Manchester City’s hope of retaining the title is all but over. The Citizens are 14 points behind the leaders, Liverpool, after the Christmas period. However, Pep Guardiola has no intentions of letting that affect the performances of his team especially with cup competitions at stake.
Everton won back to back matches against Burnley and Newcastle United after Carlo Ancelotti took over the reins from the hapless Marco Silva. The Italian had the chance of making a strong statement with a win against the Citizens but Pep’s tactics completely dominated Ancelotti’s.
Pep resorted to a three-man backline in the second half against Sheffield United which helped Manchester City break Sheffield’s well organised and sturdy defence. Manchester City lined up in a 3-4-3 against Everton from the very start. With Ederson Moraes out with illness, Claudio Bravo retained his spot between the sticks. Eric García and Rodri were used as the wide centre-backs and Fernandinho positioned himself between both the players.
João Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy provided the much-needed width in the wing-back role. Pep used the passing skills and vision from Kevin De Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan from the centre of the midfield. The front three of Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez maintained a narrow position and wreaked havoc in the front.
Carlo Ancelotti resorted to back five in order to match Pep formation-wise, which the Toffees should have maintained throughout the game. Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina, and the make-shift Séamus Coleman were in the heart of the defence. Lucas Digne and Djibril Sidibé provided width in the wing-back role. Tom Davies, Fabian Delph, and Gylfi Sigurðsson maintained a narrow and compact midfield in the first half. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison were trusted upfront.
Manchester City’s High Press
Manchester City is known for high and aggressive pressing under Pep. However, this season, lately, the Citizens showed a little modification to their pressing. They pressed high but preferred blocking the passing lane rather than going for aggressive pressing to conserve the energy in this packed schedule in the Christmas period.
Against Everton, the Citizens maintained the same approach. Most of the times, when Everton were in possession with Jordan Pickford on the ball, Delph would drop deeper to open up a passing channel through the middle. However, he would not position himself in line with the centre-backs. When that happened, Coleman was pushed far wide to the right flank.
Gabriel Jesus worked on cutting the passing lane to Delph and Mahrez focussed on marking Holgate. Foden stationed himself between Mina and Coleman and kept tabs on both the players. As soon as the ball was played to one of the centre-backs, he would move closer to that centre-back and press him.
Manchester City followed another method to prevent Everton from circulating the ball freely in their defensive third. As shown in the screenshot below, Mahrez would mark Holgate, Foden would keep a tab on Coleman, De Bruyne would move up to follow Delph closely and Jesus would block the passing lane to Mina. Pickford unable to find a short passing option would occasionally play long balls to the forwards. He played 22 long balls against City while his average of the season is 10.42.
Defensive Setup of Everton
Kevin De Bruyne and Gündoğan have an enormous vision and giving them any time and space would let them dictate the game. Ancelotti tried to cage both midfielders among the Everton forwards and midfielders.
Whenever the ball was played to the midfield duo, they had to immediately pass it back, since one of the midfielders would pounce on to them, leaving them no time to think of a forward pass.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin, Davies, Delph, and Sigurðsson caged both the midfielders. Fernandinho played the ball to Gündoğan. As soon as Gündoğan received the ball, Sigurðsson moved a bit up leaving him no time and space to turn and look for a forward pass. Subsequently, he played the ball to Rodri.
Unable to move the ball through the midfield, Rodri resorted on playing the ball forward to Mahrez. Whenever Mahrez dropped deep, Holgate would follow him and leave him no space to turn. Cancelo gave Mahrez the passing option, but to his dismay, the Portuguese would have no passing option up front and had to pass it back.
City breaking out of the cage
The strategy implemented by Ancelotti looks fantastic, doesn’t it? But to the dismay of the Toffees, City midfielders quickly found a strategy of their own to break out of the shackles of Everton’s cage.
The problem with the strategy was that the Everton cage moved relative to the ball. Whenever the ball was circulated in the left-hand side, the cage would move left and when on the right side the cage would move right.
One of the midfielders would often sneak out of the cage and give centre-backs the passing option.
