18th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Having prepared for the new Premier League campaign brilliantly by enjoying great success in the transfer market and in terms of their preseason results, Manchester City importantly got off to a winning start in their league opener, comfortably brushing aside newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, 2-0.
Controlling the game comfortably throughout on their way to amassing 768 passes and 78% of the possession, Pep Guardiola was largely happy with his team’s performance against the deep sitting, defensively well organised Seagulls. He made a particular point of highlighting his team’s tremendous work rate, saying: “We run a lot. People say we are a big team but we run like a League One or a Conference team. You don’t see one player on my team that doesn’t run. That is when I am proud.
“It is all I demand of my players and when you see Sergio and Gabriel run backwards and Kevin and David, that is the first step to creating something.
“Last season we did run a lot and we did many good things but we weren’t good in the boxes. Today our box was perfect and in the opponents box we scored two goals but we created more. Hopefully in the future we can be more accurate in those terms.”
Despite going on to insist City could’ve moved the ball quicker and with more conviction on occasion, there was definitely plenty to admire for Pep about his outfit’s body of work, especially in an attacking sense.
Within Guardiola’s positional play system, he organised his side into what was ostensibly a 3-1-4-2 formation, instructing his side to occupy ideal positions to manipulate Brighton’s defensive structure to create decisive openings for City’s technically gifted attackers.
Vital to their offensive excursions was the dynamic attacking midfield duo of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, who occupied the half spaces well, with the remit of receiving possession in between Brighton’s defensive and mid lines to unlock the home side’s backline via slick combination play. They did this well on multiple occasions, but one or both of the aforementioned duo would often drop deeper and obtain possession from the centre backs to get away from the vertically compact Brighton block, which lessened City’s presence upfield. It must be said, though, that it did give the centre backs additional passing outlets, but it also limited the space for them to dribble forward more aggressively.
With Brighton defending with two in their first line, City’s back three made good use of this numerical superiority by constantly manoeuvring the Brighton pair to use said forward dribbles into the half spaces. A crucial byproduct of these ball carries was that once they reached Brighton’s midfield, it often provoked a press from a midfielder, thus successfully pulling a player out of slot and enabling a City attacker to exploit the newly manufactured space.
Guardiola’s wing backs, Kyle Walker and Danilo, also played a pivotal role in the contest, with them acting as essential width providers, in order for the Citizens to make their opponents less horizontally compact. In addition, their aptitude in 1v1 scenarios was also catered to well using the overload to isolate principle, where Pep instructs his men to populate one side, forcing the defensive line to shift, before then launching a long ball to the opposite flank to put the wide man in an advantageous isolation duel.
The extremely high positioning of the wing backs saw them occupy their opposing full backs, meaning City were often 4v4 with Brighton’s backline. Indeed, this gave the away side a strong advantage in pulling apart their adversaries’ setup, for there was no free man present to cover any lapses if City were undertaking rotations or intricately connecting play. A glowing example of this arose when Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero would instigate well coordinated runs in behind and away from goal, which subsequently created a massive gap in between Brighton’s two central defenders for the likes of Silva and De Bruyne to utilise.
Considering this was their first league hit out of the new campaign, this would’ve filled their fans with huge optimism that Man City can go on and achieve great things in the 2017/2018 crusade.
Now with an enhanced squad and with the players continually adapting to Guardiola’s meticulous methodology, this could well be the season where City begin to bear the fruits of their labour under their Spanish managerial maestro.
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