In this round of Premier League, 2019/20 fixtures Aston Villa took on Manchester City. The reigning champions illustrated just how ruthless they can be with a 6-1 win. This tactical analysis will break down how Pep Guardiola’s tactics caused so much trouble for Villa. It will also look at how Dean Smith tactically got it wrong in this fixture.
Manchester City came into this game in good form with four wins in a row in all competitions. The latest being a 3-1 win over rivals Manchester United in the Semi-finals of the EFL Cup. This sort of form made it no surprise that City were able to dismantle Aston Villa in the way they did. This analysis will cover how Manchester City exposed the gaps left by Villa.
Due to Injures Dean Smith had been forced to make tactical changes in recent weeks. However, for this game, he had his new signing Danny Drinkwater. With this added defensive cover in mind, Villa opted for a 5-3-2 formation. The idea of this system was they could have eight men behind the ball to try and limit the space for Manchester City. Then with two wing-backs, they would have wide options to play out from the back. The three in the middle also meant they were matching the three that their visitors had which in theory should have made it more difficult for Manchester City to play through them.
As Pep often likes to do he made changes to the front three with both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus making a rare start together. This offered a different type of threat as it meant Riyad Mahrez was the only natural winger. Pep chose this system as he would be aware that Villa would try and make it compact in the middle, meaning there would be little opportunities for Wingers to run at the defence. The two strikers like to operate in a similar way which on this occasion benefits Manchester City as with both in the side one would drop deep looking for the ball leaving space for the other to move into. This type of fluidity made it difficult for Villa to keep up with Manchester City’s front men.
From the outset, it was clear how both teams wanted to approach the game. As Villa looked to try and control the space in their half. They wanted to do this as the three in the middle would stretch themselves across the pitch to cover as much space as possible. The front two of Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi would then fill in the gap in front of the front three forming defensive triangles.
This strategy was designed to make it difficult for Manchester City to get through them. Aston Villa tried to execute this strategy by pushing their midfield up close to the halfway line. The tactic was designed to try and force Manchester City to play around the side and down the line. The image shows how Villa wanted to provide a defensive block that would force their opponents to go wide. When they did manage to do this the midfield was then poor at covering the ball back inside.
Manchester City breakthrough
It only took the away side eighteen minutes to open the scoring. After that, it really could have been as many as Manchester City wanted it to be. This is due to how easy Agüero was able to find space. The City striker was unplayable at times in this match as his movement made it extremely difficult for Villa to pick him up. For large parts of the game, Agüero drifted slowly around the backline and would often have a man near him. The Argentine only had 51 touches which was 26 less than any other starting outfield Manchester City player. However, his awareness as to when to get involved meant it was no surprise he went home with the match ball.
Agüero’s performance meant that he now is the all-time leading non-British Premier league striker with 177 goals. He is also now the all-time record holder for the number of Premier League hat-tricks with 12. The example below shows he was able to drift in between the defence and the midfield making the defence question what they should do. In this example, he can find space in the middle and has the awareness to quickly move the ball out wide to Mahrez. Because his movement has made him available for the pass it takes the midfielders out of the game. This force Drinkwater to commit to a tackle on Mahrez allowing him inside for a shot that makes it 1-0.
Agüero continues to threaten
Manchester City quickly doubled their advantage six minutes later from a defensive error from Drinkwater. This example shows the striker making a curved run into space to be a passing option. This run takes him away from Douglas Luiz. As he has found himself in space it gives him time on the ball to run at the backline who back off. This gives him the chance to shoot making it 3-0.
Agüero did prove to be too good for Aston Villa to handle in this game. The striker was able to win 57% of ground duels (8/14). The striker had 7 shots on goal and also provided two key passes during the game. Credit also has to go to Pep as tacitly he has the team set up so they can find Agüero in positions where he can be most effective.
Aston Villa’s Poor defensive shape
Earlier the tactical analysis showed how Aston Villa was trying to set up. Nevertheless, it has become evident that Dean Smith got his tactics wrong. As mentioned the idea of the system was to make it difficult for Manchester City to play through the middle. Agüero’s movement did cause a lot of problems but the way Aston Villa were set up made it easier for him to do so. This was because the gap between the defence and midfield was too big. When playing with three at the back the wing-backs are often pushed higher up the pitch so the formation transitions from a 5-3-2 to a 3-5-2, this is okay when the midfield can link up with the defence. Nevertheless, as the midfield wanted to be close to their midfield opposition it meant there was space for City to play in.
This can be shown by the two teams passing maps. Notice how Aston Villa’s is spread out as the three centre-backs are in the defensive third and are away from the midfield. Manchester City, on the other hand, is very compact besides Agüero who is in the space behind the Aston Villa midfield. This also shows the teams passing patterns and therefore illustrates how difficult Villa found playing out. This is because the most frequent passes are around the back three. For the away side it shows how key Rodri is as he made 101 passes in 111 touches with 95% accuracy. His central position enabled Manchester City to constantly move Aston Villa about.
Rampant Manchester City
Throughout the game, it has been evident that tactically Pep has got it spot on today and the gulf in class was beginning to show. The set up for Villa was not working however the communication across the back was still poor. When playing with a back three, the defenders need to know when to commit and when to drop back and, at times, Aston Villa were particularly poor at this.
The fifth goal illustrators this perfectly as the backline is in a reasonable set up as they have men back to defend. The problem was that between the backline they did not communicate who should go to the ball. This allowed David Silva to drive into space and play the through ball to Agüero who was able to finish the move off to put his side 5-0 up. The sixth goal summed up Aston Villa’s performance as it was awful from Kortney Hause to Mahrez. This left Agüero one vs one against Ørjan Nyland and unsurprisingly he made it 6-0. Aston Villa was able to get a last-minute penalty to give the fans something to cheer.
To conclude this tactical analysis it is clear that not only did Pep tactically have it right in this game but there was a big difference in quality. Manchester City can take confidence from this to keep their form going ready for their Champions League game and the next leg of the EFL Cup Semi-final. Pep will be disappointed to have conceded at the end as it is only one clean sheet in the last six.
As for Aston Villa, the defeat was not the only disappointment from the day, they will also feel disappointed about how little they offered. Dean Smith’s side is currently in the relegation zone and the big defeat did no favours to their goal difference. They will need to improve with big games coming up against Brighton and Watford coming up