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Manchester City’s defensive deficiencies further exposed by Klopp’s vibrant Liverpool

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Liverpool and Manchester City showdowns have developed into popular Premier League fixtures in recent years, and the arrival of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola was expected to enhance the competitive rivalry between the two clubs. Sunday’s clash at the Etihad was not only vital in regards to the current top four race, but stylistically, it also highlighted the growth witnessed throughout the league over the past 12 months.

Although the attacking philosophies vary between the two managers, the emphasis on dynamic pressing and clever passing combinations suggested the possibility of a potential goal-fest. But, unlike previous meetings against Klopp’s Reds, the hosts were dominant in the opening period.

Guardiola decision to employ a 4-2-3-1 meant David Silva operated in his preferred no.10 role, whereas Kevin De Bruyne sat deeper in midfield alongside Yaya Toure. The most intriguing change in Guardiola’s XI witnessed Fernandinho start at right-back, where he pushed forward at every opportunity and quickly pressed James Milner when the Liverpool left-back received possession.

Interestingly enough, City’s ability to stretch the pitch through Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling’s positioning created more space in central areas for David Silva to drift into. Silva’s positioning, here, was integral to City’s dominant spells, yet the hosts created majority of their chances in wide areas via overloads and incisive passing into half spaces.

Fernandinho and De Bruyne both delivered dangerous crosses into the six-yard box within the opening 15 minutes of the match, whereas Sane also created dangerous chances that resulted in a Simon Mignolet save, and a last-ditch tackle from James Milner to deny Sterling an easy tap-in. Later on, Milner was once again the key cog in denying City an opener following De Bruyne’s brilliant reverse pass to Silva in left half-space, but Guardiola’s approach was fairly successful in terms of field positioning to get the better of Silva and De Bruyne’s creativity.

A string of Liverpool chances towards the end of the half offered signs that they were growing into the game, but their poor start was down to sloppy passing and their reluctance to swarm Guardiola’s men in the early stages. Sadio Mane was presented a glorious breakaway following a poor John Stones back pass, whereas Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana both tested Willy Caballero.

Gael Clichy rarely pushed forward with fear of leaving vacant space for Mane to charge into, and despite Firmino’s positive link up play when he dropped into midfield zones, Liverpool’s possession was tedious, opposed to efficient in the final third. Liverpool’s positive spell continued in the second half, and Clichy’s slip subsequent to Emre Can chipping a pass over the City defence for Firmino led to a penalty that Milner comfortably converted.

Liverpool were now free to revert to a narrow 4-5-1 with the intent to hit City on the counter and one break ignited by Firmino and Philippe Coutinho forced Caballero into a vital save around the hour mark. Toure was now a liability in transition, and Guardiola quickly sacrificed the Ivorian for a natural right-back in Bacary Sagna, thus pushing Fernandinho into midfield. Toure’s decline has been evident in recent seasons, but with Coutinho easily gliding past the City midfielder in the aforementioned move, the possibility of Liverpool increasing their lead appeared evident.

However, Guardiola’s substitution was followed by Silva moving alongside Fernandinho, while De Bruyne hugged the touch-line on the right flank. Therefore, Sterling, Aguero and Sane operated centrally with the former as the no.10 – but his wayward passing limited his influence – while Sane constantly aimed to run behind the Liverpool defence.

Aguero, on the other hand, moved into wider areas to evade the pressure applied by Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan when the Argentine received the ball with his back to goal. For all of the speculation associated with Aguero’s future under Guardiola, here, his reliable finishing was his downfall, whereas his linkup play was fairly positive.

Nevertheless, City responded superbly following Guardiola’s alterations. Silva’s starting position was deeper, while De Bruyne delivered two dangerous crosses into the box before creating Aguero’s equalizer shortly afterwards. Guardiola’s decision to move his creative cogs away from the congested midfield zone was logical, and though it led to more chances, City remained vulnerable in transition.

Lallana missed a glorious chance set up by Firmino, and minutes later Mane’s powerful run from midfield resulted in the aforementioned Brazilian firing a low effort into side-netting. Meanwhile, besides Sterling breaking behind and nearly chipping Mignolet, and a wonderful individual effort from Aguero – when he dropped into a deeper zone in the left channel – De Bruyne and Silva architected City’s best moves down the right flank. Both men created opportunities for Aguero to notch a winner, but the Argentine’s profligate finishing ensured the score line remained deadlock at full-time.

In a truly enthralling end-to-end game, the performances from both sides epitomized the current obstacles preventing a proper title challenge. Where Liverpool still lack a reliable goal-scorer despite their devastating high-octane brand of football, City’s defence and lack of protection in midfield outweighs Guardiola’s riches in the final third.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Yaya Toure can still play a role for Guardiola’s Manchester City

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Yaya Toure’s future at Manchester City was under significant threat following the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s appointment. With the Ivorian’s performances under heavy scrutiny throughout last year’s campaign, along with Guardiola deeming Toure as surplus to requirement during their time at Barcelona, the possibility of deja-vu wasn’t farfetched.

Yet, with the Christmas period vastly approaching, Toure – following a public apology to the club and fans – has returned to the first team with vigour. Two goals at Selhurst Park earned City maximum points, and a standout display in a scrappy match with Burnley has kept City on pace for a proper title challenge.

Though Toure has played an integral role in City’s success this decade, the evolution of the squad has clearly exposed his defensive deficiencies. A player of Toure’s stature, built on strength and heavy running, was always expected to experience a decline towards his early 30’s, but City were reluctant to bolster their options in midfield until Guardiola’s arrival.

