This piece originally appeared on the Carvalho Peninsula.
Watching Man City “s**t in the kettle”, as Joey Barton put it, felt a lot like watching United’s Champions League Final defeats to Barcelona. Not only because it ended with Alex Ferguson looking shellshocked – although the image’s rarity makes comparisons between the matches pretty much inevitable – but because it was, to my eyes at least, such a familiar way for his side to lose, the scoreline notwithstanding.
United’s players are all specialists in the Sacchian sense: the theory being that by each player being excellent at one thing, the team becomes complete via its composite attributes. City, by contrast, have a collective understanding and because all of their players (save Joleon Lescott) are at least proficient with the ball at their feet, they can play a more fluid, adaptable game. In short: in addition to their individual attributes, they share a common strength. Fergie was in a huge tactical hole at 2-0 and he brought on Jones and Hernández: a cavalier defender who brings the ball out from the back but doesn’t defend, and a poacher with lightning quick reactions and a nose for goal, but one that can’t control or pass a football. To their benefit, City have neither sort of player on their books. In the same way as Barça, City’s shared strength gives them more than the sum of their parts, particularly in relation to United’s stuttering, workmanlike style.
The introduction of Jones and Hernández brought to mind another familiar problem. For such a decorated manager, Fergie understands surprisingly little about tactics. Sure, he knows which players are suited to which roles and how to compose a well-rounded XI, but bringing on someone as one-dimensional as Hernández while simultaneously withdrawing Nani was puzzling at best. It essentially reduced his side to nine men. Another mistake which evoked the memory of a United-Barça clash was his choice of formation. One would think that four-band systems have trumped 442 enough times in big matches for Fergie to take the hint, but again he sent out two runners to stop three artists and was surprised when he lost.
Of course, many will say that it was a fluke and all Jonny Evans’ fault, but they’re wrong. It was his manager’s.