Another Manchester City’s game comes and goes, and with it brings another six City goals – I think I’m quite liking this trend at the moment. Shakhtar Donetsk arrived at the Etihad Stadium in the Champions League with expectations low. In the return fixture the blues had dispatched their Ukrainian counterparts 3-0 and little was expected from the away side last night. These expectations were confirmed as Manchester City took the lead within ten minutes and went onto put a further five into the back of Andriy Pyatov’s goal.
I think it is only fair then that I give Tuesday’s six-goal haul the same treatment as the six scored against Southampton and give more of an in-depth analysis of Manchester City’s goals individually.
Manchester City again adopted one of their favourite set-ups throughout the game against Shakhtar Donetsk. Bernardo Silva deployed in the right centre-midfield position would operate in very close proximity to Riyad Mahrez, who was deployed at right-wing. This lead to Ismaily, the Shakhtar Donetsk left-back, often being isolated against two Manchester City players. The thinking behind this is to cause Ismaily to have a dilemma. Does he stay wide with Mahrez and leave Bernardo Silva in the half-space for another player to pick up or does he stay narrow and allow Mahrez to pick the ball up in space on the right-hand side?
In the case above the Brazilian full-back is caught in a tricky situation. Both Mahrez and Bernardo cut inside as the Portuguese midfielder has the ball. However, Mahrez realises that Ismaily is isolated and he changes his run and cuts in behind Ismaily.
Due to Manchester City isolating Ismaily and playing the ball around and then in behind him, Rakitskiy is forced to cover the space and move to close down Mahrez. This pulls the centre-back away from his central defensive partner creating large gaps in the Shakhtar Donetsk defence which City can exploit.
With Rakitskiy forced to defend in the wide area of the pitch to cover Ismaily, Kryvstov is left to defend both Gabriel Jesus and David Silva alone. He makes the choice to move towards Jesus leaving space for Mahrez to find Silva in the middle.
Pictured above is the move for Manchester City’s first goal developing. The first point to note is again the overloading of the left-hand side of the pitch. Once again City have moved to isolate one of Shakhtar Donetsk’s players in this case Matviyenko. Again Manchester City are posing the question to a Shakhtar Donetsk full-back – does he press Silva and or Zinchenko in the wide area or does he tuck in and follow Sterling? Due to City isolating him 2v1 in this position he leaves himself in no man’s land and allows Fernandinho to slip the ball inside him for Sterling to run on to.
Another point worth noting is the position of Bernardo Silva in relation to the position of David Silva. These two players are Manchester City’s two number 10s, but in the image above, they are operating in more conventional wide midfield positions. The positioning of these two for City has a direct effect on the positioning of Shakhtar’s double pivot of Stepanenko and Maycon. As the City central players drift wide and take up positions closer to the wings the two in midfield or Shakhtar Donetsk become more and more detached and a big gap in between them develops. The space that City have opened up in the midfield is the perfect channel for Fernandinho to play through in order to find Raheem Sterling.
What follows is a comically bad refereeing decision and although it worked in Manchester City’s favour one has to hope that VAR is introduced sooner rather than later to give the referees some assistance.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is criminally underrated. For me, he plays the inverted full-back role better than anyone else in the Manchester City side. His positional awareness and ability on the ball provide City with a great attacking platform in this position. I have previously written at length about the importance and ideas behind the use of an inverted full-back in Pep Guardiola’s system and the thinking behind it is obvious again here.
In the image above, Raheem Sterling is occupying the position usually held by David Silva, who himself is just out of the picture on the left touchline. Sterling has dropped into the half-space behind Shakhtar Donetsk’s midfield line and is offering Zinchenko a good passing option. As David Silva is as far wide as he can possibly go, the right midfielder for Shakhtar is forced to try and shadow press both Sterling and Silva which is obviously a huge ask.
With Zinchenko drifting inside, Silva can remain high and wide in order to pin back Shakhtar Donetsk’s right-back Matviyenko which in turn creates the space for Sterling to drive into. As Matviyenko is forced back by David Silva he has too much ground to cover once Sterling is beyond the two Shakhtar Donetsk midfielders. Thanks also in part to some individual brilliance by Raheem Sterling, the City man is able to drive towards the edge of the box unchallenged before smashing in a beauty beyond Pyatov.
