Manchester City hosted Monaco in the Champions League Round of 16 encounter at the Etihad stadium in what was to be a brilliant end to end encounter. Monaco had been in tremendous form in the season with the best attacking record in Europe this season. City were in good form too having overcome their mid-season struggles and looked to gain a positive result to take away to Monaco for the second leg.
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Manchester City (4-1-4-1) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Caballero; Fernandinho, Otamendi, Stones, Sagna; Touré; Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling, Sané; Aguero
Monaco: (4-4-2) | Leonardo Jardim
Subašić; Sidibé, Glik, Raggi, Mendy; Silva, Fabinho, Bakayoko, Lemar; Mbappe, Falcao.
Monaco’s high press rattles City:
Lining up in their customary 4-2-2-2 Monaco looked to press City high up the field in an intensely man oriented manner. The positioning of their forwards was narrow when the City central defenders had the ball and looked to cover Yaya Toure rather than pressing the ball carriers. Once the ball was spread out, Monaco began their pressing and used their momentum to advance towards the next pass. The body positioning of the wide players (Silva and Lemar) indicated that they did not want the City players to play the ball to the immediate passing options forward.
Lemar and Silva helped in covering Fernandinho and Sagna. The man orientation exhibited by Monaco was further visible from the way they looked to close down Silva and De Bruyne. Both Bakayako and Fabinho looked to close down the two City midfielders. The intensity with which they pressed the two players made sure that they did not have enough time to turn around and play a forward pass.
We see here that Mbappe has moved onto press the ball carrier while Falcao makes sure that Toure is covered. With intense man orientations, Monaco are able to force Caballero into making a wayward pass.
The man orientation was severe and this made the Monaco structure look like a lopsided 4-3-3 at times with Silva moving forward. At times, Bernardo Silva was the furthest player forward with Falcao or Mbappe staying a bit deep in order to cover Toure.
This pressing scheme was accompanied by passive build up play from City who did not show their usual off the ball movement to initiate any sort of link up play that could beat this press. This led to a lot of turnovers in play for Monaco and they could use the creativity and intelligence of Lemar and Silva in particular to create goal scoring opportunities.
City’s struggles against Monaco’s attacking play:
City looked unable to cope with the direct nature of Monaco’a attacking play. While in attack, the wide forwards Lemar and Silva looked to attack the half spaces by drifting towards the center and allow the full backs to bomb forward. In these situations, City looked unable to deal with the half space superiority generated by Monaco as Fernandinho and Sagna had almost no existent support at times against the Monaco players.
By occupying both the central defenders, Mbappe and Falcao could take turns to drop deep and involve themselves in the build-up play. The presence of either of the forwards meant that the central defenders were occupied. A man orientation was dangerous as there was constant off the ball movement by both the forwards with Mbappe especially boasting tremendous pace.
The diagonal runs made by both the forwards were crucial in destabilising the City defenders. The second goal scored by Monaco was a perfect example of this as Mbappe ran in behind Otamendi with a diagonal run from a long ball. Mbappe was also involved in other chances that were created by committing Otamendi to follow him and beat the defender with a turn and burst of pace. The dribbling qualities of the Monaco players combined with their pace ensured that they could unsettle the City structure and exploit the gaps that appeared as a result.
Tweak in structure by Guardiola to exploit Monaco:
City having struggled to have clean progressions, tweaked their structure a bit to help build play more easily. Initially it was only Stones and Otamendi who were in the initial line of build-up. As the half wore on Sagna slotted in along the two center backs and formed a chain of three. This meant that Fernandinho could move to the center of the pitch alongside Toure.
Now Falcao and Mbappe could not just cover Toure and press once the ball was played. The presence of three players at the back also meant that the initial phase of build up was easier with an overload there. Effectively this tactic could have easily seen City bypass the Monaco press and move forward a lot of times.
However irregular spacing by the City players meant that they could not always exploit the man orientations from Monaco. The positioning of Sane and Sterling was high as usual and this meant that if the spacing between the City players was narrow, Silva and De Bruyne could still easily be closed down.
City started gaining easy entry into the Monaco lines as the game progressed and exploited the man orientations by clever off the ball movements by De Bruyne and Silva in particular. Silva deserves special mention in this regard as he was subject to more dynamic movements partly due to the irregularity in Fernandinho’s movements in the left side. Silva circulated around the left half space on both sides of the pitch.
The movements by Silva and De Bruyne ensured that the central passing lanes to Aguero opened if he dropped deep to receive the ball. This scenario was often to be taking place as Bakayoko and Fabinho were drawn away by the City midfielders. The positioning of Yaya Toure in these cases was in between the central defenders so that they could spread out and the angles were easier to play a diagonal pass into the center of the pitch.
The above explained scenario is seen here as Stones is able to play a pass into Aguero with De Bruyne and Silva dragging the Monaco midfielders along with them.
City’s formation resembled a 2-3-2-3 when Fernandinho and Sagna moved forward while it later turned into a 3-2-2-3 with Fernandinho moving alongside Toure as a left midfielder. These subtle changes were done in order to combat the intense pressing from Monaco and progress easily between the lines.
Attacking phases in transition:
With both teams showing high disregard for defensive duties as the game wore on meant that the match followed a highly irregular pattern in terms of clean progression and build up play. Monaco were 3-1 up after ten minutes into the second half and could have shut shop. Instead the game became even more open and Guardiola’s men expertly exploited this. While Monaco’s goals were largely down to individual errors in defense City’s goals were as a result of Monaco throwing a lot of men forward and struggling to cope with transitions.
The fluidity in City’s formation was visible as the back three in building up play wavered from Yaya Toure dropping deep to Sagna slotting in. With Aguero increasingly involved in the middle of the pitch, Sane and Sterling could enjoy a few moments in then game running at the opposition defense as they were afforded 1v1s on the flanks. Silva and De Bruyne increasingly influenced the game from the half spaces and spread the ball easily.
These increasingly easier progressions were as a consequence of the drop in intensity from the Monaco side. The high intensity within the block could not be maintained throughout the game and this meant that City enjoyed less pressure once they evaded the first line of pressure. The center of the pitch became increasingly scrappy and a simple switch from the center afforded the team a big release from the congestion.
This switch to the flank was especially more prevalent in the second half when Guardiola introduced Zabaleta in place of Fernandinho and Sagna shifting to left back. Zabaleta however was tasked with only providing width. This passing option meant that City started focusing on the right. By passing to Zabaleta, City could relieve themselves off the pressure from Monaco and also have cleaner progressions down the flanks.
The contest turned out to be one of the matches of the season as both teams suffered due to poor defensive displays. Jardim’s negligence to shut shop after getting the three away goals might have cost his team a better result to take home. Manchester City perfectly exploited the opponent’s man marking orientations and were able to secure a two goal lead to take to Monaco despite having conceded three crucial away goals. The match was chaotic at times and the end to end nature of the game ensured some irregularities in the ball progressions.
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