Toure and Guardiola’s relationship is mysterious, but the decision to utilize a young Sergio Busquets as his sole pivot at Barcelona didn’t bode well with the media or the Ivorian’s camp. Still, where Guardiola’s Barcelona are now classified as the best club team of our generation, Toure dominated the middle of the park in English football and guided City amongst the division’s elite.

Toure, however, is a difficult player to incorporate into a cohesive side: you can’t play the Ivorian as a sole pivot because he doesn’t possess the work-rate or defensive awareness to protect the back four.

“I’m here to take decisions. Maybe I make mistakes, but I have to take decisions and I respect that all the people cannot agree with me. That happened,” the Spaniard said.

“I spoke in the last month, many times with Yaya because he was my player with Barcelona, I know him very well. So I know how he is like a player.” “As a player there is no doubt — if there was a doubt he would not be here. He is another guy to compete with our midfield players and increase our level.”

On the other hand, Toure struggled in a 4-2-3-1 during the Manuel Pellegrini era because Fernandinho was also an identical box-to-box midfielder and equally lacked the discipline to protect the centre of the pitch when required. From a statistical perspective, Toure may have appeared to be playing well – scoring 20 league goals when City won the double during the 2013/2014 campaign – but in truth, he was partially responsible for the club’s structural issues out of possession.

Likewise, Toure’s best spell at the Etihad was when he played ahead of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, two ball-winners that sat ahead of the back four, therefore providing the City star freedom to push forward. Though it took City’s limitations under Pellegrini to showcase Toure’s current state as a footballer, it’s difficult to dispute that he may solely be useful in two roles.

This however isn’t an issue to Guardiola, who often doesn’t receive credit for being an astute pragmatist. The tiki-taka football played at Barcelona suited the demands of the players that grew up in La Masia, whilst adding direct players in wide positions to provide penetration.

Though Guardiola’s Bayern dominated possession in most games, the German side’s approach was the antithesis of Pep’s Barca. At Bayern, Guardiola’s side revolved around the wing play between the rampaging full-backs and wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery: when the latter was unavailable, Douglas Costa eventual arrival strengthened Bayern’s dominance in wide areas.

Pep’s possession and dynamic counter-pressing guided City back to domestic prominence, shifting between a 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been fielded as deep central midfielders, Aleksandar Kolarov as a centre-back, and full-backs positioned in half spaced to negate counter-attacks have been introduced during Guardiola’s brief stint at City thus far.

But City haven’t been flawless under Guardiola, and several draws have led many to believe the creative, yet frail offensive-minded players required another dimension to their attack. Roughly, this is where Toure’s physical stature has proved beneficial as both a no.6 and a no.10 ahead of Fernandinho and Fernando.

Toure’s production in the final third still remains significant to a City side that can be guilty of being overelaborate. Where his goals won the game at Palace, it was the nifty intricate combinations plays around the box with Nolito that created openings against a sturdy Burnley back-line.

In footballing terms, Toure is the ideal midfielder to be appreciated, and equally thrive in the Premier League. A goal-scoring, powerful specimen that is eager to carry the ball forward, yet capable of simultaneously shrugging off challenges. However, the better teams in the league now rely on heavy pressing, hard-running and defensive organization, all areas that have prevented Toure from maintaining his world-class status following Roberto Mancini’s departure.

Incidentally, Toure’s situation is fairly similar to Cesc Fabregas’ conundrum since leaving the Emirates. Moving into a free attacking role under Arsene Wenger, Fabregas didn’t develop the tactical discipline to be effective throughout midfield. At Barcelona he often played on the flank or interchanged with Lionel Messi at the main centre-forward, because his productivity from deeper positions – specifically when the opposition applied midfield pressure – concerned Guardiola of the Spaniard’s anarchic style.

“Cesc’s anarchy is good for us. He moves down the right and the left; he is physically very strong with a lot of vision and high work rate,” Guardiola said.

“We like the fact that he is so mobile, but it has to be done sensibly. In the end, there is a ball and people who move, but they should move to where they need to be. We do not have a remote control to direct them from the bench.”

Ultimately, Fabregas failed to solidify a role in the Barcelona midfield and his move to Chelsea pushed him into a double-pivot alongside Nemanja Matic. While Fabregas’ first half of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign was impressive, performance levels decreased significantly once sides began pressing the Spaniard when he received possession.

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But where Guardiola’s constant tactical evolution has led to Toure’s recall, Conte simply doesn’t trust Fabregas’ lack of mobility to protect the back four or break up play in midfield. Therefore, apart from brief cameo appearances where his passing range proved crucial in the latter stages of matches, Fabregas is forced to improve his dynamism and work-rate to feature in Conte’s XI.

Conte and Guardiola are seemingly contrasting managers, but with Chelsea being the most in-form team in the league, the latter may be forced into making a few personnel decisions ahead of the Blues’ trip to the Etihad this weekend. Although Chelsea displayed signs of improvement in a 3-4-2-1 rejig following losses to Liverpool and Arsenal several weeks ago, Guardiola may aim to identify one of their few notable weaknesses in central areas.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic’s ball-winning skills offer a solid base in the midfield zone, but last week’s win over Spurs also showcased their susceptibility to midfield overloads. It’s also possible that Guardiola will attempt to match Chelsea for power in midfield as they also pose a slight advantage in that regard.

Guardiola is likely to prefer control through possession rather than sheer power at home, so the likelihood of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho in midfield over Toure is the harsh reality the Ivorian will have to accept at the age of 33. It’s possible that Toure would be better suited in away games against physical opponents that prefer to disrupt opposed to pushing forward to attack Guardiola’s men.

