After the international break, the most awaited Premier League games came back to the fore as City travelled to Goodison Park to face Everton. The game marked the start of a tough run for City as they are to face United and Spurs in the Premier League along with the two legged Champions League Quarterfinals, all within the span of 15 days.
A win would mark a significant record for City as they will become the third team after Chelsea (2004/05) and Manchester United (2010/11) to win against all the teams in a single campaign as Everton were the only team which was left undefeated by Manchester City after 30 games.
Everton (4-4-1-1) | Manager: Sam Allardyce
Pickford // Coleman – Jagielka – Keane – Baines // Walcott – Rooney – Schneiderlin – Bolasie // Calvert-Lewin // Tosun
Manchester City (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Ederson // Walker – Otamendi – Kompany – Laporte // De Bruyne – Fernandinho – Silva // Sterling – Jesus – Sane
Everton started with a basic 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1 shape and they would shift between the two, with reference to the position of the ball. Pickford started in goal as Coleman, Jagielka, Keane and Baines started in defense. The central midfield partnership was led by Rooney and Schneiderlin as Walcott and Bolasie played on either side of the central channel. Calvert-Lewin started behind Tosun in attack as Everton looked to maintain their unbeaten streak of 3 games against Manchester City.
It was very clear that City would start in their customary shape used in this season. However there was a tweak in structure in the game and it was visible in transitions during the game. The team played in a staggered 4-2-3-1 at times while they also deployed the lopsided 4-3-3 which transformed into a 3-2-2-3 in transitions. These tactical changes in structure was mainly due to the presence of Laporte in the left instead of a full back, Walker’s surge forward, De Bruyne dropping deep to play alongside Fernandinho as the Box-to-Box midfielder and Sterling’s movements infield.
City started with Ederson in goal as Walker, Otamendi, Kompany and Laporte started in the defensive line. The midfield trio consisted of Fernandinho, De Bruyne and David Silva as Sterling and Sane started as wingers. Jesus led the attack for City as City played in their standard 4-3-3 set up.
City’s ideal structure at the back
With Laporte starting in the defense instead of Zinchenko and Delph, it was expected that City’s defensive structure would be tough to judge before the game and it was evident as the game grew on. City started with three central defenders and a full back, Walker. Walker played as the wing back in most occasions as he joined the midfield in the wide areas while Laporte and Otamendi played on the left and right respectively with Kompany in the centre.
This was done so that City can play out better from the back when they have three players instead of four due to optimal spacing. One of City’s dangerous areas in attack is through the left and in this game, their play out from the back was boosted in that channel as Laporte is exceptional in his ball playing abilities. And as seen below, he slotted into the left half of the back three. One of the interesting things from this game was City’s structure with reference to the ball in different thirds.
And here, City have made use of the 3-2 structure as Kompany in the centre passes the ball to De Bruyne who has positioned himself alongside Fernandinho. This allowed City to play out well from the back, allowing them to transition into the next phase without much pressure from the opposition. As he sat deeper, it allowed more space for De Bruyne to play longer balls to Sane diagonally. As seen here, Everton played up with the 3-1 system while moved to a more conventional 4-4-1-1 when City bypassed the line of three.
In many other cases, both the wide players played in the same line as Walker pulled himself in. As seen in the image below, Walker has played in the same line and De Bruyne has stationed himself in the defensive midfielder’s role only to surge forward and conduct the game from the back as he will have more space to operate. Here Silva plays as the #10 with both Sane and Sterling operating in the same line with him. Thus utilizing a variation between 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-1-3 and 4-1-2-3 as De Bruyne will move forward in the second phase.
And as seen, City were comfortable while playing out from the back without much pressure from Everton and were also defensively solid for major part of the game.
City open up the left
In many of the games this season, City have been seen to exploit the left side of the pitch and this has been effective due to key combinations involving the likes of the #8 in the pitch along with the full back who would move up the pitch and open up through the space for Sane.
This instance above created the situation for the first goal. Here Silva is operating in the left half space with two wide players on the outside. In this instant, Sterling and Sane have been inverted and they have occupied the opposite flanks respectively. The positioning of Sterling has attracted the right back and is moving towards him. This creates a space behind the back line. Silva identifies the space and hence plays a one-two with Laporte and moves into the space. Silva’s control of the ball here is excellent though his starting point is near to the line and opposing marker is positioned closer. Due to his amazing skill on the ball, Silva collects the ball and plays it across the defenders to Sane who is in the other side of Jesus.
