Four goals conceded before halftime: Erik ten Hag’s starting eleven must be called into question.
Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen continued their central midfield role in Manchester United’s side today. The pair – perhaps unsurprisingly – were completely outperformed by their opponents.
İlkay Gündoğan, Bernando Silva and Kevin de Bruyne excelled against a lacklustre, unfit, and unprepared United midfield. The trio’s silky control and flawless passing conquered Eriksen and McTominay.
Although Eriksen has been perhaps United’s player of the season so far with his signature around the corner key passes, the Dane had a less than stellar performance – these occasional games can be expected throughout the season, however, if one were to be nice.
Ten Hag’s decision to start McTominay, however, was surprising to begin with due to the Scot’s style of play.
McTominay’s most useful asset is his physicality, a feature which Ten Hag has been fond of utilising given the rather lightweight nature of the attackers.
This physicality, however, was unnecessary.
Manchester City’s midfield today average 1.78metres – hardly the all-conquering giants which McTominay may be useful to match up against, especially given Rodri’s absence from the side.
Indeed, City score goals against everyone – as evidenced today – but they show their dominance against lower teams to a degrading degree.
What do lower teams rely on to compete and fight to stay in the Premier League? Physicality.
Did Ten Hag, therefore, play right into Guardiola and City’s hands?
Casemiro, arguably the world’s best central defensive midfielder over the past decade, was left on the bench once again. The Brazilian is known for his ability to cut passing lanes and dominate La Liga midfields – midfields which are known for their reliance on technical abilities and lack of physical presence.
Forgetting the gulf in footballing ability and intelligence between McTominay and Casemiro, Ten Hag favoured an in-form player rather than one who would have suited this specific game.
With Casemiro in the team, Eriksen could have been afforded more license to move the ball upfield – something he massively struggled with today – perhaps due to playing so deep, being swarmed by City’s midfield, and situated tightly into the compact central area of the pitch.
Ten Hag’s call to start McTominay in a double pivot with Eriksen must be viewed as a lack of foresight – although it must be granted that he could not have guessed that Eriksen would perform so poorly.
Rather than relying on McTominay’s physicality, Ten Hag may have been wiser to start Casemiro. He may have been more suited to cancelling this silky control and flawless passing which ruled United today.