More so, the Guardiola-Toure saga will be intriguing to assess over the course of the season because the added flexibility required from the former suggests Toure would have to adapt his game to solidify a role in the City XI. The days of the rampaging runs, breathtaking goals, and precise passing variations have influenced this club like no other, and though Toure’s best days may have passed, the Ivorian still holds a key role in City’s title quest.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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BPL Notebook Matchday 13: Projected title contenders overcome difficult roadblocks

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Chelsea maintained their seven game winning-streak Saturday afternoon at the expense of rivals Spurs, handing Mauricio Pochettino’s men their first loss of the Premier League campaign.

The result ensures the Blues will travel to Manchester City next week as league leaders, but as expected Antonio Conte’s men endured a few issues to start the match. Within the opening 10 minutes, Christian Eriksen’s impressive opener forced Chelsea’s hands, but worryingly enough, Spurs were equally dominant in terms of their overall play.

Spurs inconsistent form prior to kickoff was slightly downplayed, but Pochettino’s men were still the best defensive team in the league, due to an energetic press that was perfectly executed against Manchester City earlier this season. However, though Spurs were undoubtedly the better side then, they endured dodgy moments when they were unable to sustain their energy levels.

What was key about the performance, in particular, was their efficient finishing in the final third. At Stamford Bridge, Pochettino’s men struggled to get behind the Chelsea defence despite negating their ability to build attacks from the back. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were starved for service, and for large portions of the first half, Conte’s men were overrun in midfield.

Dele Alli and Harry Kane were capable of receiving intricate passes in pockets of space, with the former’s movement playing a critical role to Eriksen’s opener. Meanwhile, Kyle Walker’s pace and strength exposed Marcos Alonso’s deficiencies in a wide defensive role. But it was only until the half hour mark where Chelsea began to grow into the match.

Similar to their emphatic victory over City, Pochettino’s men began to concede space once their pressing decreased. Suddenly Victor Moses was an open outlet on the right, whereas Hazard and Costa found space to carry the ball into, albeit limited support from their teammates. Though Chelsea were presented space as the half progressed, a short spell that involved Hazard cutting off a poor Hugo Lloris pass, followed by Pedro’s incredible equalizer shifted the momentum into the hosts’ favour.

The problems Spurs encountered towards the conclusion of the first half continued at the start of the second. Hazard was constantly fouled with his back to goal, whereas Costa worked diligently through the channels, but it was Moses’ pluck to charge past Son that proved decisive.

Alonso and Moses’ proactive advanced positioning occurred subsequent to Spurs’ dominance within the first half hour, which was always the worry with Son and Eriksen operating in wide areas. Pochettino’s men simply failed to remain compact out of possession, and you can argue that they didn’t really have a plan B once energy levels decreased.

More so, this is the concern with Spurs. Still showing signs of fatigue from last season, apart from the signing of Wanyama, Pochettino’s XI hasn’t improved significantly. Therefore, the onus is on players to exceed last year’s form, and with Spurs’ overall approach largely based on running, it simply doesn’t appear to be attainable.

On the other hand, Conte deserves credit for reinvigorating his side: Chelsea’s shape didn’t change in the second half, but they closed down ball-carriers and open spaces quicker, and Alonso and Moses provided the width to stretch Spurs’ 4-4-2 throughout. Elsewhere, they equally managed the remainder of the match superbly once they went ahead.

The Blues reverted to a 5-4-1 out of possession with Hazard and Pedro maintaining narrow wide positions to ensure Spurs couldn’t overload central areas. Apart from slight defensive mistakes and Nkoudou easing past substitute Branislav Ivanovic, Spurs failed to trouble an organized Chelsea outfit.

Had this been a year ago, Chelsea may have encountered difficulties closing out a tight match, but there’s a sense of revitalization, belief, and hunger under Conte. Although the performance wasn’t comparable to previous home triumphs during this seven game stretch, champions often find ways to win matches when struggling to reach top form.

If anything, this was an audition for a flexible City side that will have alternative approaches apart from Guardiola’s traditional high pressing. It’s possibly still to early to claim title contender’s status, but overcoming multiple formations and Spurs’ heavy pressing suggests the Blues are heading in the right direction.

Ozil – Sanchez growing partnership overshadows difficult afternoon

Alexis Sanchez’s opener hinted that three points would be a formality, yet this was a difficult outing for Arsene Wenger’s men. Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace earned two members of the Bournemouth back four bookings within the opening 10 minutes as Arsenal’s attacking quartet was built on pace and Mesut Ozil’s creativity.

This was the ideal set up for Ozil to thrive in, yet the wide players were uninspiring following the opener, and the midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka struggled on both ends. Defensively, Bournemouth’s midfield trio easily bypassed the Arsenal duo en route to goal, and Joshua King simply dropped into space between the lines to combine with teammates.

From an offensive perspective, Arsenal simply lacked the control Santi Cazorla, or Mikel Arteta once provided with a mixture of short and long passes to retain possession. At times the match was end to end, and Arsenal weren’t assured on both ends of the field.

With that being said, Wenger at the very least would be pleased to see his best players doing their utmost best to salvage a result. Interestingly, Alexi’s varied positions witnessed the Chilean dropping deeper to supply penetrative passes for Ozil making runs beyond the Bournemouth back-line.

Though the two Arsenal marquee signings were rarely on the same wavelength, the desperation to create plays and surge their teammates forward was fascinating. Arsenal improved significantly in the second half when Bournemouth retreated in their half opposed to pressing.

