Monday 5 December 2016

Gary Neville: Manchester stalemate proved a tactical masterclass from managers

Gary Neville

Published 26/10/2015 | 02:30

Kevin De Bruyne received plenty of close attention from Manchester United and Marcos Rojo
Kevin De Bruyne received plenty of close attention from Manchester United and Marcos Rojo

Supporters from both sides of Manchester may have left Old Trafford at the end of a 0-0 draw shaking their heads at the lack of goalmouth action or excitement, but for me it was 90 minutes which told me that Premier League clubs can look forward to challenging in the Champions League again.

  • Go To

The fan watching it probably thinks that it is boring, that the entertainment is poor, but I really enjoyed the game and the first half was probably the best 45 minutes I have seen anywhere in the Premier League this season.

The Premier League is renowned for entertainment and madness, but this was a game for the professional and I genuinely believe there were a lot of very good things out on that pitch.

Both sets of centre-halves were fantastic, as were Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo against Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.

Before the game, I saw United's full-backs - Valencia and Rojo - as big weaknesses against De Bruyne and Sterling, but I thought that De Bruyne was completely finished in the game after 20 minutes because Rojo dealt with him brilliantly.

For every attacking player out on that pitch, it was a nightmare, but that was largely because the defensive units of both teams did exactly what is required in the Champions League.

If I was a coach of United or City, I would be proud of how the players conducted themselves and followed instructions.

Teetering

At a time when the Premier League is teetering with its coefficient and facing the prospect of losing a team in the Champions League, this game offered a level of comfort in that teams are starting to apply themselves to defending, with concentration and focus.

What is a quality football match? If City or United had torn the other apart, with the other team defending as they did, then you would say it was a quality performance. But when a team nullify the other, pays attention to detail of every one of the others' strengths, you also have to say that that is a quality football match.

I will not be told by anybody that there wasn't a lot of quality on that pitch yesterday.

When people talk about quality, they think of a great goal or a great shot or a great dribble. But no, a quality football match is when two teams pretty evenly matched nullify each other and pay respect to each other. I might be the only person in the country saying this, but I do not care.

Every time I watch a big game in the Premier League, there is no doubt there is a correlation between the madness and chaos in domestic games and then the lack of application, focus and concentration that we see in the Champions League, where we have looked like the most naive players in the world.

Concentration is a word that was rammed down my throat, and all my United team-mates' throats, for 20 years. But it seems like a word that does not exist in the game any more. It's all about expanse, risk, goals, excitement, drama, mistakes.

The drama and mistakes of the Premier League might give fans some momentary high, but in this game I saw a quality football match.

There is a place in football for this type of game. I want to see goals and incident, but when I have seen how we have been in the Champions League over the past few years, I want to see more of what I saw between United and City because, in all honesty, I think we have looked like muppets in the Champions League for the past three years. We have looked like schoolboys playing against men.

There is still some way to go before that changes, but this game has given me hope that the struggle and concentration will translate itself into the Champions League.

The progress made by Manuel Pellegrini was also evident in this game and I think the City manager deserves credit for the changes he has made to his approach.

He will barely get a mention after this match, but a year ago I had serious concerns about Pellegrini and City due to their naivety in the middle third, with Fernandinho and Yaya Toure in midfield and David Silva and Samir Nasri out wide. They would go into games against teams with three midfielders, such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona, and look naive.

Against United, however, when Marouane Fellaini was introduced in the second half, United went to a midfield three and a threat was posed - they threw down the gauntlet.

And to his credit, Pellegrini immediately reacted by putting Martin Demichelis on in midfield in place of Toure. I thought that showed progression.

Counters

It was like chess - one man makes a big move and the other quickly counters it. Pellegrini did that and he deserves an enormous amount of praise for that because a year ago, he was getting battered for being naive and arrogant for not changing his approach.

He has learnt his lessons and United, under Louis van Gaal, are also showing that they are able to implement a tactical game-plan against top quality opposition.

Every time I have seen a big game, going back to being a young kid and when I started playing professionally, I always thought that the biggest matches between the top teams, those in the top four, should be a massive struggle.

You think of heavyweight fights, when it is difficult for the fighters to get a punch away, and there were not many punches in this one. But that should not detract from the quality on the pitch because it was a game with many positives.

Telegraph.co.uk

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport