In the FA Cup Third Round, Manchester City clash with Huddersfield Town for a second time in two weeks. At Kirklees Stadium not so long ago, David Wagner’s Terrier’s battled with Pep Guardiola’s City side in a tough match both physically and mentally. Managing to keep out The Citizens for 90 minutes was enough to earn Huddersfield at least a replay in a game which could have went either way.
In a schedule so intense for both sides, it is difficult to predict whether or not we will see as hectic yet measured energetically a match as before. For sure, Pep’s City will look to play an intense game in all phases. Whether his counterpart, Wagner’s Huddersfield, can again match this will be a big factor in deciding the outcome of the football match.
Despite a questionable start to his City career, Bravo was trusted to start in goals. He would be protected by Zabaleta at right-back, Stones and Otamendi at CB and Clichy returning at LB. Young Aleix Garcia started as the main pivot alongside partner Fernandinho. Main man Kevin de Bruyne played in a variable role ahead of the double pivot, with Sterling and Sane on the right and left wing respectively. Aguero was up front.
Huddersfield started with a team of; Coleman. Cranie, Stankovic, Hudson and Holmes-Dennis as the defence. Dean Whitehead protected the back four as a six, whilst Phillip Billing played as a 6/8 hybrid in midfield too. Lolley, Jac Payne and Harry Bunn were behind striker Quaner.
2-4 Build-Up Shape
Against the intense central pressing orientation of Huddersfield, Man City utilised a double pivot of Spaniard Aleix Garcia and Fernandinho, with a particular focus of their positioning and movements when building.
Offering two different skillsets, Garcia more technical capabilities, whilst Fernandinho provides defensive guile, this showed why Guardiola required a pairing offering these two profiles in order to defeat the press of Huddersfield. Positioned in either halfspace, with Stones and Otamendi splitting wide, to either side of the 18-yard box, and Zabaleta and Clichy pushing up slightly, this formed a 1(Bravo)-2-4 shape in the first stage of build-up.
One reason for this was for security. Against the intense pressure of Huddersfield, having two players was far stronger in case of a turnover. Put simply and quite generally, two men are more effective defensively than one. Other than this though, the defensive protection Fernandinho was able to provide whilst Garcia was given freedom to make variable movements from his starting position and attempt to receive and turn to progress, was important. Facing the 3-2 press of ‘Town which would look to pinch inside and squeeze Manchester City in deep, central build-up play, it was key that both pivots supported their respective centre-halves as well as each other, to prevent isolation against the quickly springing press.
As well as these defensive reasons, having two players, one in either halfspace, in the second line of building meant a lone 6 would not have to deal with such a physically demanding role in supporting either CB. Having two pivots meant the ball-near of the pairing could make horizontal or dropping movements to support the CB in possession. Being able to do this so consistently meant City avoided their common issue of playing weak and unprogressive passes from CB to near full-back, as there was usually support either in the centre or in the same halfspace. Whilst the ball-near pivot supported his near CB, the ball-far had a key structural role. He would be tasked with retaining efficient spacing to his partner, and provide connections from one side to the other flank. He must provide a nearby horizontal connection with the other side, to prevent disconnect and isolation of one side to another.
Playing too many lateral and backwards passes when progressive, usually vertical passes seemed a viable option, Garcia didn’t excel in the double pivot, perhaps showing he is similar to many players of his kind, registas, who function far better as a single pivot, having their own space in front of or in between pressing lines. The double pivot did it’s job however, and though didn’t show off the abilities of its two players, certainly protected City effectively when building against a team with great pressing ability.
Methods of Progression
When Pep Guardiola faces a tough, high press, innovation often comes to life. Different methods, usually featuring high levels of verticality, are experimented with, often to great success, as Guardiola and his players attempt to beat and exploit the high press. Things were no difficult against Huddersfield, as we saw City use a number of different progression methods in order to beat the press and build efficiently from there.
With Kevin de Bruyne having a very fluid, flexible and variable role as a false 10, he couldn’t consistently be relied on tore dive between the lines and offer a vertical outlet from build-up. His fellow midfielder’s Garcia and Fernandinho had deeper role in front of the defence, and Sane, Aguero and Sterling were very fixed in their wing and traditional 9 roles. It was clear City would have to be innovative in their vertical progression, and that they were. The inverted full-back made a return, even if not as prominent as before, with Pablo Zabaleta often drifting infield to positions in the right halfspace.
Using Zabaleta allowed City to have an extra man closer to the middle with the potential to receive. This opened up possible straight vertical passes from Stones to Zabaleta in ad advantageous position, or a degree of diagonality from Otamendi if Billing was too orientated on marking a pivot and didn’t block important lanes.
A second method City used to escape the primary pressure point of Huddersfield was as below;
Using De Bruyne’s straight body shape facing his own goals as bait for Huddersfield’s press to pinch inside, in a situation where pressure could be applied to De Bruyne’s blind side in a dangerous area of the field, the Belgian midfielder would receive a straight pass deep in his own half. Drawing pressure, this opened space elsewhere, particularly in the nearby areas where City were looking to access. By drawing Huddersfield’s players away from these spaces, City had a greater chance of accessing them successfully. De Bruyne would as he received the pass, find an open lane to a full-back, usually right-back (Zabaleta) as he could play this technically difficult pass with his stronger right foot, and play a curled, first time pass out wide. Following Huddersfield’s central pressure, the wide areas were often left without cover situationally, allowing City’s receiver to progress with the ball.
This was a very effective method of City progressing from build-up, even if quite risky. The technical quality and strong timing of De Bruyne’s movement and pass allowed him to create and make use of such situations.
Ending in what was most likely a deserved 5-1 victory for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, this FA Cup tie was one which could’ve swung either way depending on the momentum at different points in the match.
Despite tactical, most building, issues throughout the first part of the season, City seem to be significantly improving. Progressions looks cleaner and more secure, whilst further up the pitch, chance creation and general finishing has seen a great rise. This could also be put down to improved individuals performance, particularly the likes of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, without mentioning the recent ‘reemergence’ of Sergio Aguero.