Bournemouth was forced to chased the game following Theo Walcott’s winner, which ultimately benefitted a speedy Arsenal attack. Likewise, Sanchez doubled Arsenal’s lead and secured three points in stoppage time following a swift break featuring a well-weighed Ozil pass to ignite the move.

Wenger’s side have made a knack of earning results albeit not playing their best football, and a developed partnership with Alexis striving in a centre-forward role ahead of Ozil in his optimum position could prove decisive if the Gunners intend on mounting a proper title challenge.

Yaya Toure staking role in Guardiola’s City system

He did it again. Yaya Toure wasn’t on the score sheet this week, but the Ivorian played a positive role in a narrow win against a resilient Burnley side. Guardiola named the powerful midfield trio that featured in majority of City’s game’s last season, but Toure was involved in several dangerous moves because he was positioned closer to Sergio Aguero and free of defensive duties.

Although a brace at Crystal Palace placed Toure back in the headlines, here, he showcased what he has left to offer. Fernandinho and Fernando remained deeper in fear of the Burnley counter-attack, whereas Toure predominantly linked play with Nolito, who drifted into pockets of space in central areas.

Sergio Aguero poached both goals but his involvement from open play was scare. Raheem Sterling operated in a wide position on the right, but oddly hesitated when he received the ball in key areas and was considerably ineffective in the final third. But Toure rolled back the clock with his quick incisive combinations and powerful sprints towards goal.

Now, Toure might not feature in the City XI every week, but there was a glaring issue regarding their predictability from open play and the fear of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne being overrun in midfield. It’s the dimension City lacked in the early stages of the season, and the new dimension to a fine-tuned flexible unit presents various ways to win in the near future.

Guardiola will always be associated to the possession-based tiki-taka football that revolutionized the sport during his time at Barcelona, but his spell at Bayern proved the Spaniard can adapt to the cultural strengths that define a domestic league. In Toure, Guardiola may still require the Ivorian’s power, precision, and finishing ability around the penalty box, which further justifies his significance to the squad.

Injury-hit Liverpool encounter near scare against Moyes’ Sunderland

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool fell to second place when they failed to score at Southampton, and they appeared destined to suffer the same fate against a resolute Sunderland outfit. Moyes aligned his men to disrupt and destroy, but the hosts were dominant for extensive periods throughout.

For all of Liverpool’s patient build up and clever interchanging movement, the hosts rarely got behind the opposition’s defence. Resorting to long distance shots and poor set-piece execution kept the score-line leveled, while Sunderland were pegged so deep into their half that launching counters was nearly impossible with Defoe isolated upfront.

The second half followed a similar tempo, but Patrick van Aanholt’s inability to play a final pass and Duncan Watmore couldn’t score despite rounding Liverpool keeper Loris Karius. Coutinho’s early departure and the absence of Adam Lallana deprived the Reds of genuine guile and creativity in the final third, as several crosses through the six-yard box went astray.

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Substitute Divock Origi’s individual brilliance won the game, but there’s a fear that Liverpool will struggle to break down opposing teams that replicate Sunderland’s approach. Perhaps Origi or Daniel Sturridge’s presence will be useful to poach goals without two creative cogs in Klopp’s successful system, and in truth, being forced to identify a plan B or C could reap rewards long-term.

Mourinho and United’s issues persist at Old Trafford

It’s now come to a point where Manchester United’s results represent the Premier League’s main mystery. Is it simply bad luck? Or do the players and possibly Mourinho need to be held accountable for consistently dropping points?

This isn’t a Mourinho team we’ve been accustomed to falling in love with over the years. There’s been few significant individual improvements from the players that survived the Louis van Gaal era. Elsewhere, Mourinho’s father-esque mantra often associated with his most successful teams is non-existence.

Once again, United conceded within the opening 90 seconds against West Ham, yet they rallied well subsequent to the goal. Phil Jones was superb at the back, while the midfield pairing of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba occupied half spaces and circulated possession in a tidy manner.

Youngsters Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford received glorious chances to put United ahead but spurned their opportunities, and though Antonio Valencia constantly motored past Dmitri Payet, the Ecuadorian’s crosses didn’t harm the West Ham back-line.

Mourinho’s decision to omit Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Wayne Rooney following positive midweek Europa League performances perturbed United supporters, but the Red Devils weren’t poor, here. The worry, however, rests in United ensuring their positive displays earn the club maximum points on a weekly basis.

Nevertheless, Mourinho will continue to be scrutinized for every United hiccup, but it’s reached the point where the Portuguese manager and the players come together and mount a legitimate top four challenge. At the moment, though, even that goal appears insurmountable.

Results: Burnley 1-2 Manchester City, Hull City 1-1 West Brom, Leicester 2-2 Middlesbrough, Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland, Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace, Chelsea 2-1 Spurs, Watford 0-1 Stoke, Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth, Manchester United 1-1 West Ham, Southampton 1-0 Everton

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2016 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City: Ozil exploits Manchester City’s feeble defensive shape with simple movement

Ozil vs City

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 21: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal challenged by Fabian Delph and Yaya Toure of Man City during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on December 21, 2015 in London. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal scored two goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half to defeat Manchester City.

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Arsene Wenger was still without Alexis Sanchez so he made no significant changes to his starting XI.

Manuel Pellegrini welcomed back Sergio Aguero to lead the line, while Fabian Delph started on the left over Raheem Sterling. Delph played alongside David Silva in the no.10 role, and Kevin De Bruyne operated on the right.

Recurring issues with tactical discipline witnessed Arsenal overwhelm Manchester City at the Emirates following a positive start to a match where they simply lost control.

