A lot happened. But Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United wasn't a good game. Before the game, Callum Hamilton called it a "clash of the incompetents" and, for various reasons, that's what it was. It's probably vogue to put United's victory down to the supremacy of their full-backs -- Rafael da Silva especially -- or Wayne Rooney's disciplined efficiency in shutting down Yaya Toure. Such a reading, though, ignores the fact that one of City's fullbacks -- Pablo Zabaleta -- scored, that City's entire defense was compromised by Vincent Kompany's early injury and Toure spent most of the second-half limping around, scoring nonetheless with his toffee leg. The game defied any sort of holistic tactical analysis.
Instead, and this is typical of Manchester City games, it came down to individual mistakes and triumphs.
Rooney, with two goals and the sort of all-action rambunctiousness that justifies his occasional position in the global pantheon, was a triumph. Mario Balotelli was a series of mistakes. Carlos Tevez's introduction - the post-failed Balotelli backheel necessity of which proving the error of the Italian's inclusion - was initially a triumph. But then he gave away the free-kick (mistake) from which Robin van Persie won the game (triumph). Then he ran away from the wall. We can chalk that up as a mistake too. Tevez should have been sent off at the end for a chop on Phil Jones and Jones made a mistake too. Having replaced Antonio Valencia he didn't bother taking over his duty at set pieces: Zabaleta scored, triumphantly, from the x on which Valencia had stood on every other City corner. And then there's Samir Nasri.
Nasri's disappearance behind Joe Hart's rapidly diminishing wall - he then waggled a toe at the ball, off which it looped into the goal - was analogous to his performance as a whole. He spent most of the game hiding. (Since this is, in a way, a "tactics piece", I need some stats: Nasri attempted 31 passes, 8 in the final third. That's not good enough). He was the decisive problem yesterday because it was his specific mistake that led most directly to United's winner; but just as that mistake was indicative of his wider performance, his wider performance is itself explanatory of the impossibility of discussing tactics and Manchester City at the same time.
Essentially, Roberto Mancini doesn't have a tactical plan. He can't. The piecemeal nature of City's acquisition - he's good; he's available: buy him - precludes the holistic development that effective tactical planning requires.
When you scout players, you learn about them out of context. Watching Samir Nasri play for Arsenal only really shows you how he plays for Arsenal. It requires a certain amount of imagination and re-interpretation of the player to develop a sense of how Nasri will play for City. City's lack of cohesion - necessary as they leapt up from journeymen to contenders - made this task especially difficult. This means that we can explain the individuality that defines City's "collective", but we don't necessarily need to excuse it; and United are certainly entitled to exploit or, as happened yesterday, rather passively benefit from their rivals lack of tactical cohesion.
Whether responsibility for this lies with Mancini, the scouting team, a lack of effective coaching, the intractable arrogance of the mercenary or, more likely, is a consequence of these factors in combination, results this season have shown the limits of such an approach.
City got nowhere in the Champions League, losing out to well-organised, pressing sides and Real Madrid - who may be a better version of themselves. They lost yesterday to a United side whose vague tactical approach was to let them beat themselves. It's not a crisis; it's the natural termination of a necessary phase in City's transition.
In order to regularly beat other top sides and to make an impression in Europe, City need to have a tactical plan. Before they can do this, though, they need a change in philosophy: their fans have stepped into the big-club mentality faster than the club's still-transitioning hierarchy. The next phase might require a new manager, it might mean different players - perversely, summer deportee Nigel de Jong is the sort of round peg City could do with - but until City become the type of side on which it is worth exerting tactical analysis, chaotic defeats like yesterday's will be the norm.
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