Manchester City dispatched Brighton with relative ease this past weekend in the Premier League as the Champions and current league leaders beat The Seagulls 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
In my tactical analysis today, I will look at how Manchester City overcame Brighton and put in another impressive performance.
Given the scoreline one would assume that this was a routine win for City, the stats back this assumption up with City dominating the ball and outscoring Brighton 3.49 to 0.65 on expected goals.
You would be correct to assume then, that this was a fairly straightforward victory. What analysts are interested in discovering is ‘why?’. Why was this such a routine victory for City? Brighton have shown to be a good side in their early Premier League life both last season and this. They beat Manchester United earlier this season and finished a respectable 15th in the League during the previous campaign, well clear of relegation. You would think that the obvious answer would be ‘well its because City have much better players than Brighton’, this wouldn’t strictly speaking be a wrong answer, however, we know that the team with better players doesn’t always win football games. Pep Guardiola knows this and as such, even when facing the so-called ‘lesser’ teams in the League he looks to devise a way to breakdown the opposition and win the game. One such way in which Guardiola did this against Brighton was through the use of Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The importance of the inverted wing-back in Pep’s system has been spoken about at length and Zinchenko is a perfect fit for this role. Still only 21, the converted attacking midfielder has been utilised as a left-back when called upon but it is exactly that what makes him such a good choice for Pep’s inverted wing-back, the fact he has all the technical ability of an international attacking midfielder.
City have somewhat, fortunately, found themselves with three different options at left-back. Benjamin Mendy, who is the more traditional attacking full-back, who will maintain his width, overlapping and crossing frequently to great effect. Fabian Delph, a converted central midfielder, who lacks pace, but makes up for it with his intelligent positioning, strong tackling ability and a high-level of efficiency when passing the ball, and then there is Zinchenko. The young Ukranian has an eye for a pass in the final third, he is also well versed in Guardiola’s positional play ideology coming into his second full season under Pep. As a left-back, he knows when he needs to tuck in and advance the ball into dangerous areas but also when to hold his width and look to rotate the ball quickly back to the likes of Fernandinho and Laporte in order to restart attacks.
Below are two examples of the positions Zinchenko took up at different points of the game when different things were needed for him.
In the first image, Zinchenko is positioned narrowly and looking to progress the ball through the hall-spaces via David Silva, allowing Leroy Sané to retain his width – the position in which he is most effective.
In the second image, Zinchenko is the widest player on the left-hand side. With Sané occupying the half-space inside him. This is an example of Zinchenko giving City the best of both worlds with almost a hybrid between the styles of Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph.
It is clear Zinchenko, at left-back, was intended to be used as a hub of possession.
This can be seen below from the pass map below.
Silva and Fernandinho regularly combined with Zinchenko in a fairly advanced position. His narrow set-up gave Sane and Silva freedom to operate as advanced as they could in areas where they are more dangerous. The fact that Zinchenko was heavily involved in the build-up is further emphasised by his passing numbers. Zinchenko leads the passing numbers with 122 successful passes out of 128 attempted. The next highest player was Fernandinho with 99. Zinchenko made 23 more passes than Fernandinho, no Brighton player completed more than 18. 64 of Zinchenko’s passes came in the final third which was 11 more than David Silva, one of City’s prime creators.
This was the second game in a matter of days in which Zinchenko has put in an impressive performance, following his performance against Oxford where, although he is still only 21, he looked an old head on young shoulders in his composed display. With the injuries currently to Fabian Delph and Benjamin Mendy, and with Aymeric Laporte making the left centre-back position his own so far season, it is highly likely that we will see more and more of Zinchenko at left-back, and I for one am more than happy with this.