Identical approach

One of the key feats heading into the match was how either side would approach the match. City have showcased their pragmatism in big domestic games – this led to a dull goalless draw at Old Trafford – whereas Wenger employed reactive tactics to defeat Pellegrini’s men at the Etihad last season.

At the Emirates, neither side was willing to push forward. Despite dominating plenty of possession, City quickly dropped into two banks of four with Delph tucking centrally to help Silva press Aaron Ramsey, and quickly shifting towards the flanks to prevent Hector Bellerin from pushing forward.

The partnership of Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini deprive Arsenal of creativity and astute passing in deeper positions, so the intent to stifle the former was logical. With Aguero left with the responsibility of harrying both Arsenal centre-backs, Laurent Koscielny often pushed forward to play passes into midfield – though they were often misplaced, the Frenchman’s passing was eventually decisive.

Arsenal, on the other hand, were more of a 4-5-1 with Ozil joining Ramsey and Flamini in midfield, opting to minimize passing lanes in central areas. Olivier Giroud’s work-rate was occasionally useful as well, as he dropped off to apply pressure on Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, who had ample time to spread play to the wings as the hosts dropped off into their defensive base shape.

Ultimately this lead to a dull opening half hour of football, as neither side was keen on allowing the opposition space between the lines.

City’s issue

There was a sense of caution in City’s approach from the opening whistle – Delph’s inclusion on the left justified the notion – as they dominated possession throughout the first half but failed to create chances from open play. Wenger’s men deserve credit for remaining compact and limiting spaces between the lines, but City are also culpable for their lack of conviction in the final third.

They preferred safe sideways passes with Toure and Fernandinho within close proximity of each other leading the charge at the half way line, while De Bruyne and Silva were stifled between the lines. Aguero lacked match sharpness and was contained well by the Arsenal centre-backs, and City’s attacking full-backs lacked options in the box when they pushed forward to play crosses.

Nevertheless, prior to Walcott’s opener it was De Bruyne who created the best chances of the match. The Belgian delivered plenty of crosses that were easily cleared throughout, but initially, he comfortably glided past Arsenal left back Nacho Monreal and forced Petr Cech to make a near post save.

The game-defining moment however, came seconds prior to City conceding. Coincidentally it was Eliaquim Mangala – another centre-back igniting a positive move – that located Aguero, and the Argentinian dropped off Koscielny and instantly flicked the ball into space behind Walcott and Monreal for De Bruyne.

De Bruyne drove into the box, and opposed to passing to Silva – in fairness Per Mertesacker did well to cut off the lane to the Spaniard – the Belgian flashed his shot wide of the net. It appeared that City’s dominance was beginning to fluster Wenger’s men, but City’s possession was predominantly bland, and a moment of brilliance from Walcott changed the match.

Silva vs. Ozil

The exciting element to this match involved the Premier League’s star creative midfielders, and it was fitting that both men started in their preferred no.10 role. David Silva has been the key man for City in recent years, and arguably the league’s best performer over the past 24 months, but Ozil’s 13 assists heading into the match represented the German rediscovering his best form.

However, the contrast in how they were marked prove decisive. Both prefer to drift laterally between the lines to receive the ball, but neither playmaker did so with ease in the opening stages. Silva was man-marked across the pitch by Flamini and was unable to receive the ball in tight spaces.

Apart from one moment at the edge of the box when Silva skied his shot over the net, the Spaniard’s best moments stemmed on the break where he had enough space to freely play forward passes to the wide players. In open play, the City playmaker was restricted to dropping deeper towards the halfway line to influence the game.

City’s approach didn’t have the same impact on Ozil, but initially it was simple and effective. The German’s attempt to bypass City’s midfield block involved movement towards the flank, but Pellegrini instructed the closest holding midfielder to shuttle over to apply pressure.

Ultimately, Pellegrini gambled with his midfield pairing, as on countless occasions Toure has been guilty of leaving Fernandinho exposed with his reluctance to quickly retreat into shape. Yet, to no surprise, Arsenal’s best moves in the first half involved Ozil recording two assists by exploiting space behind the Ivorian.

  • 5th min: Koscielny’s pass finds Ozil in space behind Toure, but the German’s ball to Walcott was slightly over-hit.
  • 31st min: 1-0 Walcott. A similar pass from Koscielny finds Ozil again in acres of space behind Toure, but this time he connects with Walcott, who cuts back to the edge of the box and curls a splendid strike beyond Joe Hart. This wasn’t a traditional assist, but nonetheless, who was Toure marking?
  • 46th min: 2-0 Giroud. A series of errors from Eliaquim Mangala and Fernandinho enables Walcott to pick up a loose ball at the half way line and locate Ozil in space behind the Brazilian. Ozil quickly slid a pass into the box for Giroud to double Arsenal’s lead.

Arsenal’s productivity in City’s third was scarce, but the difference in defending the opposing playmaker proved costly for City. Silva’s threat was thoroughly negated due to Flamini’s work-rate – despite it creating space for De Bruyne and Toure to drive into, which in fairness wasn’t a first half issue – while Ozil patiently waited for City’s midfield duo to get caught out of position to impact the match.

Arsenal second half chances

Pellegrini quickly reacted to his side trailing by two goals by turning to Sterling in place of Delph on the left. City still encountered issues going forward with Toure and Aguero still moving languidly, while Bellerin kept tight on Sterling to nullify his threat from the left. Apart from two near post Aguero headers from set-pieces, and a tame toe poke towards Cech, City offered no threat in the final third.

The same can’t be said about Arsenal, as their full-backs were increasingly proactive. Likewise, Joel Campbell ran across Aleksandar Kolarov twice in the box to blast his initial effort over the net, and force Hart into a simple save that once again stemmed from a Koscielny diagonal.

