Sky Sports takes a look at which tactical battles will be key to success in this weekend’s Manchester derby; watch Brighton vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Football this Sunday; kick-off 2pm; followed by Manchester United vs Manchester City at Old Trafford; kick-off 4.30pm
Sky Sports is hosting Super Sunday with a twist this weekend – the same back-to-back live action, but all from the Women’s Super League, as Brighton entertain rejuvenated Arsenal and Old Trafford hosts a massive Manchester derby for the very first time.
Here, we’re going to focus on the big head-to-head bout between the two Manchester heavyweights, and attempt to unpack which tactical nuances will be key to victory.
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The midfield tussle: Zelem vs Roord
Image: Jill Roord was added to Man City's midfield ranks in the summer
The midfield confrontation presents one of this game’s most interesting tactical sub-plots.
Jill Roord has been a revelation since joining Man City in the summer – and her presence is felt all over this City side. Below is a passage about the importance of the Lauren Hemp-Chloe Kelly connection, but Roord’s influence is equally paramount.
Certainly Gareth Taylor side’s have suffered since Keira Walsh, Georgia Stanway and Caroline Weir left for pastures new in the same window. Any team would.
Yui Hasegawa plugged the middle-third gap in some capacity but it was clear City needed someone of Roord’s ilk to gain greater control and manipulation of the ball – their possession-based philosophy demands it.
Roord is a player who steadies a ship, but also steers it; she shows up in big moments and her British record transfer fee is testament to that.
Katie Zelem is a different brand of midfielder but one that is equally important to Man Utd’s flow. Both are combative and it’ll be fascinating to see who can outmanoeuvre the other to greater effect. Expect some intriguing back-and-forth in a battle of the ball-players.
Man Utd's 'big four' return
Man United won just one of their first 16 WSL games against rivals Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal but have found a way to play against these teams and have lost just one of the last six (W3 D2).
Predatory Parris: Can City cope?
As good as City are in possession, they aren’t necessarily as adept without the ball, and Man Utd’s forward line is packed with poachers.
United have also grown in confidence when facing their biggest rivals and the belief they can compete consistently at the top end, championed by manager Marc Skinner, is evident.
Image: Nikita Parris is averaging 1.03 goals per 90 mins in the WSL this season
United are enjoying more of the ball against their top-four rivals (55 per cent, up from an average of 46.7 per cent), as well as displaying the authority and control to maintain possession in the opposition half (averaging 200 successful passes, up from 172).
All that has allowed the likes of Parris, Leah Galton and WSL newcomer Melvine Malard to have a greater influence on games. Parris, in particular, has been the protagonist of late; she can act as the lynchpin of patient build-up, the catalyst for a quick-fire break or be the one stretching defensive lines with runs in behind. She can finish too.
Vicki Hodges is joined by Charlotte Marsh to ponder whether the gap between the top and bottom teams is closing in the Women’s Super League.
Skinner’s side wear down their opponents, and come on stronger as games open up so City will need to remain disciplined throughout. And let’s not forget United’s bench of super-subs.
Each of Lucia Garcia’s last eight league goals have been scored in the second half – seven of those goals after the 70th minute. In fact, her latest WSL strike (90:40) was the winner against City in the last meeting of Manchester minds back in late May.
Chaos out wide: Hemp and Kelly
Man City’s Kelly has attempted the most shots of any player in the WSL this season (30), and has created the joint-most big chances (four). That will come as a surprise to nobody.
Image: Chloe Kelly is one of Man City's chief attacking threats
Both Kelly and Hemp are interchangeable on the City wings and it causes untold chaos. Crosses from the left, deliveries from the right, fizzed low, floated deep – they can do it all. And the accuracy is often pinpoint.
Last season, Man Utd played with settled full-backs, but the loss of Ona Batlle in the summer has unsettled that rhythm. Gabby George – a centre-back by trade – was slotted into Batlle’s role initially before she was lost to injury, and now the burden has fallen to 22-year-old Jayde Riviere, with Hannah Blundell reverting to left-back to accommodate.
The instability poses a problem for United, given City’s unique talent out wide. Manager Taylor sets up to make certain his two star wingers are the headline act – as is his right – and there are very few sides who can combat that.
The directness of running, with blistering pace, and precise end product renders most experienced defensive lines powerless. United would be wise to double up if they stand any chance of stemming service into Bunny Shaw.
A Shaw-fire thing: Bunny’s threat
Image: Khadija Shaw has found the net twice in five WSL appearances this term
Shaw spent the early portion of this season injured, and it just feels like she’s waiting for the opportune moment to re-establish herself.
Two goals and one assist in five WSL appearances is middling, as far as Shaw’s immense aptitude for goals is concerned – her reliability has been somewhat off. It’s not that she isn’t getting chances, it’s that she isn’t finishing them.
Hemp and Kelly, as referenced above, are Shaw’s greatest allies. The forward has been found in scoring positions 17 times, but her goal conversion is down at 12 per cent. Her shot accuracy (47 per cent) is far lower than both of United’s predominant goal threats – Rachel Williams (67 per cent) and Parris (70 per cent).
The numbers might be concerning at surface level, but Shaw won’t be worried. Nor should she be. Her movement and aerial ability make her the perfect target for the two best wingers in the league and it’s only a matter of time before the sum of City’s parts comes good in a devastating way. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before.
Besides, there’s no better occasion than a Manchester derby to blow off any lingering cobwebs. Goals will flow, it’s just a case of when.
WSL fixtures in full
It’s Super Sunday with a WSL twist! Watch Brighton vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Football this Sunday; kick-off 2pm; followed by Manchester United vs Manchester City at Old Trafford; kick-off 4.30pm
- Stream the WSL and more with NOW