Manchester City absolutely tore Manchester United to bits in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final. Pep Guardiola set his team up to press the life out of United and for the first 45 minutes, it could not have worked better. While questions may have arisen after the job was done, this was a display that Manchester City absolutely needed.
Manchester City Tear United Apart
Scintillating First Half
It was one of the best first-half displays Manchester City have put on in the Guardiola era. Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez deployed in a fluid front four completely suffocated United.
The four of them were given complete freedom to roam and find the pockets of space. Both in attack and defence, any one of them could be found in a different place throughout the half. Two of the goals came about with Mahrez centrally and Bernardo playing on the wing, while the third came with Bernardo and Mahrez centrally and De Bruyne on the wing; certainly confusing enough to tumble Phil Jones and his ilk.
This performance was right up there with some of the elite pressing units Guardiola has overseen. There were moments in the first half where Manchester City could’ve swapped shirts with 2015 Bayern Munich and nobody would’ve noticed. The game itself may have come down to a difference in quality, but City was at the top of their game tonight.
Manchester City returned to their favourite formation of the season in this game, a 4-2-2-2, and just like many of the other games this season that formation came with some defensive errors. However, faulting the system or formation for Nicolas Otamendi’s inability to correctly play his position is lazy. Otamendi can’t play at the highest level anymore – it is what it is.
Fortunately for Manchester City, there are other options available. Beyond the fact that Aymeric Laporte has returned to training, it was a surprise in itself that Eric Garcia didn’t start this game. The Spanish youngster will have plenty more opportunities in the future.
Although some Manchester City writers may have thought otherwise, Pep Guardiola has not fully committed to three centre-backs. It would’ve worked in this game, but the balance of the team probably wouldn’t have fit as well with the pressing he wanted. A pretty good reason, to be fair.
Manchester City need to be able to sustain the level of intensity they brought to that first half. This group has pulled off runs of sustained excellence, and their press has always been the catalyst to that end. With Laporte back in training and Leroy Sane right behind him, they may be getting the reinforcements to go on a run.
If that run is going to happen, Raheem Sterling is going to have to improve. Whether he is carrying an undisclosed injury or exhausted, Sterling just looks out of focus in these games. This isn’t the problems that have plagued Sterling in the past. He’s not just falling off in big games, he has been playing without a cutting edge for weeks.
Last night. he was wasteful with his finishing. Two months ago he was finishing those chances, and even still he’s not far off from his last hat-trick. The Jekyll and Hyde of Sterling can get out of hand but until Sane comes back Pep insists on having him out on the field.
Lastly, this was a good solid performance from Benjamin Mendy. The Frenchman hasn’t been good this season, but this was one of his best performances. Most importantly, he was solid in defence playing full-back instead of wing-back. Something to watch going forward for sure.