Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City

After a first season which unexpectedly saw newly kindled Manchester forces become extras in Chelsea’s blitz to the Premier League title, two old rivals will meet yet again, this time as the two main title contenders. Jose Mourinho faces Pep Guardiola at Old Trafford in probably the biggest game of the season so far. Adrift of the mesmerising City by eight points after fifteen games, this meeting is of huge significance in the long battle for the Premier League crown.

United used a 4-4-1-1 type shape. Key man De Gea was the goalkeeper. His defence was Valencia, Smalling, Rojo and Young. In the centre of the pitch, both in 6/8 type roles was Matic and Ander Herrera, in the absence of Pogba. Martial and Rashford flanked them. Lingard played as a second striker behind Lukaku.

Unsurprisingly, Pep attempted to spring another tactical surprise in a big game. Not so much in his team selection, but slightly in the positioning of his his players in an adjusted formation. Ederson was in goals, with Walker, Kompany, Otamendi and Delph the back four, City missing John Stones and Benjamin Mendy. Fernandinho was the 6, with De Bruyne and David Silva the interiors. Leroy Sane was a right winger. Sterling played in a dynamic false 10 role, with Gabriel Jesus in a left wide forward role. City didn’t use a clear number 9.

Exploitation of Man-Marking Through Use of the 10 Space

In anticipation of Jose Mourinho’s typical man-marking approach in big games, Pep Guardiola adapted the structuring and role of his advanced players in possession to exploit spaces which can typically be created and found versus man-marking.

Creation and use of spaces due to opposition inadequate man-marking can be done in a number of ways. This may be done through specific positional play, rotations, receiving patterns, actions on the ball and many, many others. Manchester City used a variety of different methods to exploit United’s man-marking, particularly in the centre. Most notably was the adjustment of the positioning of City’s front three. So far this season, it’s been known definitively as Sterling right-wing, Sane left-wing and one of Aguero/Jesus as a number 9. However, in this match, Pep chose Jesus, but not as a central-forward. The Brazilian played in a wide left-forward role, vacating the centre for Sterling to play in a central role just behind the front line. Though throughout the season so far, we have sometimes seen City’s CF situationally drop from typical 9 areas into slightly deeper 9.5 positions, to receive from deeper and offer lay-offs to vertical runners. Using Sterling, a more technically able player in the central attacking role however, suggested Guardiola wanted far more impact from his central attacker in deeper chance creation in this match than previously. Sterling could support different zones very dynamically, playing in a free role. He could aid in overload of the wings as well as make vertical runs beyond the United defence, but it was clear that his occupation of the 10 space, which City would look to open through manipulation of United’s man-marking, was his main job. In order to free up and/or use this space, City used their positional play, which could differ from situation to situation. One movement pattern we saw was for City’s interiors, De Bruyne and David Silva, to push into high midfield positions, wide in either halfspace. 

Man-marked by Herrera and Matic, the pair could drag both United’s defensive-midfielders out of their position, much wider than ideal. Splitting the two apart created a large distance between them, with a gap in this central-midfield space. This gap was difficult to cover for United, as Lingard was occupied defensively by having to cover Fernandinho and support Lukaku in blocking progressive lanes from the centre-backs. As this space opened up, Sterling would move from his position into this hole. From here, he would look to receive a vertical pass from deep. Ideally, he would turn and run directly at the United defence. When Rojo followed him however, playing a lay-off to a supporting runner was usually the option. 

Using dynamic superiority was another way City looked the receive in the hole created in the 10 space through their exploitation of Mourinho’s man-oriented system. When Sterling was not available, due to occupation of a different zone which was too far from the 10 space, it would be De Bruyne or Silva tasked with occupying the space. Initially the same method as previously mentioned, the interiors would split wide and high in either halfspace, with Herrera and Matic following. Just as Herrera/Matic got tight to them, and there was potential for an open passing lane from deep to the 10 space, one of City’s CM’s move burst back inside into the previously empty hole. Due to Herrera/Matic just moving outwards to quickly mark De Bruyne/Silva, they are likely to be unable to move off again back in this direction to follow their marker. This could potentially give the drifting player a chance to receive in this space for a second or so.