Ramsey posed a threat with is deep runs from midfield, but equally displayed the discipline issues he possesses considering there was no need to risk a City counter in this situation. A break ignited by Bellerin’s willingness to outfight Fernandinho resulted in Ramsey running beyond both centre-backs into the box, but once again he was denied by Hart.

Then, one move in the dying moments epitomized City’s poor defensive play in two phases. Both Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi failed to cope with Giroud, thus enabling the Frenchman to lay the ball off to substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the England international picked out Ramsey who charged past Toure into the box only to clip his shot wide of the net.

Arsenal created countless chances in the second half with City eager to throw players forward, but poor finishing, and Hart’s heroics provided City with a lifeline.

Substitutions

Pellegrini’s initial attempt to rescue the match was unsuccessful, so he sacrificed two of his three underperforming stars in Silva and Aguero for Wilfried Bony and Jesus Navas. The formation remained the same, but it essentially gave City a new dimension with Bony serving as an aerial threat, whereas now the away side offered pace and natural width on both flanks.

The latter’s introduction appeared peculiar initially considering Wenger made his favourite substitution when ahead, introducing Kieran Gibbs for Campbell to ensure adequate protection down the flanks. Wenger also decided to move to a natural 4-5-1 replacing Ozil with Oxlade-Chamberlain, and pushing the England international alongside Ramsey and Flamini for additional protection in midfield.

The hosts now appeared content to protect their lead with an additional midfielder – even as a duo Mangala and Otamendi failed to negate Giroud’s influence and there was no need for a floater behind the Frenchman – but Pellegrini reverted to the shape that was successful in the early stages of the season, introducing two wide players and shifting De Bruyne to his preferred no.10 role.

City push for equalizer

City’s resurgence followed shortly after, with De Bruyne’s movement and Arsenal’s energy levels decreasing. Toure instantly played a pass into De Bruyne between the lines thus leading to Sterling receiving the ball in the box to cut in on Bellerin and curl a weak effort at Cech.

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LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 21: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on December 21, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

De Bruyne varied his movement to the flank to receive service, but it should also be noted that Flamini maintained his position opposed to tracking the Belgian’s movement. Along with Navas breaking past Monreal on a clear break-away and opting to pass rather than shoot – a typical error in decision-making from the Spaniard that’s displayed frequently – De Bruyne was the catalyst behind a potential City recovery.

Subsequent to Toure’s wonder-goal, De Bruyne ran beyond the defence to combine with Bony resulting in the Ivorian’s shot being blocked for a corner. Then, Toure surged through the Arsenal midfield to receive De Bruyne’s lay off in the box but the 32-year-old poked the ball wide of the net.

Arsenal’s persistence to seek a third goal left them vulnerable on the counter, but Wenger’s alterations didn’t necessarily improve their situation. De Bruyne was lively in a no.10 role, and it must be said that both wide players were handed a quality opportunity to score, which emphasizes that this is City’s most effective set-up going forward.

Conclusion

Arsenal claimed the most important fixture of the title race thus far, with the simplicity in the buildup to both goals once again exploiting City’s fragility in midfield and the centre-back positions. In ways, the manner in which Ozil and Silva were marked display the contrast in preparations between the two managers.

In what was building up to be a slow-burning cagey encounter, Walcott’s goal led to an open match that frankly could’ve ended as an Arsenal blowout. City’s approach was fairly conservative, but they simply looked out-of-order going forward, and enjoyed their best moments when Pellegrini reverted to an expansive shape.

The sides that focus on organization and compact shapes out of possession have prospered in the current Premier League season, and here, Arsenal followed suit.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized

 

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Premier League Preview: Manchester City

Courtesy of WikiCommons/Soccer.ru

Courtesy of WikiCommons/Soccer.ru

Manchester City never does it the easy way.

Despite being the best side in the league during their two Premier League triumphs this decade, the boys from the Etihad have stumbled across the finishing line opposed to cruising to silverware like the great teams before them.

During Roberto Mancini’s tenure, City benefitted from United’s slip-ups against Wigan and Everton, before Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero scored stoppage time goals to defeat relegation battling QPR to win the Premier League in the most controversial manner.

Then in the latter stages of last season –– despite only being top of the league for 14 days of the season –– after a crushing defeat at Anfield against Liverpool, Chelsea and Crystal Palace subsequently took points off the Reds that led to another late revival in May.

However, lodged between City’s narrow title triumphs was a disappointing season that saw a considerably frail Manchester United side top their rivals by 11 points to reclaim the league title. City’s attempt to build a dynasty failed miserably, and their poor activity in the transfer market played a significant factor.

Mancini didn’t get the required pieces –– Javi Martinez, Robin van Persie, Daniele De Rossi and Eden Hazard –– and was handed Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Javi Garcia, Maicon and Matija Nastasic, with only the latter featuring regularly in the starting XI. City had only won the league on goal difference, which explains why the signing of a legitimate world-class striker in van Persie catapulted United back to glory, while City’s development stagnated.

The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini saw City recruit experienced players around the continent –– Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho and Stevan Jovetic –– to fill the voids within their squad, but winning the title on the final day of the season against rivals that were in transitional periods calls for improvement.

However, City’s transfer activity this summer has been limited due to their Financial Fair Play irregularities. While Diego Costa, Ander Herrera, and Alexis Sanchez have joined their title rivals, City has introduced Fernando, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard on-loan, with Porto centre-back Eliaquim Mangala expected to join the reigning champions.

Pellegrini’s squad doesn’t need major changes, but increased quality would not only separate City from those attempting to make a title push, but increase their chances of competing against Europe’s elite in the Champions League.

