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A Tale Of Two Unlikely Heroes Of The Manchester Derby


A Tale Of Two Unlikely Heroes Of The Manchester Derby

One’s position in football is an aspect of the game that every single player is rather conscious and possessive of. Considering the kind of rigorous training they have to undergo, it becomes all the more necessary for them to identify and maintain the position they are good at.

Some players are a bit more versatile and can be deployed in one or more positions around their area. For example, a midfielder could play either as an attacking, central or left midfielder whereas a forward could play as a striker or on the wings. Similarly, in defence, a centre-back could play as on the left and right depending on the situation and what the manager requires.

Very rarely though, a bunch of players crop up that are mercilessly dragged out of their comfort zones to be deployed in positions that are totally opposite to their natural style. Even more rarely, these players actually manage to excel.

Normally when a footballer is taken out of his position, they look like a fish out of the water – gasping and struggling to breathe. And then there are same that soldier through and come out on top. The Manchester derby in December last year was one match wherein we got to see two such remarkable players battle it out for their respective teams far from their natural positions.

Ashley Young and Fabian Delph – both deployed as left-backs – have been playing outside their intended positions throughout this season so far. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are renowned for their charisma and tactical intelligence but both of them are also quite capable of extracting the best out of their players and that is exactly what they have done with Young and Delph.

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League

To take a winger and a midfielder out of position and make them play in defence is something that seems bizarre, to say the least. In fact, most players may have even protested or failed to deliver results and yet the duo continue to impress for respective Manchester clubs.

Luke Shaw was brought to Old Trafford from Southampton for the sole purpose of playing as a left-back but after an injury forced him off the field, United were left with a few makeshift options but none of them produced effective results. And then stepped in Young to make things look a lot stronger on that side. His experience and wing play proved to be crucial and soon enough, he became the Red Devils’ top choice for makeshift left-back. There has been no looking back for him ever since and he continues to be a solid presence at the back.

Delph endured a similar fate at Manchester City as well. After having played only 7 times in the league under the Catalan manager last season, he seemed to be out of favour but the midfielder impressed greatly when he was recalled to fill in for Benjamin Mendy at left-back. What started off as a trial ended up being his constant position for a good majority of this season, and judging from his performances, Guardiola has very little to worry about Mendy’s absence right now.

At the beginning of every season, football fans and pundits earmark a couple of games to watch out for and the Manchester derby is highly likely to have made into every list. However, at that point, nobody might have thought that Young and Delph would emerge as two key players in that encounter. With the power of Young and Valencia on either flank, United have developed a counter-attacking style of play on each side, which goes back and forth between the duo at the back to their wide attackers at the front.


City’s formation is also quite similar – Kyle Walker surges to link up with Raheem Sterling on the right while Delph and Leroy Sane do the same job on the left. And in a situation like this, the two most unlikely full-backs in the form of the two Englishmen have gone on to dictate proceedings in clubs like Manchester United and Manchester City.

Two clubs with an intense rivalry that dates back to ages and yet both seem to be embroiled in a similar situation when it concerns their left-backs. However, both of them need to be applauded for their unselfish sense of adaptability and commitment to their respective teams. It almost seems like their former duties as a winger and a midfielder have only prepared them for this moment. Young’s spectacular crosses yielded goals for United against the likes of Crystal Palace and Newcastle United. His accuracy and trickery provide quite a lot of activity and support for the Red Devils from the left side.

Delph, meanwhile, has used his strengths to adapt better to his role at City. Call it Guardiola’s tactical wizardry or just a sheer stroke of luck, the former Aston Villa man’s prior role as a midfielder has turned him into a strong option at left-back – perhaps even stronger than the injured Mendy.

It will be interesting to see what Guardiola does once Mendy returns from injury. Considering the way Delph has been performing, it would be criminal to drop him immediately. At United, however, Shaw is fit and raring to go but he has hardly been allotted game time so far. It is impossible to peek into either Guardiola’s or Mourinho’s heads to see how they feel about this but one must laud them for their man management skills.

Regardless of what the future holds for Young and Delph, nothing can take the magic they conjured this season away from them. They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going and both of them have proven to be one of the toughest players in the Premier League right now.