Poor Structuring Leads to Vulnerability

As is not typical of a defensive-minded team, more specifically managed by Mourinho, there was a clear vulnerability from Manchester United in the case of counter-attacks. The reasoning for this was largely down to the weak, unstaggered structure set by Mourinho when his team did have rare ball possession.

Mourinho’s plan was to escape the pressure of City, and target their vulnerabilities in defending long balls, by playing long high passes from deep into advanced areas around and beyond Man a City’s backline. Lukaku was often the target, with the 6’3 forward looking to knockdown or flick-on to supporting runners Rashford, Lingard and Martial, who all started in position almost as high as the Belgian himself. The long balls forward offered little base or structure that a progressive build-up would allow for. Valencia and Young had very ‘straight’ roles, and simply supported the wingers from very wide positions. The two full-backs, similarly to Rashford and Martial, the wings, had huge distances to cover in moving infield to return to defensive position quickly. This meant unless United could counterpress to delay City (difficult unless Rashford/Martial had moved inside to support Lukaku and Lingard), all four wide players for United very often too far out wide to support in the defending of a counter-attack. This left Herrera and Matic, who mostly played as a flat double-pivot with little involvement in progression, to hold the centre of midfield themselves. As a flat double-pivot rather than being staggered, the pairing were significantly more vulnerable to being penetrated and received behind, as they covered less vertical distance. 

Though infrequent due to United’s low number of opportunities to actually attack, when United’s long balls went forward, City actually exploited this central vulnerability very well, up until the final third, which was simply down to poor final balls. The dribbling ability of De Bruyne/Silva/Sterling combined with the pace and movement of Jesus and Sane simply looked too much for the disorientated United backline and Herrera and Matic to contain. As the ball reached the box however, City often delayed their final ball, giving United a vital second or two to recover and make key blocks.


Anticipated as a potential game of the season, with two footballing masterminds looking to outsmart one another using the supposed endless quality at their disposal, the first Manchester derby of the season was perhaps a slight anticlimax, at least tactically. City’s domination of the game was difficult to fault, as their almost unpressable circulation and Pep’s game management admirably allowed to take a 2-1 win and most importantly three points added onto their previously eight point lead at the top of the table.

Pep clearly understood the importance of this match in the Premier League title race and utilised a gameplan which saw his Manchester City side through the match as winners. Though City’s possession lacked its usual bite and penetration, Mou’s Red Devils didn’t looked hugely threatening at any point throughout the match, which was down to City’s well measured game plan. There were not as many massively impacting factors on the game as predicted, due to the game killing domination of Pep’s City, who now hold an all important 11 point lead at the top of the English Premier League.


Manchester City 5-1 Huddersfield Town

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.

This double pivot was in place for a number of reasons. 

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.

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

​Perhaps the most anticipated derby in English football, encounters between Liverpool and Manchester United, many of which are grounded within footballing folklore, typically immerse great quantities of tension, excitement and more importantly, goals. However, many were left rather disappointed by the final score; José Mourinho’s masterfully orchestrated game plan, which revolved around the aim to nullify Liverpool’s goalscoring opportunities resulted in the match ending 0-0. 

Thus, an array of tactical aspects can be analysed, and subsequently explain the pros and cons of each side’s respective performance.


Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side lined up with an expected 4-3-3 formation. The injury to Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, and Adam Lallana starting as a substitute meant Emre Can featured as a right-sided central midfielder, and Philippe Coutinho dropped from a left-wing berth into midfield. Jordan Henderson’s role as a lone pivot conveyed the possibility of dropping alongside the central defenders to instigate build up, which in itself contradicted the way in which Manchester United had set up; Mourinho deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation aiming to maintain structure in order to relinquish goal scoring chances on Liverpool’s behalf. Ashley Young replaced an unavailable Anthony Martial which was perceived as a halt towards penetration within counter attacks. 