This situation is a prime example of how City used positional play to dominate and utilize the space behind the defensive line through quick one-touch movements. The image below also shows a similar situation as City moved into crucial spaces through the left. Here City have executed positional play to superior advantage. The position of Sane inside the box is very crucial as Sterling has options of passing to Sane inside the box and Laporte in the wide area. However Sterling sees the run of Silva and plays into the space where he will arrive at the end of his run. Given Sane’s position, the ball near full back is unable to move fully towards the run of Silva.
The movements of Sterling drifting into central positions and then into half spaces allowed Sane to play in move centrally as well as occupy the opposite side in many instances.
The action below shows City’s attempt to open the left side from a turnover at the back. Silva retrieves the ball and plays it onto Sane who is wide in the flank. Silva runs into the space in the same channel as soon as he plays the pass to Sane while Fernandinho comes into the space where Sane plays the ball. Fernandinho taps the ball into the path of Silva as he receives the ball in space and moves forward with pace as he created a 3v3 situation at the back along with Jesus and Sterling. He cuts back the final ball to Sterling, who finished it brilliantly.
Here City find themselves in positional superiority in the 2v2 and due to the space available, they were easily able to surge forward through the defense and score on the counter.
City’s midfield dominance
The game started off with an early goal to City only for them to double it within quick succession. Their positioning in the midfield and optimal spacing helped them achieve this dominance. City utilized a 4-2-3-1 in second phase and transitioned to a back three in the next phase. Walker joined the offensive line and played high up the pitch. City almost played with a 3-1-4-2 with the midfield line of four of Sane, De Bruyne, Silva and Sterling acting in the same line.
In this image below, the positional set up can be seen. One of the things to note here is the man to man scheme utilized by Everton. Bolasie dropped deep to man mark Walker while Sane on the other end was taken care of by two wide men. Also, Silva is seen to be marked closely as he is the ball near #8, the one who is most expected to attack in the next move. Sterling who has moved infield is also marked but from a distance and so is De Bruyne on the farther end.
One of the things to note here most importantly is the positioning of the free center back with respect to the striker, Jesus. Jesus has occupied his position while he is being marked by two defenders. The other defender is free with almost zero effect in this instance which makes him ineffective. Here Everton could’ve stopped City from dominating during the transition from middle third to final third in the third phase by having an extra man upfield. Though City would’ve still had a qualitative superiority, Everton could’ve packed the midfield with the numbers needed. Instead of stepping into the midfield, the centre back played in the defensive line, which saw Everton field just 4 midfielders against City’s superior midfield quality, ceding both qualitative and numerical advantage to Guardiola’s men.
These 4v4 situations were often created in the midfield as City dominated with the help of better individual quality. As seen in the below picture, City are once again up in a 4v4 in the central part of the pitch. Sterling was seen to join inside the central channel while Silva played in between the #10’s role and left half space. While Fernandinho has two easy passing options in the wide areas to him, De Bruyne and Silva, he decides to play a tougher pass into the path of Sterling who is free in space as he stationed himself behind the midfield four.
Given Fernandinho’s on the ball traits, which have exceedingly improved under Guardiola’s tutelage, it is no surprise that he decided to pick out Sterling in this situation instead of De Bruyne/Silva. It was a better idea in this instance as Silva and De Bruyne are the players who have been marked here as Everton failed to pick up the players in better positions and close down space. Something was needed to be done in the midfield and thus came the change later as Rooney was replaced.
This instance above gives an example of how City found space through their runners effectively. Often City strove through combinations and quick one touch passing. Here Fernandinho plays the ball to Sterling and runs into the space in the last line of defense while Sterling receives the ball and plays into the space in front of David Silva. Silva arrives into the space simultaneously as he slips the ball onto the path of Fernandinho. Fernandinho carried his run once he passed the ball and this was effective in arriving at crucial spaces. City followed these patterns in many instances and were successful in identifying and occupying the space as much as possible.