The fourth goal, a second penalty by Gabriel Jesus, develops in a similar way to the third goal. Danilo is quite narrow for a conventional right-back and as a result, Riyad Mahrez can take up his position high and wide on the right touchline. However, the man who is causing all the problems for Shakhtar Donetsk in this goal is Bernardo Silva. Every single one of the Shakhtar players identified are concerned with Bernardo’s positioning. Bolbat knows that he needs to cover the pass to Sterling but perhaps in part due to the way the third goal came about, knows that he has to prevent a pass into Bernardo.
Similarly, based on previous experience Ismaily must also make a decision on who to pay attention to. He was already exposed once in the first half by Mahrez and Bernardo and is likely to not want it to happen again.
Both Rakitskiy and Stepanenko are firmly fixed on Bernardo Silva.
Danilo plays a perfectly weighted pass into the feet of Mahrez and forcing both Ismaily and Bolbat to engage with Mahrez. As soon as this happens, Shakhtar Donetsk are in danger. With the focus of Ismaily and Bolbat now fixed on Mahrez, Bernardo is free in a dangerous position to receive the pass. This is a perfect example of Pep Guardiola’s positional play philosophy. By operating in the half-space Bernardo Silva has set himself up perfectly to cause damage to Shakhtar Donetsk’s defensive line. Stepanenko is taken out of the game by the pass from Danilo and now Bernardo is 1v1 with Rakistkiy while Gabriel Jesus occupies the other central defender.
Once Bernardo has the ball, Rakitskiy knows that he has to engage him. Manchester City have managed to bypass Shakhtar’s midfield are now in a dangerous position. As Rakitskiy steps up, David Silva darts in behind him into the available space and is brought down for the penalty. Here, Manchester City have both perfectly pinned back the opposition full-back with the positioning of Mahrez and also managed to bypass Shakhtar’s midfield in order to force the defensive line to become disjointed, as Rakitskiy must jump out of the line, through the half-space occupation by Bernardo Silva.
As with the final goal against Southampton on Sunday, Manchester City have shown that they can invite pressure before launching a scintillating and effective counter attack.
Manchester City (above) have dropped into a somewhat 4-4-1-1 and are all very aware with who they must press. Shakhtar have the ball in relatively safe possession but City are laying traps for them. Raheem Sterling is ensuring that the ball carrier can’t find the Shakhtar player nearest to him, whilst Zinchenko is pressing the ball carrier to force him to make a quick decision. Gabriel Jesus is preparing to move along the dotted line to press his nearest man and Gündogan is making a move along the dotted line towards the intended receiver of the pass.
Manchester City are keeping a relatively high-line and thus compressing the space in which Shakhtar can operate. This also restricts the space between the lines for Shakhtar as shown by the fact the player nearest the ball carrier is surrounded by blue shirts.
The pressure applied to the ball carrier as well as the pressure on the ball receiver forces a misplaced pass which Gabriel Jesus latches onto. From there, the four City players highlighted spot the opportunity to counter-attack and do so at pace. Some good interplay on the edge of the box and the ball arrives at Riyad Mahrez’s feet who finishes neatly.
In the build-up for the sixth and final goal, Shakhtar Donetsk once again have safe possession of the ball. Manchester City are lined up more in a 4-2-3-1, with Mahrez coming narrow to press from the blindside. Gündogan and Sterling are again working in tandem to pressure the ball carrier whilst the back for remain high and restrict the space between the lines.
With the movement of Riyad Mahrez to press and also the positioning of Bernardo Silva on the far side, Manchester City are attempting to close the door on Shakhtar and stop them from opening up the pitch and causing City some problems. Once Mahrez sees the pass about the be played he knows he can jump in and attempt to force the turnover.
Whilst Shakhtar Donetsk had possession of the ball Gabriel Jesus had remained high. He has done this for two reasons. Firstly, his position between the centre-backs prevents the Shakhtar midfielders from turning and playing the ball back to their defenders as they know Jesus will quickly pounce on the pass. The second reason for Gabriel Jesus to remain high is shown exemplified in the goal. He knows that his teammates can probably force a turnover and thus given his positioning, one quick pass is all that is needed to free him in on goal and this is exactly what happens.
Given the quick nature of Manchester City’s turnover, the Shakhtar Donetsk keeper Pyatov is caught in no man’s land and Gabriel Jesus can calmly dink the ball over him.
This was Manchester City at their best. The football was exciting but calculated which is the perfect combination for Pep Guardiola. In their last 11 games, City have scored 35 and conceded just the one, perfect preparation for the derby? We shall see.