Faults within Liverpool counter-pressing

What was perhaps Liverpool’s primary threat, the anticipated counter press ignited by intense off ball movement was much weaker in comparison to previous league encounters, most notably against Arsenal and Chelsea in which the Reds won 3-4 and 1-2 respectively. The press was nullified by the way in which Manchester United played, but was heavily apprehended by both Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum not starting in central midfield roles. The deployment of Daniel Sturridge as the leading striker, while considered not necessarily adept within Klopp’s press-orientated system, was a burden towards counter pressing manoeuvre’s. For example, the deployment of Roberto Firmino as a left winger, and Philippe Coutinho as an “8” in midfield resulted in a lack of both industry and tenacity within the press directly against the Manchester United defence and deep-lying midfielders. Firmino’s peripheral role relinquished how tightly the Brazilian could pressurise the opposition back line. Daniel Sturridge’s lack of movement without possession thus nullified Liverpool’s counter pressing. 

The pressing which has dictated Liverpool’s overall game play since Klopp’s appointment as manager is heavily influenced by Adam Lallana for two key reasons. Firstly, Lallana is adequate in terms of occupying the right positions without possession.  Lallana’s positioning assists in the closing down of passing lanes. As s well as this, Lallana possesses the ability to switch defence to attack within midfield through changing his position upon regaining possession through either making off ball runs, subsequently breaking down Defensive lines or taking part within commonly effective midfield interchanges, which were missed by Liverpool, especially during the first half. It was very clear that the differentiations within player positioning had a massive effect on how well Liverpool pressed. It was only when Daniel Sturridge was substituted for Adam Lallana that Liverpool began to test Manchester United, with Firmino breaking the defensive structure, forcing a vital challenge from right back Antonio Valencia. 

Retrospectively, Manchester United were partially halted by the counter-press regardless of its quality, in the sense that the Red Devil’s game plan, utilised to halt the press brought upon a decrease in the sides capabilities regarding creativity; less passes were made from deeper areas, therefore there was no available opportunity to evade  Liverpool’s first phase of pressure (progressively). 

Solidity within Manchester United’s midfield 
An aura of authority within midfield areas was implemented by Manchester United, particularly during the first half. Mourinho’s side deployed a high press, with the teams structure being maintained within a higher area of the pitch. The positioning of the Manchester United press forced Liverpool into deeper areas, derailing the home sides build up, especially intricate passing interchanges. The high press deployed by Manchester United cannot be credited as “parking the bus”; Manchester United’s high press shows that though there was great intent in winning possession and demolishing Liverpool’s goal scoring chances, there was no motif of desperate defending, or simply aiming to maintain a clean sheet.

Work rate and support offered by Rashford and Young creates a substantial horseshoe, enclosing Liverpool within deeper areas.

Another reason for the lack of interchanges between Liverpool midfield players was the compactness offered by Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera. The two deeper positioned midfielders of Manchester United’s central trident, Fellaini and Herrera were the spearhead of Mourinho’s game plan, fixating in deeper areas within midfield maintaining structure in the process, and closing down passing lanes between midfield and defence in order to protect the back four. In addition, the performance of Ander Herrera exerted control within midfield; showcasing the most completed passes (50 passes), 11 interceptions and 100% completion in terms of take ons, Herrera was excellent in breaking down attacks, notably closing down Coutinho when drifting into the half spaces. Herrera may not have dictated build up in a progressive sense, mainly as a result of United’s tactical foreplay, but Herrera was pivotal to United controlling the games tempo. 

Disciplined and compact are two words that could arguably describe Marouane Fellaini’s performance. Fellaini, in similarity to Herrera broke up attacks by breaking down possible interchanges. Though Fellaini was disciplined, phases of ball watching were exposed by diagonal runs made by right Winger Sadio Mane during the Second half, which could have disfigured the structure of the midfield barrier protecting the space in front of defence. Perhaps Liverpool also missed the advancing midfield runs of Wijnaldum. A key cog for interchanges, exemplified via Wijnaldum’s goal vs Arsenal (3-4),  no Liverpool midfielder was prepared to break down the well organised defensive line, without possession of the ball.

Mourinho’s plan was continued through the congestion of spaces within either flank. 2 or 3 vs 1 situations were deployed in order to restrict service from Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane for example, and to allow Liverpool as little opportunity to expand as possible, perhaps aiming to leave the home sides structure rather narrow, adding convenience to the regaining of possession. The decision to start Ashley Young on the left-hand side of midfield, ahead of an unavailable Anthony Martial or Jesse Lingard connoted the aim to add extra defensive cover within both the left Half space and left wing, 1 vs 1 duels between Mane and Blind could have caused problems for Manchester United. 

