Ross Eaton writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Premier League fixture which ended Manchester City 2-1 Sunderland.
With Manchester City now a couple of months into the Guardiola reign, while Sunderland barely a month into Moyes spell as manager, the ambitions but also issues of these teams going into the 2016/17 couldn’t be any more different.
Pep Guardiola’s City have already begun successful implementation of his favoured Juego de Posición with the Catalonian coach being provided with both the players and funds he needs to succeed in his role as manager. The arrivals of Stones, Gundogan and Sane, without even mentioning the other £55m spent this summer, show the ambitions of both the club and everyone surrounding it. David Moyes, brought in quickly following the departure of Sam Allardyce isn’t blessed with nearly as strong a squad as he’d like, though the signings of Paddy McNair, Donald Love and Adnan Januzaj (the latter on loan), do suggest that Sunderland do have some sort of ambition ahead of next term. In the opening fixture of both sides season’s, it was Guardiola versus Moyes at the Etihad.
With Joe Hart being dropped turning into a hot talking point, Willy Caballero took the role of goalkeeper. Sagna and Clichy played as full-backs, though made unorthodox movements. Stones and Kolarov was the choice of centre-backs. Fernandinho played as 6, ahead of him was a midfield of Nolito, De Bruyne, David Silva and Sterling. Up front was Aguero.
David Moyes first team selection was as follows; Mannone-Love, Kone, Kaboul, O’Shea, Van Aanholt-Watmore, Rodwell, Gooch-Defoe, Borini.
The Inverted Full-Back Has Arrived in England
As many predicted prior to Guardiola’s first game in charge of Manchester City, the former-Barcelona man has introduced the inverted full-back to English football. For those who don’t know, an inverted full-back is very simply, a full-back who makes movements into the centre of the pitch, rather than onto the wing. For Pep’s first introduction of the role to England, he deployed Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy in the right and left inverted full-back roles.
During City’s build-up phase, as well as during circulation, Sagna and Clichy would move into their respective halfspaces, sometimes even into the central zone, depending on the position of Fernandinho. From here, City often played in a 2-3-4-1 formation, or a 3-2-4-1, again, depending on Fernandinho’s positioning.
In order to have some width in the team, which is necessary to stretch a horizontally compact opponent, Nolito and Sterling rarely came inside off their wings, instructed to remain on the touchline to occupy Love and Van Aanholt respectively, ensuring Sunderland weren’t able to close the centre too much. Having width doesn’t simply stretch the opposition, the wide players must be effectively connected with, and in good positions to receive the ball and hurt the opposition. This was an area the inverted full-backs helped. With Sagna and Clichy often positioned in either halfspace, this meant when there was a ‘dead’ attack on one wing, the ball could be played into the IFB and switched to the opposite wing, where the waiting winger is often in a 1v1 situation. Against Love and Van Aanholt, Sterling and Nolito possess qualitative superiority.
In terms of adapting to their new roles, Clichy looked very comfortable for a guy with just a couple of weeks training at most, as well as no match time, in the role. He occupied the centre spaces at the right times, as well as positioning himself on a line height where he could both support the attack and make a smooth transition to his defensive position if required. Sagna looked slightly less comfortable, and often came too near the ball when he was the ball-far IFB. This closed the space for Clichy and made connection with Sterling slower, as Clichy had to wait for Sagna to move into the correct position before playing wide,
Free Roaming 8’s and Emphasis on Combinations
Arguably City’s two best players, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva appear to be valued very highly by new boss Pep Guardiola, who has tasked the duo with a number of responsibilities across the pitch.
David Silva, playing as left 8/10 in the ‘4-1-4-1’ had a variable role in the centre of midfield. The Spaniard often made forward runs, occupying Sunderland’s right centre-back Lamine Kone. This isolated Donald Love with Nolito, with Nolito possessing strong skills in these 1v1 situations. Though City did like to create 1v1’s on the wings, Silva did sometimes, make movements onto the left wing, to overload it with Nolito, a dangerous situation against the weak Love. Though done so less frequently, due to Clichy often occupying the space, Silva would sometimes drop deep into the left halfspace to receive the ball from the centre-backs, to carry from deep. Amidst all these other roles, the most important for Silva was to find, and exploit space between Sunderland’s lines. With his midfield partner De Bruyne, and striker Aguero making vertical movements to occupy Sunderland’s CB’s, this denied them defensive access to Silva when he was in front of their line. Though it could’ve been done better by players with technical ability such as Kolarov and Stones, Clichy actually played a number of nice vertical line-splitting passes into Silva. De Bruyne, RCM, played similarly to Silva in pretty much all aspects bar the dropping deep to aid build-up.
When De Bruyne and Silva received between Sunderland’s lines, this was when we saw perhaps the area of Pep’s City that will be developed and displayed most throughout his reign, combination play in the final third. Despite it being important that Aguero remained on the last line, to occupy the defenders, he frequently made short movements towards the ball when Silva/De Bruyne were in possession between the lines, before playing a combinations with them, to draw his marker out of positions slightly, then run in behind to exploit this space created. Another common pattern we saw was for Silva/De Bruyne to dribble towards the winger and combine with him to draw the wing-back out of position, creating space in behind for a through ball. Nolito and Sterling often used cut-backs, rather than having an emphasis on floated and whipped crosses, which we saw a lot of at Bayern. Silva and De Bruyne were usually the targets for these cutbacks, waiting around the edge of the box, while Aguero attacked the front post or goalmouth.
One match into the Guardiola reign and Manchester City are already implementing Juego de Posición with relative success. Their manipulation of Sunderland’s shape was effective, with their central players in particularly being drawn out of position only for a City player to exploit the space left. If Guardiola can continue to progress at a similar rate throughout the season, then this Manchester City side could turn into a frightening force.
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