Just before the screenshot, Rodri had the ball and as mentioned above, the cage was inclined to the left side of Everton midfield. Rodri passed the ball to Fernandinho. Fernandinho had Gündoğan free, who sneaked out of the cage when the ball was on Everton’s left-hand side. Untill the time the cage would move to the right and give Gündoğan a hard time, the German would have enough time and space to think of a forward pass or a progressive run. Gündoğan received the ball and produced a beautiful defence-splitting pass to Mendy on the left from this situation.
Even when the City midfielders would be caged among five Everton players, the duo would find another solution to progress the play.
Rodri played the ball to Gündoğan inside the cage. In this situation, Sigurðsson did not move closer to Gündoğan, giving him time to take three to four touches. García moved up from his defensive line and gave Gündoğan a lateral passing option to progress the ball.
Everton’s struggle and City’s use of Foden
Everton constantly struggled to contain City’s attack through their left-wing. As you can see in the screenshot below, City carried out 15 positional attacks through their left-wing accumulating an xG of 0.63.
Everton started with a back five but moved to a more 4-4-2 shape after a few minutes to contain KDB and Gündoğan since they were easily breaking out of the cage.
However, it led to 2 vs 1 overload for Coleman. Rather, Mendy was completely free on the left side since Foden pinned Coleman in marking him.
City used this opportunity to play long ball to Mendy. Pep utilised the vision of the make-shift centre-backs to the maximum extent. Fernandinho played eight long balls and Rodri played seven long balls.
Sensing the overload created by the City players on the left, Ancelotti immediately reverted back to five-man defence. However, Everton started the second half with a 4-4-2 formation, with Sidibé playing as a right-winger.
Though Ancelotti substituted Coleman, it was Sidibé who was having trouble in dealing with Mendy throughout. He looked clueless when played in a back five. He was in two minds whether to maintain the shape or move up to mark Mendy.
It created several chances for City in the first half, with pseudo-Foden effect.
Foden and Mahrez utilised the half-space between the wing-backs and centre-backs. Both the players made movements to confuse the Everton players. However, it was Foden who caused the maximum damage. His movement confused both Coleman and Sidibé on occasions. He would often drop deep to create space for Mendy to overlap or just make a slight adjustment in his positioning to confuse both the Everton players.
This situation is in continuation to when Gündoğan sneaked out of the cage. Foden initially positioned himself exactly in between Sidibé and Coleman. When Gündoğan received the ball from Fernandinho, Foden moved a bit deeper to use him to bounce pass. Coleman signalled Sidibé to move closer to Foden, as you can see in the image. In the meantime, he lost track of Mendy making a run. Gündoğan played a defence-splitting pass to Mendy and Everton’s defence was easily rattled by Foden’s movement.
Manchester City play a lot of bounce passes to draw the opposition markers out of their position. Bounce pass means playing a one-two with the nearest players to draw the opposition marker closer. It makes them leave their usual position, where they would be preventing the passing lane to a forward player.
Both Foden and Mahrez dropped deep on occasions to use them for bounce passes. However, it was Foden who impacted the game the most.
This screenshot below vividly depicts what Pep wanted from his pseudo-wingers throughout the match.
Foden dropped deeper to receive a pass from García. He played a first time ball to Gündoğan in the middle third but most importantly what it did was drew out both Sidibé and Coleman from their positions. Mendy was completely free on the left, marked by no one and made a bursting run forward. Gündoğan played the ball to the Frenchman’s path to create a 3 vs 3 situation.
Pep outplayed and outsmarted Ancelotti at every move. Whatever Ancelotti tried was proven to be insufficient for his team. Whether it was 5-3-2 or a narrow or stretched 4-4-2, Pep always had the upper hand.
When it was 5-3-2, City used more long balls and the wide centre-backs. When it was a narrow 4-4-2, Pep used bursting runs of Mendy and Cancelo and bounce passes. When it was a stretched 4-4-2, Pep extensively used the midfield duo to play through the middle.
Though Everton pulled a goal back in the second half, Pep completely outplayed Ancelotti at every aspect of the game.
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