Both wingers are essential to the aggressive apporach; tracking back to allow defensive solidity, either forcing Liverpool wingers inwards, directly into a defensive pressing trap, or assisting the respective full-back in the regaining of possession.

Paul Pogba halted by Manchester United game plan

Finding great difficultly to fulfill the £89million price tag, Paul Pogba was halted by the respect Manchester United showed to the opposition. Less passes were sprayed towards Pogba, who was ironically creating more movement into dangerous areas than in previous games (vs. Feyenoord and Watford). Extra movement was undertaken due to Pogba being deployed as a free roaming “10”, with less defensive responsibility than while deployed as either a “6” or an “8” (within 4-3-3/4-1-2-3 formations). Freedom to roam the half spaces and the space between Liverpool’s midfield and defence was enabled by the work rate of Herrera and the positional fixation of Fellaini; both aspects intertwined constructed a tenacious double pivot. 

Unfortunately for Manchester United, this was never fully taken advantage of by Pogba. 

Pogba could have evaded tight marking, and influence build up play further for himself by drifting into either half space, which would have inevitably forced even more pressure upon Clyne and Mane or Milner and Firmino (depending on which side was occupied). Pogba could have participated in a 1 vs 1 situation, using admirbale strength or technical ability to consequently hold up possession allowing a teammate into space, adding more numbers into advanced areas of the pitch. 

Theoretically Pogba could have drifted to the right halfspace, where hold up play could occur subsequently, allowing a maurading run from Rashford or Ibrahimovic. Either way, the defensive structure may have been disfigured.

Less build up play from deep-lying areas

Manchester United endured a tretchurious performance in a creative sense, this was mainly due to the sheer lack of build up play from defence and deeper areas of midfield. Neither holding midfielder (Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini) dropped between the centre backs to carry the ball into midfield, or pass the ball through between lines. Instead, longer passes with more height were carried out to evade the Liverpool press.

There was also less possession of the ball on behalf of central defenders Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, exemplifying how fearful Manchester United were of Liverpool’s counter pressing style. This sense of fear was also showcased by less peripheral passes being played to either Full back (Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind). Had this interchange occurred, Liverpool could have deployed a clinical 2 vs 1 situation, either winning possession from the full back, or forcing a returning backwards pass, which would ignite further pressurising (In this theoretical situation, Liverpool would have been able to switch to a flat front line press, with the wingers drifting inwards towards the centre, allowing the Central midfielders to push forward). 

Daley Blind, a key creator in chief for Manchester United did not have enough time or space to instigate an attack; Blind did not overlap as much in comparison with Manchester United’s impressive 4-1 victory over Champions Leicester City. Against the Foxes Blind completed 4 crosses within the first half alone while against Liverpool, Blind failed to begin attacks through vertical passes between lines suggesting the inability to be press-resistant. 

Man United 1-2 Man City

Jose vs Pep. Red vs Blue. United vs City. On the third gameweek of the English Premier League season, the first Manchester derby of the campaign, of Jose and Pep’s reign’s, has arrived. 

United have enjoyed three wins out of three in the Premier League under ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho, with the added bonus of winning the community shield prior to the beginning of the Premier League fixtures. Guardiola’s Man City team have dominated the vast majority of all of their games to date, also winning everyone of their Premier League games so far, alongside gaining Champions League qualification. In one of the most highly anticipated Manchester derbys of recent years, both sides will be looking to continue their 100% records. Only one can.

Jose Mourinho started his first Manchester derby with a couple of surprising inclusions, as well as familiar faces dropping to the bench. De Gea started in goals behind a back-four of Valencia, Bailly, Blind and Shaw. Fellaini played as defensive-midfielder, with Paul Pogba in a slightly more advanced position to the left of him. Mkhitaryan surprinsgly made his full debut, seeing the in-form Mata demoted to the bench. Rooney started behind Ibrahimovic whilst Jese Lingard played on the left, seeing Martial leave the starting 11.

