Manchester City won their third consecutive Premier league match at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, playing against a resilient but markedly weakened West Ham United side ,who had some of their key players sidelined by injuries. Sunday’s victory saw City leap-frog over Manchester United and Chelsea who had temporarily displaced them from the summit of the league table by winning their own third matches earlier on Saturday. For the teeming admirers of Pep Guardiola football philosophy, it was another chance to see how his City’s players executed the passing game that is now the signature style of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.
The thrilling encounter between the two teams showed how Guardiola’s tactical approach to the game successfully smothered the attacking play of West Ham, that is usually anchored on the effective use of wingers and a preference for the use long balls .
City employed a 4-1-3-3 formation, with Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy playing the right and the left back positions. In between the two full backs were Nicholas Otamendi on the left and John Stones on the right hand side.Fernandinho was stationed at the holding mid-fielder position, while David Silva operated on the left hand side of the advance mid-field role and Kevin DeBrunye performed a similar role at the corresponding position on the right. Sergio Aguero occupied the striker’s position, flanked by on the right by Raheem Sterling and on the left by Nolito .
City’s successfully breached the five man West Ham backline, manned by Antonio, Collins, Reid, Ogbonna and Masuake, on several occasions by moves initiated by either David Silva or the pacy Kevin DeBruyne from their respective positions in the areas just outside West Ham eighteen yard box. The duo used their pace, trickery and guile to trouble West Ham defenders. What made the two mid-fielders very difficult to contain was the ease with which both of them inter-switched positions. Silva exchange of passes with Nolito up front and Gael Clichy behind him form a constantly moving, a constantly expanding and a constantly contracting triangular areas for launching attack into West Ham goal mouth area. The same description captures the identical exchange of passes between DeBruyne, Sterling and Pablo Zabaleta, who was constantly popping up the field to support Fernandinho in his holding mid-field role.
David Silva was more successful than DeBruyne in the almost identical roles they played in the mid-field.So it is appropriate to use Silva to describe how both mid-fielders went about their business of unlocking the tightly knitted West Ham backline.
Whenever Silva received a pass from a team mate, he would break into a run and in the process drag one or more West Ham players out of their position; he would continue to twist and turn till he found a space to give a weighted pass to either Aguero at the centre or Nioito at the left flank.Debruyne made similar moves from the right hand side of the mid-field with less success. This explains why Sterling was less effective than Nolito from the right flank and why Aguero found it hard to penetrate West Ham backline from the right side of their eighteen yard box.
Little wonder two of city’s three goals against West Ham came from the quick exchange of passes between Nolito and Silva for Raheem Sterling’s first goal and a similar exchange of passes between Silva and Raheem sterling for Sterling’s third goal. Sergio Aguero also had few passes fed to him from the mid-field position but he was unable to convert them to goals. His replacement, Samir Nasri was a beneficiary of some incisive passes coming from mid-field position as the game headed toward it completion,though he was unlucky not to have converted one glaring one.
City’s play from the midfield play was so dominant that West Ham’s attacking play came from the highly energetic solo runs from Mikial Antonio. West Ham mid-field trio of Tour, Noble and Cheikhou Kayoute, spend all the afternoon working strenuously to check the attacking play of City that involved all their players playing as a unit. The consequence of their failure to win the battle of the mid-field was that they were unable to thread passes to their two front men – Enner Valencia and Fletcher. The few balls that were punted to the two West Ham strikers were comfortably dealt with by City players.
Another prominent feature of how City played against West Ham was the speed with which their players fought to retrieve the ball once they lost possession. This collective defending lessened the burden of the defensive duties that are normally placed on the shoulders of the defenders. What was also apparent in that game was that twenty five percent of City defending was achieved by their ability to retain possession of the ball of a very long space of time. This was achieved by the precision of their passes to one another.
what was also noticeable was that however the City back four played, they always managed to maintain a horizontal formation while passing the ball amongst themselves, perhaps they did this as a trick to goad West Ham strikers into the off side position.
The only weakness of the tactical formation Guardiola used against West Ham was that the back four showed they can easy be easily bullied by strikers with brawn and aerial prowess,as shown in the goal Antonio scored.
It is left to be seen how City would fare against teams that would not easily be dominated in the mid-field play or a teams that can also play a possession football that is similar to theirs.