This article originally featured on totalfootballanalysis.com, our flagship analysis site covering managers, matches and players from around the world.
A new weekend of the Premier League pitted leaders Manchester City against mid-table AFC Bournemouth in a game that was expected to continue the team’s good run. Pep’s boys have been on a winning streak since 7 October’s draw against Liverpool, and unbeaten since the start of the season.
Although the 3-1 result may seem like an easy victory, the tactical analysis shows a worked victory over a rival that deployed a very intelligent tactical defensive positioning. They managed to cut the offensive connections for Manchester City, on what was probably one of the weakest games of the inside midfielders, in this case Bernardo Silva and Gündogan. Don’t be misled by them scoring: their usual key function was poorly deployed, in part because of the visitors’ good defensive coherence.
Adaptability is the name of the game
Manchester City started with a classic 4-3-3 including some unusual starters, such as Otamendi, Danilo and Gabriel Jesus. On the other side, the away team started with a 5-4-1 formation that turned into a 4-3-3 when attacking. Bournemouth decided not to pressure their hosts too high.
As a result, Fernandinho was able to receive the ball with a decent amount of space in front of him. This was something he is not used to, especially with no need to position himself between the two central defenders. Instead, Bournemouth players focused the intense defending in their own half, in between Fernandinho and the forward line, with nine players covering both wings and with specific focus on both inside midfielders.
This resulted in both players, Bernardo Silva and Gündogan, with very little participation in the build-up phase of Manchester City. But when a team has such cohesion and teamwork between their players, they have the capacity to adapt to unexpected scenarios. Without being able to connect using short passes, Pep’s team changed the strategy and started shooting long passes to both wingers, Sane and Sterling, that positioned higher found more spaces by using their higher speed against Bournemouth defenders.
That way, the Blues were able to skip a very populated middle of the field and take advantage of their faster wingers, each of them with different strategies. While Sane received longer passes , beating the position with his speed, Sterling usually looked for 1v1 situations that he was able to turn into dangerous crosses into the area. It was from one of these long passes the first goal came after a good pass from Zinchenko to Sane. After putting the ball into the area, it was caught by Bernardo Silva fired home.
During the first half Zinchenko had a more active participation than Danilo in the offensive phase, and that helped Sane become one of the top performers of the team.
The visitors’ aerial, offensive weapon
Initially, Bournemouth tried most of their attacks using their right wing, on Zinchenko’s side. This produced some interesting connections between their players that usually ended with a cross into Manchester City’s box that was not finished by Wilson. Their most dangerous offensive weapon, however, was the aerial game, an unsolvable problem for Pep’s defence.
They saw how their rivals performed fast offensive transitions after using aerial balls into the forward line, usually won by the visitors and that always had one or two players running forward past the headed ball that caught Manchester City defence at a different speed and having to accelerate to regain position before the ball reached their box.
Even though Bournemouth didn’t generate very dangerous situations, it was interesting to see them exploiting a weakness in the Manchester City defensive structure. Had they been more precise in the last quarter of the pitch, it may have proven very hard for the hosts to stop them.
In the last calendar year the average duels Manchester City has had per game has been 30, while in this game they had 51. Moreover, on average they won 47.5% of those duels, while in this game they won only 29.41% and lost 50.98%, according to Wyscout.
Goals from inside midfielders, creativity from wingers
Even though both inside midfielders scored, their performance was not stellar. They were not able to connect into the build-up phase of the team, partly because of Bournemouth’s strategy. Most of their participation was in both boxes, either defensively close to Ederson or coming in from behind after the long passes that were frequently thrown to Sane and Sterling.
On the other side, those two had a great game, were an unsolvable problem for the visitors and participated in all three goals. Still worrisome is Gabriel Jesus’ performance, with only one goal scored in this season’s Premier League, although he has done better in the UEFA Champions League.
Still he doesn’t seem to be able to connect well with his teammates. He tries dropping back, to moving wider, but he is not able to enter the attacking flow. When inside the box, he hasn’t been able to find the space or the situation to be able to finish or shoot. According to Wyscout, in the last two games he hasn’t been able to have a shot on goal and has averaged 2.51 shots per game in the season, compared to 4.14 of Sergio Agüero, the one he should be replacing in the future of Manchester City.
Still, the Blues were able to get the job done after two goals in the second half. The first one used one of Guardiola’s attacking keys: if the attack is concentrated on one side, the opportunities are on the other side. After attacking on the left wing, Delph, who had a good second half after substituting Zinchenko, recovered the ball and passed it to Fernandinho, who had it delivered to Sterling on the right wing. After a combination with Danilo, the move ended with the ball at the back of the net with a strong shot by the former Liverpool forward.
The third goal came after a good pass by Sane that was finished by Gündogan.
Manchester City keep their unbeaten run in the Premier League. But teams are still finding ways to make them suffer, especially defensively. There is work still to do, especially if they target the Champions League as their objective. So far though, the team is performing well in a domestic league that is becoming more and more competitive. Great coaches are increasing the quality of one of the best leagues in the world.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the new magazine from totalfootballanalysis.com – 118 pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy today for just £4.99 here!