New boy Claudio Bravo made his City debut in goals. There was a back-four of Sagna, Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov, which saw Zabaleta and Clichy both lose their starting berths. Fernandinho started as the 6, with David Silva to the left of him as an 8. As the right central-midfielder was Kevin de Bruyne, who played a more advanced role than he has been so far this term. Sterling and Nolito played as the wingers, centred by young Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho, who took over from the suspended Sergio Aguero.

Mourinho’s Initial Man-Orientation

Knowing the potential of Manchester City when cleanly progressing through their build-up phases, Jose Mourinho instructed his Manchester United team to adopt a man-marking approach in phase one of City’s build-up, which was most significant at City goal-kicks.

City chose to build in a (1)-3-3-3-1, this was a relatively adaptable shape for United to man-mark from their 4-2-3-1. Stones and Otamendi would drop very deep on either side of the 18-yard box, moving into the vacated space centrally was Fernandinho. Kolarov and Sagna pushed up the wing slightly, while David Silva frequently dropped into a deep 8 position within the left halfspace, to support and offer a vertical escape from the press from here. 

Ibrahimovic and Lingard positioned themselves close enough to Otamendi and Stones to deter Bravo from passing to them, whilst remaining compact enough with the centre to prevent Bravo from penetrating the first line easily. Rooney marked Fernandinho whilst also attempting to block any passes through the halfspaces. Fellaini and Pogba stuck tight with Silva and De Bruyne, following them as deep or high as the City midfielders went. Mkhitaryan stayed tight with Kolarov on the wing, whilst Shaw pushed up a few metres on his wing, putting him within pressing distance of Sagna. From goal-kicks, when Bravo couldn’t move with the ball, this made it almost impossible City to play out through their first line, as well as it being extremely difficult for Bravo play into the second line without lobbing the ball. Realising they weren’t going to be able to play out from the back, City used vertical movements both towards and away from their own goal in order to stretch United’s vertical compactness and create space behind United’s first line of pressure. David Silva often dropped very deep into the left halfspace, sometimes even just a few yards ahead of Fernandinho, which dragged Fellaini a lot higher than he would have liked to have been. De Bruyne would move onto the last line alongside Iheanacho, where the pair would gamble off of one another’s flick-on headers, where City’s goal actually came from. By moving onto the last line, Pogba was pulled extremely deep, which often created huge spaces in between the first line of pressure and the defensive block. Bravo’s superb technical skills allowed him to drop chipped passes into the halfspaces for Sagna and Kolarov to attack, in battles against Shaw and Mkhitaryan, which they were likely to win. 

This high pressure in the initial phase of opposition build-up was something we seen Mourinho deploy in his final El Classico meeting with Guardiola. 
Another Full-Back Variation

In a game, particularly first half, of Manchester City dominance, one of the only areas United looked to have any sort of focus on controlling was their defence to attack transition. With Guardiola’s positional play being attack-orientated during his tenure at City so far, he decided alterations would need to be made, in order to nullify the counter-attacking threat of a Mourinho team. With Zabaleta and Clichy dropped for Sagna and Kolarov, this suggested before the game that the movement of the full-backs would perhaps be something to do with the his.

In early games of the season, we seen inverted movements from City’s full-backs primarily in a bid to improve connectivity and create dangerous situations on either wing. Today, we saw IFB’s again, though not for the same purpose. As the ball moved out to either Sterling or Nolito, rather than making a supporting movement towards the ball, Sagna and Kolarov pinched inside into their respective halfspaces.

 Creating a narrow 2-3 defensive block, this prevented United from countering through the halfspaces, the areas where Mkhitaryan and Rooney are so good at counter-attacking through.
Dominance Through Juego de Posición 

Though they had some difficulties in progressing cleanly from phase one, Guardiola’s Man City had no problems in dominating the match in the following phases of possession through strong use of positional play.
The dynamics through the centre from City were excellent and very effective in manipulating the low-mid block of United. The rotation of John Stones and Fernandinho made it difficult for Rooney and Ibrahimovic to effectively block or mark the pair as the movements were quick and difficult to track. Stones movements into the 6 position allowed for Fernandinho to drop even deeper than usual and Otamendi to split even wider, creating more space centrally. 

