Erling Haaland may have scored a hattrick, but it was Manchester United’s inability to deal with City’s wide players that undid them at the Etihad Stadium.
Ahead of the match, Wayne Rooney advised the Red Devils that the most effective way of stopping the Norwegian striker was by stopping the crosses from getting into him.
Writing for The Times, United’s all-time top goalscorer said the following:
“Of course, City have added Erling Haaland to their mix and put a lot of balls into the box now.
“I’m sure Ten Hag will be telling his full backs and wide players to stop crosses and I think that is where the match will be won and lost — if United can play Haaland out of the game, they’ll have a big chance.”
If it was a task Ten Hag set, t was a task in which the players failed miserably, with City attempting 10 and registering an astounding 70% completion rate.
To put that into context, over the course of a season a crossing accuracy rate of around 25% would be considered pretty good by most teams.
United’s fullbacks were given reason for hesitation early on, with both Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia booked inside 23 minutes.
However the inability to block or deflect such a high proportion of balls into the box cost United dearly on derby day.
All three of Haaland’s goals came from crossing into the box, with one of those being from a corner.
Even Phil Foden’s hattrick came as a result of City putting it into the mixer.
“Stop the cross” is a refrain well-known to just about every person to have orbited football at any level, and it is one that Erik ten Hag may need to spend the next few weeks yelling on the training ground after today’s performance.
Kevin de Bruyne’s crossing proficiency is no secret, but United consistently failed to close him down in key moments.
Bernardo Silva, Haaland himself, and late on even Sergio Gomez all banked assists via simple crosses.
With the Sky Blues fielding players happy to go in behind and difficult to deal with in the box, limiting the source of the danger should have been paramount.
However both Haaland and Foden were constantly looking to play on the shoulder in part because they could be assured that any attempted ball into the box would likely find them.