Sagna and Caballero provide adequate cover and increase competition for Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart, while Lampard’s arrival is merely a wise ploy to keep him fit ahead of New York City FC’s inaugural season and meet the required five home-grown player quota in the Champions League.

This leaves £12m Fernando as City’s sole significant purchase, with the champions finally replacing the tenacious Nigel de Jong. Fernando is a quality footballer that can sit at the base of the midfield and break up play with his physicality and positional intelligence, while Fernandinho and Yaya Toure offer attacking impetus in central areas. His signing also offers Pellegrini flexibility to stray away from his preferred 4-4-2 and potentially dabble with a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in big games.

Fernando’s arrival is significant because with Yaya Toure turning 31-years-old last May, Pellegrini will be eager to deploy the Ivorian higher up the pitch and decrease his defensive duties. City’s midfield remains their strong point with a veteran core of players, led by the impeccable David Silva. Toure’s 20 goals received plaudits last year, but Silva was their best player.

Look no further than Silva’s standout performances against the best sides in the Premier League last season. Silva constantly found spaces between the lines to provide delicate through-balls to his teammates, while his willingness to drift laterally from flank-to-flank to create overloads played a significant role in City’s dominance on the left side of the pitch. Silva’s goal or assist tally don’t represent his overall excellence, as he’s usually the catalyst in City’s best moves, averaging a league high 3.6 key passes and 0.6 accurate through-balls per game.

Pellegrini’s midfield should suffice for another season, but the main worry for City lies both in defence and attack.

The fullback positions appear to be solidified, but it’s the centre-back area that looks particularly feeble. Vincent Kompany has declined significantly since City’s first title triumph, and like partner Martin Demichelis –– who will turn 34 next season –– is extremely vulnerable when positioned higher up the pitch. City has desperately required a top-class defender alongside Kompany over the past few seasons, and while Mangala has the potential to become an elite European centre-back, his arrival doesn’t guarantee immediate defensive solidity.

The one positive Pellegrini can take from preseason –– along with no injuries sustained or issues within the locker room –– is the form of Jovetic. City operated in a 4-4-2 throughout their USA tour, with Jovetic forming an imperious strike force with Dzeko. Jovetic scored five goals at the Guinness International Champions Cup, but more impressive was his overall linkup play. Jovetic operated behind the main striker and dropped deep to link play with the midfield, his various strike partners, and created space for runners to exploit.

Nonetheless, there was never an issue regarding the quality of City’s attacking quartet. Pellegrini’s main concern was in regards to their fitness levels. With Alvaro Negredo sidelined for approximately two months with a broken foot, along with Sergio Aguero and Jovetic’s recurring injuries, only Dzeko serves as a reliable option.

Aguero, in particular, was stellar last season scoring 32 goals in 36 appearances in all competitions, despite suffering numerous injuries. Aguero scored against every side in the top seven excluding Liverpool –– he was sidelined for the home fixture, and played a bit part role in the return showdown at Anfield after returning from injury –– further exemplifying his importance to City’s title challenge.

When available, Aguero is undoubtedly the best striker in the league, and his fitness plays a significant factor in City’s title hopes.

While no club has retained the Premier League since the turn of the decade, City is equipped to be the first.

But with Chelsea adding the missing pieces to their squad, the fitness of City’s strikers and the arrival of a top-class centre-back will play a vital role in whether Pellegrini’s side becomes the third team to retain the Premier League title.

City is definitely a more complete side in their second title defence of the decade, but shades of their 2012-2013 season hovers around the Etihad.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in EPL, Premier League

 

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Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

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Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

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Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

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Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

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Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

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Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

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With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

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Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

1-1

Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

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Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

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Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

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The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

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Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

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Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

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Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

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Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

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No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

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Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

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As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

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Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich

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Bayern Munich decimated Manchester City at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Pep Guardiola made one change to the side that defeated Wolfsburg this weekend. Toni Kroos returned to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, while Thomas Muller led the line in Bayern’s 4-1-4-1. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery kept their spots on the flanks, while Phillip Lahm started as the sole holding midfielder.

Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to his starting eleven that fell to Aston Villa on Saturday. Edin Dzeko led the line in Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri. Gael Clichy and Micah Richards returned to the City back four, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho played in the double-pivot.

Bayern produced a magnificent away performance, which saw Guardiola’s men press efficiently and dominate the midfield from the opening whistle.

Pressing

It was always going to be interesting to see how City coped with Bayern’s pressure. Guardiola’s men pegged City into their third of the pitch – getting numbers around the ball carrier, thus forcing Pellegrini’s men to concede possession. Frankly this pressure led to Bayern’s dominance, as City was unable to sustain possession for the entirety of the first half.

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It all started with Robben and Ribery closing down the City fullbacks – Muller charged down the centre backs, Bayern’s fullbacks pressed City’s wingers, while the European champions had a distinct numerical advantage in midfield. Bayern repetitively won the ball in City’s third which led to the European champions dominance for majority of the match.

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City without the ball

With Bayern maintaining a large portion of possession, City’s aim to maintain a solid shape in midfield was logical. City dropped into a narrow 4-4-2 when Bayern was in possession and there were many factors in their shape that led to Bayern’s superiority.

First off the duo of Navas and Richards were unable to cope with Alaba and Ribery’s attacking threat. The Frenchman constantly got the better of the Manchester City fullback, and Navas struggled to track Alaba, who was persistent on surging forward. The Bayern duo’s persistence to get forward led to Ribery’s opener, as Alaba’s overlapping run confused Navas and Richards, thus leading to Ribery cutting inside and unleashing a powerful shot from distance that slipped past Joe Hart at the near post.

