Man City Tactics explained: How are Man City so unstoppable?

November 27, 2017

- Grant Whittington

While the hyperbole that surrounds the Premier League makes it hard to distinguish fact from fiction, there’s no doubt that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side have made an impressive start to the new season. Unbeaten and having won 18 consecutive matches in all competitions, they’ve also carved open an eight point lead at the top of the league while playing some truly sensational football.

City have dropped just two points all season, having being held by a dogged Everton side during their first home game of new campaign. Since then, they dispatched every single opponent with ease, comprehensively beating Chelsea away from home, thrashing Liverpool at the Etihad and putting six past an impressive Watford side at Vicarage Road.

With pundits already talking (admittedly prematurely) about City going unbeaten through the league season, in this post we’ll ask what makes the club so unstoppable at present and if there’s any hope for the chasing pack?

Getting to grips with Pep’s tactics – The fundamentals of City’s game

The man at the heart of City’s revival is the mercurial Spaniard Guardiola, who is often described as an artist given his penchant for playing stylish, attacking football. This description does a disservice to the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, however, who is a serial winner and has developed a fundamental way of playing that optimises his teams chances of dominating games.

This makes him more of an artisan, who goal is to produce a successful, winning team that just so happens to paint beautiful patterns of play.

Guardiola’s style is possession based, but  the familiar term ‘tikka-taka’ has become a derogatory one and does not fully explain the aggression and tempo in the Spaniard’s ethos. At their best, his teams like to dominate the ball while moving their opponents out of position, before increasingly the tempo of play to cut through exposed defensive lines. This was best embodied by Gabriel Jesus’ opening goal during the recent, 2-0 win at Leicester, when City maintained controlled possession before bursting behind the Foxes’ defensive with a series of rapid one-twos and incisive passes.

Guardiola also want his side to press high in the opposition half, with a particular focus on closing down the opposition immediately after possession has been lost. This requires a high defensive line, but it means that at their best City will dominate possession of the ball and play the majority of the game in the opposition half. This minimises the amount of opportunities that opposing sides have to create chances and put the Citizens under pressure, while it also makes them increasingly likely to wilt and tire under sustained pressure.

These tactics looked flawed in the opening three games of the season, as City struggled to create chances against Brighton and Everton and lacked the fluidity expected of Guardiola’s sides. Bournemouth also tested City’s high and precarious defensive line, using the pace of Josh King to exploit space on the counter-attack and threaten a shock result.

These performances highlighted the risks associated with Pep’s tactics, as possession can become staid and unthreatening without the constant and energetic movement of players. Similarly, solid and well-organised sides with rapid forwards can get in behind City’s back line and subsequently reap huge rewards on the counter-attack.

How Pep has made City look unstoppable

City have not only won 18 consecutive matches since then, however, but they’ve also made one or two tactical adjustments that have energised their play. Firstly, Guardiola has largely done away with the idea of partnering Sergio Aguero and Jesus in attack, instead preferring to rotate them and introduce the pace, movement and trickery of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in the channels. Pep has also afforded the mercurial Kevin de Bruyne something of a free role in the final third, enabling him to use his superb vision and accurate passing in key areas.

So how have these changes made City so unstoppable? In terms of the former, City have improved the quality of their movement in attack, deploying a fluid front-three rather than two strikers who were often trying to occupy the same spaces. The dribbling qualities of Sane and Sterling have also added an extra dimension to City’s attack, as they now have at least two forward players to commit defenders and create out-balls for the likes of de Bruyne and David Silva (while also creating opportunities to increase the tempo of their play).

In the case of de Bruyne, Guardiola has simply unlocked the potential of one of the league’s most accomplished and technically gifted players. So, rather than playing as an orthodox central midfielder, the Belgian has been afforded a free role that enables him to seek out space in the final third and in the wide areas. This not only allows City to fully leverage his accurate delivery and wide range of passing, but it also increases the fluidity of Guardiola’s system and creates space for other players to move into.

This has also required David Silva to assume a more disiciplined, deep-lying playmaker role alongside the earnest Fernandinho, transforming City’s original 3-5-2 system into a more flexible 4-2-3-1.

Is there hope for the chasing pack?

Where there are games, there’s hope, but only Manchester United seem to boast the consistency and ability to seriously challenge their city rivals. In fact, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has already ruled his side out of the running, after a disappointing home draw with West Bromwich left them 13 points off the pace.

United will host their rivals in an eagerly anticipated Manchester derby on December 9th, with the Reds realistically needing a win to maintain their own title chances. If you fancy the host’s chances why not check out some of our recommended new bookies to compare the best odds?

Ultimately, City’s bold and progressive style of play will always create chances for the opposition, particularly if one or two injuries interrupt their fluid style of play. If sides are able to nullify City’s possession-based game and frustrate them in attack, they’ll then have the opportunity to play quick and direct balls in behind to exploit space on the counter-attack. Napoli did this exceptionally well in the Champions League by using their own, high-tempo pressing game, dominating City for more than half an hour and creating multiple chances to score.

The fact that City still won that game tells you everything that you need to know, however, as teams will have to be defensively disciplined, quick in transition and ruthless in front of goal if they’re to prevail. For now, however, the best their rivals can do is maintain their own form and hope that they ‘re able to reduce the gap as the season progresses.

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