Kevin De Bruyne and Walker, an effective combination
The main reason to play Kevin De Bruyne in the double pivot has been due to the fact that he can conduct the game from the back effectively. His movements, ability to see things, find space, play crosses into the box and long diagonal balls comprise his skills and differentiate him an overall box-to-box midfielder from just a normal attacking playmaker. In this season he has been asked to drop deep and especially in the second half as he allows the likes of Fernandinho to move forward.
In the game, often Kyle Walker was released by Kevin De Bruyne in the right and here are two situations in which Walker was often able to outrun Bolasie to arrive at dangerous spaces in the wide areas and then cross it onto the box. Given Walker is one of the best crossers in the league, he was often sent shuttling down the channel while Laporte on the opposite end took a slow build up approach.
In these two situations, Walker has positioned himself very wide near the touchline. In the first instance De Bruyne received the ball in the right as result of the combinational play between Fernandinho and David Silva as Everton approached in something similar to the 5-1-3-1 structure. The three men midfield were easily shifted as Silva and Fernandinho passed to each other and looked to work out through the left. This created the space in the right for De Bruyne to move into and he received the ball while he had more time to work on the ball. Instead he played a quick ball to Walker to surge past Bolasie, who promptly played it into the box.
The second instance is an example of City creating an overload in the left and opening up the right. Just like the previous case, an exchange took place between Silva and Fernandinho but this time vertically. Silva slightly dropped deep from his natural position thereby pulling a defender towards him. Silva played it back to Fernandinho and moved up and De Bruyne came in the line of Fernandinho. While this happened, Sterling moved into the centre with Jesus and this pulled the centre back into the box. This created a 1v1 situation in the wide area as Bolasie was the lone defender up against Walker. But City here were in a positional advantage as well, as seen in the image above.
Analyzing City’s third goal – City exploit Everton’s man marking
One of the most interesting things from this game was the way in which City scored their third goal. City have seen themselves adapt to play directly this season without compromising in basic principles such as keeping the ball to move the opponents, build up from the back and counter attacks. The goal against Arsenal by Sergio Aguero from a goal kick is a very good example and in this game, it was even better to watch as City were very clever to occupy unmarked spaces.
Here the three centre backs have been wide spread to start the play out from the back. And to counter this, Everton has stationed players very high up the pitch. The two central midfielders also stayed very close to Fernandinho and De Bruyne. Initially the three forwards played ahead of the three Everton defenders as there is no offside from a goal kick and one can expect Everton to find these players with ease.
Here however, the two players converge into the huge space in front of the defenders. This space in between the lines was expertly occupied by Sterling and Sane and once Ederson sees their run, he plays it into the central channel where they are unmarked. Sane collects the ball while Sterling has joined him centrally which attracted the central defender as he dragged the defender with him. This created space in the zone he vacated.
The other thing to note here is the position of Jesus. He stays in the last line, keeping the defender with him and placing himself onside. This space invited Kevin De Bruyne upfront to utilize it as he moved forward once Sane got hold of the ball. Sane played it into the path of De Bruyne and he carried the ball forward through the same line along with Jesus who came through the centre.
This situation explained how Pep chose his move like the game in chess. If Everton press high when City look to play out from the back, then City had plans to attack in this move which shows Pep’s reading into the game and planning attacking patterns beforehand, specific to the opponent and the game.
Everton’s late resurgence
Later in the second half, Allardyce realised that he needed to change the approach and hence brought on Tom Davies for Wayne Rooney. Tom Davies was one of the key players on the day for Everton when they drew at the Etihad. He was given man marking duties against Fernandinho as he looked to cut off his distribution from the back. In this game however, he was brought on a sub, but he was quite effective. His inclusion gave more solidity in the midfield and Everton 5-4 set up at the back reduced the amounts of space which City were able to exploit in the previous half.
The instance below shows Everton’s intent to push City back as they utilized the space in front to score their only goal of the game. Tom Davies received the ball in the right after clearance from the City defense fell at his feet. Suddenly City were exposed to three Everton players and most importantly they had space to work in front of the City defense. This allowed Bolasie more time on the ball as he placed the ball perfectly in the lower end of the post.
As the game progressed in the later stages, Everton were able to find spaces in counters however City saw them off to take the game home.
The game was entertaining in many aspects and it was also important from a City perspective as they had to recuperate days after just coming back from the international break. The win showed how much it was important for Pep to have his team back in shape after a break as he won against the Toffees for the first time.