Spanish midfield magician David Silva excelled throughout the match, his dropping movements allowing him to dictate from deep momentarily, in a role he has never taken so much responsibility in before. His midfield partner Kevin de Bruyne often made alternate movements with Iheanacho, with one of them making a stretching vertical movement, whilst the other searched for an open passing lane from deep.

The positional play during ball circulation was excellent. Rather than horizontally circulating, increasing the possibility a non-penetrative U shape, City often used the dropping movements and overloads in behind United’s first line to recycle centrally and open play up through the opposite centre-back. From here, the receiver was usually the free-man and with the help of some movement from the ball-near interior, a dribbling lane was often opened up for them to drive forward into midfield. As this occurred, central players around the ball would make supporting movements to prevent isolation in the centre of the field, which was often successful and allowed them to combine in an area now of numerical superiority and escape the press into a now underloaded area of the field.

Coming out on top as deserved 2-1 winners, despite a nervy ending, Guardiola’s side’s dominance against such strong opposition pleasantly surprised many. Though City have been performing at a very high level so far this season, perhaps none have topped such a dominant performance against truly challenging opposition in Manchester United. Mourinho will be disappointed not just his side’s relatively poor performance, both in terms of dynamics with the ball and lack of intensity in a City’s later phases, but also with the result, which he will no doubt see as three points dropped in the title race.

Stoke 1-4 Man City

​In Pep Guardiola’s second Premier League encounter, Manchester City faced Stoke City, who defeated the Sky Blues 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium last season. I analyse the key tactical aspects deriving from this match.


Stoke City deployed a conventional 4-3-3 formation, aiming to add numbers in advanced positions, while switching to a 4-5-1 without possession, in order to congest space within midfield areas. 

Given – Bardsley, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters – Allen, Imbula, Whelan – Bojan, Diouf, Arnautovic

Manchester City began the anticipated encounter with a spin-off of Guardiola’s preferred formation; 4-1-2-3, deploying a 4-1-4-1, with an attacking midfield quartet aiming to drive into the half spaces and send passes through towards the lone striker. 

Caballero – Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov – Fernandinho – Navas, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling – Aguero  

Inverted Full back variations

As expected, both full backs; Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov drifted inside into the half spaces during the games infancy, thus becoming Inverted Full Backs. This was in order to add extra numbers within midfield areas, and to allow further space for diagonal passes to be played to either Winger.  However, Manchester City’s approach to deploying Inverted Full backs was much more restricted against Stoke City. On a few occasions during the first half, Manchester City were very lucky not to concede following effective counter attacks from Stoke City, and these counter attacks came as a result of poor positioning and awareness on behalf of Zabaleta. Occupying the right half space while undertaking the Inverted Full Back role, Stoke City’s left winger, Marko Arnautovic, was able to expose the space usually covered by a Right Back. Forcing Zabaleta to retreat from the half space which then left the midfield space exposed, causing a temporary disfigurement of Manchester City’s structure. Perhaps the defensive block should function without possession of the ball in future games.

This particular example, conveys that Guardiola’s system could be exposed through raw pace and runs into exposed defensive lines, spearheaded by counter attacking football. Further problems were at large, with Stoke City making a justifiable penalty claim, following Kolarov’s foul on Joe Allen.

Subsequently, Manchester City partially relinquished the roaming of both Full Backs, who would drop to natural wide areas without the ball in order to maintain defensive structure. This benefited, as Stoke created less chances during the Second half. Regardless of the newly found conservativeness, Full Backs were still able to roam the half spaces during the process of chance creation; Zabaleta made am advancing run into Stoke City’s 18-yard box following patient possessional build up orchestrated by John Stones, attracting pressure from the opposition. Yet another in game tactical change immersed a sense of balance within Manchester City’s formation structure. For example, the change oversaw 1 Full Back (Zabaleta) drifting into the half spaces/holding midfield areas taking up the Inverted Full Back role. Contrastingly, the remaining Full Back (Kolarov), maintain the traditional role, and made advancing runs. This in itself allowed a extra passing option; with David Silva playing diagonal passes through towards Kolarov between midfield. 

