, which we aren’t sure of at the time of writing.