The first game of the season for one of the title favourites from Manchester saw the Sky Blues take on the newcomers Brighton. In a clash between David and Goliath, it was expected that Manchester City would dominate throughout the course of 90 minutes. After a great pre-season outing for the Cityzens, many were excited to see the tactical nuances made by Pep to side and understand how things would pan out for them in the league.
While finishing as EFL Championship runners up and entering the hottest league in the world should cherish the Brighton team and its fans and give them enough confidence, one should understand the method which they have to adapt. Plundering the opposition defences in the previous seasons
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Brighton (4-4-2) | Manager: Chris Hughton
1.Ryan – 2.Bruno, 22.Duffy, 5.Dunk, 29.Suttner – 20.March, 6.Stephens, 24.Propper, 37.Brown – 13.Groβ, 10.Hemed
Manchester City (3-1-4-2) |Manager: Pep Guardiola
31.Ederson – 4.Kompany, 5.Stones, 30.Otamendi – 25.Fernandinho – 2.Walker, 17.de Bruyne, 21.Silva, 3.Danilo – 10.Aguero, 33.Jesus
Brighton lead by their captain Bruno started with a four men defence as Duffy, Dunk and Suttner joined the former. March, Stephens, Propper and Brown constituted the midfield four as Groβ and Hemed played up top. Ryan played in between the sticks as Brighton and Hove Albion were set-up in a solid 4-4-2 by Chris Hughton.
While adopting a three at the back system in the later stages of the pre-season it was believed that Pep Guardiola would set up his side in the same way in the opening game. Manchester City were sent out in a 3-1-4-2 structure which fielded Kompany, Stones and Otamendi as three centre backs in defence. In the centre, Fernandinho played as the no.4 while David Silva and his Belgian counter-part Kevin de Bruyne played as the two 8s. Walker and Danilo were deployed in the right and left flanks as wing backs while Ederson made his debut in the Premier League, guarding City’s goal. Sergio Aguero was paired with Gabriel Jesus as the duo completed one of the deadliest attacks in the world.
City dominate possession while Brighton show resistance
With the type of standards City had set last season and Pep Guardiola’s philosophy, it is easy to understand how City would set themselves in the game. City started the proceedings by building out from the back through the three center halves. Kompany and Otamendi occupied the positions outside in the right and left side respectively as Stones played in the centre. Stones was given the responsibility of passing the ball on to the next line of attack while Kompany and Otamendi played between Fernandinho and Stones.
The wing backs Danilo and Walker took up very high positions. In certain instances, the wide players joined Aguero and Jesus up front when City were on the ball creating a situational 3-3-4. In other instances, City’s midfield four saw Danilo take up a position slightly lower than Walker. Known for his pace ability to contribute in attack, Walker always stood high in the pitch as City often attacked through the right flank.
From the above instance it can be identified how City structured themselves on the ball. The two number 8s for City were the key players going forward. The two attacking midfielders dropped deep in order to create chances from deep and bring the ball forward and hence situational 3-3-4 was visible from City. One of the key things to note was the positioning between David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne. In most of the attacks, either one of the two players often dropped deep as to counter Brighton’s compact defensive shape.
Brighton defended in a solid and highly compact 4-4-2. The two banks of four did not offer space in between the lines for the City players and hence the attacking players dropped deep to create chances from deep by penetrative through balls and long balls. Brighton should be credited for the fact that they defended the half spaces very tight which is the key area of attack for City. From the above image, we can see that Brighton stay very compact in two banks of four and even their front two playing deep. This image also shows how David Silva (ball carrier) has dropped deep to conduct the game.
As said, City gave importance to inter relative positions between players especially David Silva and de Bruyne. Either one of the two would often drop deep and playing along with Fernandinho in the centre to carry the ball forward and play the odd long ball. It can be noted from the above image how the game panned out in most instances. Here Fernandinho is occupied by one of the forwards as Stones looks for options. We can see how deep KdB is in the far side, this meant the other forward had to have the Belgian in his cover shadow. This gave Silva the opportunity for Stones to find Silva in space who has much less attention comparing the other players.
It is visible how Silva has taken a lower position than de Bruyne.
However the job of dropping deep was instilled with De Bruyne and it was visible in most cases. As the highly defensive Brighton was able to see of City’s gradual build up, City depended on more direct approach and quick transitions to create chances. KdB was given the responsibility to find the strikers and wide players with direct long balls. It can be seen in the below image as KdB tries to play a long ball onto Jesus’ path.
This pattern interchanged between the duo and it should be rightly stated that City were asked to do these moves as they couldn’t create as they prefer to do in the half spaces. This was due to Brighton’s astute defending in these areas. When City had the ball in the wide areas, the ball far winger would stay wide and one of the two strikers could drop deep to create the compact midfield four closing out the space. This can be noted from the below instance as the ball far winger Solly March stays very wide and the striker Groβ has dropped deep to support the midfield.
This is how the first half of the game panned out and it was mostly attack vs defence in the game as City dominated possession and Brighton very well resisted their pressure and survived the first half.
City break Brighton’s resistance, capitalize on the break
In the second half, the pattern was the same for the initial 10 minutes as City dominated on the ball. As the time was nearing the hour mark, Brighton started positioning themselves high up the pitch in order to capitalize on any City mistake while ball circulation. Brighton’s tight shape in the centre meant that they often left oceans of space in the wings. Danilo’s less offensive contribution towards the game was quite visible as he was unable to play in cross as well as penetrate into the box.
This meant that the change was expected as Sane replaced Danilo in the hour mark. The introduction of Sane not only provided more width in the left flank, it also meant that City had another option in Sane to carry the ball forward with pace. In the 70th minute, Brighton were caught on the break as Kevin de Bruyne snatched the ball from the Brighton no.6 and played it on to the path of his playmaking partner, Silva. Silva passed the ball brilliantly to Aguero who finally broke the deadlock to give City the lead.
Image courtesy: Squawka
The above image depicts the passes made by Silva. He was adjudged man of the match for his brilliant performance. The Spaniard attempted 101 passes and completed 94 with an accuracy of 93.1%. In the process, he created 5 chances and went on to assist for Aguero’s opener.
After the introduction of Bernardo Silva in the 83rd minute, City still maintained the same shape as Guardiola was confident of his approach. Anthony Knockaert, touted as the hottest prospect for BHA this season, played for the final 15 minutes as Hughton pushed for consolatory goal in the end. The below graphic depicts how the teams looked towards the end.
15.Murphy, 17.Murray, 11.Knockaert
Manchester City (3-1-4-2)
19.Sane, 78.Sterling, 83.Bernardo Silva
The first hour of the game showed how good this Brighton side is, as they kept one of the costliest squad of the game at bay. However, Guardiola’s side put up more than a decent and smooth display against the newcomers. The new signings in Walker, Ederson and Danilo played well with the former especially putting up a very good display as City cruised past BHA in the end. Though this performance is good enough against a side like Brighton, one cannot be complacent that City can excel well with a similar display against other elite clubs in the league. City definitely have to shape up themselves better should they avoid another trophyless season for them and their manager.