Guardiola’s intensive counter pressing

An encounter that was arguably slow considering the patient possessional build up of Manchester City, Guardiola’s side however displayed a sheer contradiction when pressurising Stoke City during respective build up play. Deploying counter pressing tactics, Kevin De Bruyne exemplified the intensity Guardiola demands from his players by tracking back and making tackles from an attacking midfield role. The hard work made without possession of the ball relinquished Stoke City’s chance creation and emphasised the improvement of defensive contribution, and subsequently the overall performance of Winger Raheem Sterling under Pep Guardiola (During the first half, Sterling made 4 successful tackles, more than any other player.). Guardiola’s press is rather intriguing, as the counter press congests admirable amounts of space, functioning players in 3 or 4 versus 1 situations. This situation meant rash mistakes were made by the opposition leading to the giving away of possession. 

60:01 :Example of City’s counterpressing.

When close to Stoke City’s goal, Manchester City deployed a press which functioned with two banks of three, congesting greater amounts of space in defensive and midfield spaces, while still able to win possession with enough players forward.  

Threat within Wing-play

The significance of width in midfield during attacking build up relinquished the attacking capabilities of Stoke City’s Full Backs (Phil Bardsley and Erik Pieters), inevitably forcing the maintenance of both Full Backs within defensive zones. In comparison to the first Premier League encounter; a 2-1 victory over Sunderland, Raheem Sterling was deployed on the left hand side of an attacking midfield quartet, which allowed the England international to cut inside to attack the half spaces, while Jesus Navas fixated on the outside of the opposite flank. The contrast between the functions of both wingers offered balance within the formation build up play, and links with the balance offered by the Full Backs, with Zabaleta drifting into the holding midfield area, and Kolarov overlapping Raheem Sterling. Positioned on the left side of midfield allowed Sterling to be more confident on the ball, being able to drift into the half spaces and shoot from an array of angles. Though unable to score as a result of poor finishing which does need improving, Sterling’s ability to find good spaces and attack at will allows further chance creation for Manchester City. 

Though not functioning as a “False 9”, Sergio Aguero dropped slightly deep into the half spaces, so he could attract possession of the ball, and bring the ball forward, almost holding up possession to allow both Navas and Sterling to make identical runs into the penalty area, while still allowing space for the “8’s” (De Bruyne and Silva) to run into. As a result of Manchester City’s mishap regarding Zabaleta’s poor positional awareness, some of Stoke City’s attacks came through attacking within wide areas. The substitution made, with Navas replaced by fellow Spaniard Nolito, Manchester City had an alternative threat from wide midfield areas, in the sense that the £13.5m signing offered competent off ball movement. Perfectly timed runs into exposed spaces within the Penalty area resulted in two well worked goals.

Flexibility within formation and player movement

The structure of Manchester City’s formation was indeed very flexible, but was very organised when passing; triangle passing options allowed possessional build up to swift and progressive. This links with the foundations and playing style laid down by Guardiola during his reign as manager of FC Barcelona, specifically 2009-2011. The formation itself was very flexible, changing within the match; beginning as a 4-1-4-1, the formation changed to a 2-3-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1 depending on the positioning and movement of the Full Backs/deployment of Inverted Full Backs. 

Fernandinho was positioned further forward, with less intention to drop alongside the centre back pairing of Stones and Otamendi. Yet, the Brazilian international was still able to play vertical passes between the defensive line, and congest space across the midfield. 

Stoke City would have had a greater impact on the game, if Imbula were to have had more opportunities in an attacking sense. Forced to cover for Joe Allen and Glen Whelan; both Allen and Whelan were in theoretical duels with De Bruyne and Silva, and were unable to relinquish the movement and ball playing of either. Imbula had limited chances to carry the ball through tight spaces which would have suited the counter attack method perfectly. 


A game dominated by Manchester City for large quantities, with the spontaneous increase in momentum on Stoke City’s behalf, Pep Guardiola can take comfort from the implementation of confidence in wide areas and the continuation of goals, but may need to be aware of the threat to in game formation structure on the counter attack.