The early headlines of the 2017/18 Premier League season were dominated by their Manchester rivals but a period of dominance has switched the attention back to Manchester City. It began with the 5-0 dismantling of 10 man Liverpool which sent Pep Guardiola’s men to the summit of the table, of only until Manchester United drew with Stoke City. A quality display away at Feyenoord in the Champions League and a 6-0 thrashing of Watford followed and reinstalled excitement at the Etihad. The three match spell has seen them score 15 goals without reply. Guardiola has made suitable changes to his system and we will take a look at what has helped them click.
Two up top
The signing of Gabriel Jesus, who arrived in January 2017, threatened to dethrone Sergio Aguero as the king of goals at City. The Man City boss even informed the press that Aguero could leave just a month after Jesus’ arrival. After Aguero struck a hat-trick against Watford Guardiola, who seems to have gone full circle on the Argentine striker, hailed him a club legend. He is now in position to take over as City’s all time top scorer needing just two goals to overtake Eric Brook.
Fitting both players in the team seemed impossible and it was suggested that Jesus may be shifted out wide. However, Guardiola has found a way to get both players playing centrally in his new system. The pair offer a constant threat and a thorough test for any defence. Reports suggest that the pair get on very well which shows on the pitch. Aguero’s movement and ability to find a yard to get a shot off with his acceleration coupled with Jesus’ direct running and sharp skills work well together.
Vital to this system is the defensive midfielder. Holding down that position of late has been Fernandinho who plays a restricted role allowing the other midfield players to get forward and create chances for the dynamic front two. He drops back between the central defenders when needed and distributes the ball while holding his position. The role that the holding midfielder plays in this system is one of the most important for City as the discipline allows the more advanced players to focus on attacking.
City are operating with three central midfielder in front of the holding midfield player. The three players are able to move into space and drift into channels because of the role the defensive midfielder plays. David Silva has been able to slot into this role with ease as his creative play and movement off the ball flourish when he does not have to think too much about going backwards.
The narrow midfield currently employed compliments the style of football Guardiola demanded at Barcelona. The freedom available in the middle of the park saw Raheem Sterling play in the central midfield area against Watford. Pass and move is key to the Pep way and with three players who are creative playmakers allow the team to play with sufficient flair and fluidity which will please the boss.
Attacking Full Backs
An area that has been heavily invested in at City is the full back area. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo all came in. The narrow midfield encourages the full backs to bomb on and the players Pep has brought in do not need much of an invitation to do so. Walker has done it for Tottenham in the Premier League before and is settling into life at his new club with minimum fuss. Fernandinho performing so well in his new role allows Walker and whoever plays on the opposite flank the freedom to go forward knowing the Brazilian and the central defenders are covering the counter attack.
Deeper De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne is one of the stand out players in the Premier League. His ability to pick a pass, beat his man and create chances single him out as one of the most dangerous midfielders playing in England today. Preferring to play as a 10 he has been forced to play out wide in the City team for sometime. This new system may not put him behind the strikers but at least he plays more centrally. Dropping deeper highlights his range of passing and understanding of the game. They system gives him the freedom to roam around the pitch, move into channels and get forward. He makes City play and the system suits him.
The big question – will Pep stick to this in the big games? At Old Trafford, at Stamford Bridge, at Anfield? Even in the deeper stages of the Champions League. Or will he revert to his back three which he started the season with? It is hard to say at the moment. The system is unique and it is catching teams by surprise. There are holes in it and more disciplined teams with quick players of their own will be able to turn Man City around and hit them on the break.
With the formation being so reliant on individuals, particularly whoever holds the midfield, it only takes certain individuals to have a bad game for everything to go wrong. It will be interesting to see what happens when City are on the back foot. Will they continue with this system or go to something more conventional?
The excitement around Manchester City when Pep Guardiola arrived is finally being realised. Recent results push them to wrestle away the favourites tag in the Premier League from all their rivals. The system is working. The quality of football is of the highest order. Can they be stopped? Only time will tell.
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