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Yet, on the opposite side, Nasri played narrow attempting to maintain a compact shape, but this urged Guardiola’s men to penetrate on the right flank. Rafinha constantly scampered down the right side on several occasions attacking space and aiming to create overloads with Robben. Schweinsteiger also ventured over to the right side when Nasri protected Clichy to help Bayern overload the right flank. Clichy was an isolated figure at left back, and Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate the space available – and to no surprise, Bayern’s goals in the second half came down that flank.

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City’s shape without the ball was questionable – as Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate wide areas.

Bayern dominate midfield

Another key element in City’s shape was their numerical disadvantage in midfield. The Bayern trio of Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm and Kroos dominated Fernandinho and Yaya Toure for large portions of the match. Also, the intelligent movement of Robben, Ribery and Muller into central areas presented Bayern with several passing options in midfield.

More so, Pellegrini’s idea to play two strikers was logical – due to Dzeko’s height and ability to hold up the ball, while Aguero’s pace to run behind defenders – but it allowed Guardiola’s men to dictate possession. Aguero wasn’t instructed to press Lahm – who was often the spare man in midfield – and the German international was allowed to control the tempo of the match.

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Each member of Bayern’s midfield trio had a pass completion rate over 90%, but it was Kroos who shined brightest. Kroos possesses a wonderful gift of finding pockets of space in midfield to receive the ball – frankly there aren’t many in the world better than him at doing this.

And despite being pressed by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, the German midfielder still managed to stamp his authority on the match – specifically in the final third. But despite Kroos’ positive impact going forward, he played a key role in Bayern’s high-press – relentlessly working hard to win the ball in City’s third. Kroos cleverly dispossessed Fernandinho in City’s third and played in Robben, who danced past Nemanja Nastasic and beat Hart at the near post.

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Furthermore, City’s shape without the ball allowed Bayern’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, as the numerical advantage in midfield allowed Guardiola’s trio to thrive.

Muller

However, the most interesting talking point pre-match was the role of Muller. The German midfielder rarely receives the plaudits he deserves, but once again he performed exceptionally on a monumental European night.

Muller closed down defenders efficiently and ran the channels superbly, aiming to find cracks in City’s high line – but his ability to win 50/50 challenges from direct balls was pivotal. Despite Bayern’s constant passing in central areas, the Bavarian’s did mix up their play, spraying a few long balls towards goal that Muller nodded down to his teammates.

And Bayern’s winner stemmed off a similar play. Muller drifted to the right flank and made a run behind Clichy – who was caught ball-watching – controlling a well-weighed Dante long ball, and his second touch was magnificent, which guided the German past Hart to tap the ball into the net. Muller’s movement in the second half was great – he constantly rotated with both wide men, taking up their positions when they drifted centrally, and the City back line was unable to cope.

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Muller produced a mature performance as the lone striker – he allowed his teammates to get into better positions by linking play, provided them with forward passing options, his energy and will to close down defenders was vital, and he scored a great goal that highlighted his wonderful movement and tactical intelligence.

Second half

Bayern continued to flex their muscle and out pass City in the second half and it was surprising to see Pellegrini stick with Dzeko and Aguero upfront. It was strange considering he had James Milner – a hardworking utility player – on the bench, while Javi Garcia was also available to add numbers in midfield. But Pellegrini stuck with his shape, and replaced Dzeko with Alvaro Negredo.

Aguero began to stick closer to Lahm, but as the game wore on, the Argentine tired. David Silva and Milner then replaced Aguero and Nasri – and life was restored in the match when Jerome Boateng took down Yaya Toure who was clear on goal, thus resulting in a red card. City’s shift to a 4-2-3-1 did mount a positive end to the match – Negredo scored a well-taken goal as Bayern failed to press efficiently when they lost the ball, Milner began to trouble Rafinha, and Silva was lively in the final third after Boateng’s sending off.

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Zonalmarking.net editor, Michael Cox makes a great point on Bayern’s performance in the final 15 minutes of the match. Guardiola’s men began to tire, resulting in a decline in their pressing. Like the game at the Emirates in 2010 – when Guardiola was Barcelona manager – Arsene Wenger’s substitutions were pivotal to their monumental win, as Barcelona’s energy levels dipped after pressing for majority of the match.

This, along with Bayern’s tie against Freiburg – earlier this year – are examples of Guardiola sides fading after pressing for large portions of the match, leaving them likely to concede in in the final quarter of matches. It’s an issue the Spaniard will need to sort out, as Heynckes was able to find a balance between pressing and an organized shape – whether he decides to do so will be pivotal in the latter stages of this competition.

Bayern continued to dominate for majority of the second half, yet Pellegrini’s changes did harm the European champions in the final minutes of the match.

Conclusion

Bayern Munich blitzed City for majority of the match, yet Pellegrini’s approach needs to be questioned.

Pellegrini’s decision to play with two strikers wasn’t absurd, but his inability to alter the problematic issue was irrational. The Chilean failed to change his sides shape or add numbers in midfield – as Bayern’s midfield and constant pressing, pegged City in their third for large portions of the match. 

“We pressured them well when we weren’t in possession and thus forced City to play long balls, which we were able to win. We moved the ball around well. Ever since Philipp Lahm started playing further up the pitch, we have started to create more chances,” Guardiola said. 

“We now need to show the same presence and dominance in the return game, but until then we won’t stop working hard and trying to improve,” he said. 

Guardiola’s men were superb on the night, and we’re beginning to see his philosophy reap rewards, as they produced one of the better European away performances we’ve seen in sometime.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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