Blog by Ross Eaton (@boxtoboxcb):
Scoring the joint most goals in the Premier League this season as well as racking up an average of two goals per game in the Champions League group stage is Manchester City. When a team has such a good goalscoring record, you would imagine they'd be flying in all competitions, however this hasn't been the case. City have a poor defensive record and rely too heavily on their ability to score more goals than the opposition, rather than preventing the opposition scoring. The Citizens have been exciting to watch in the final third and with players such as Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Agüero this doesn't come as a surprise. This article will be taking a look at the fashion in which City attacked against Dynamo Kiev in the the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Manuel Pellegrini changed the roles certain personnel played in, unexpectedly. Yaya Toure was moved from the number 10 role to a deeper role alongside Fernando in the double-pivot. David Silva took up his preferred 10 position which vacated the right-wing, Fernandinho took this position, perhaps to add more aggression and defensive ability to City's high-press. Raheem Sterling played on the left while Sergio Agüero was striker.
Finding Space in Between the Lines
One player who excels when given, or finding space in between the lines is David Silva. Mistakenly, this is the player Dynamo Kiev gave space to in between the lines.
Kiev's disjointed press led to poor vertical compactness during City's build-up which centre-back Vincent Kompany took full advantage of by breaking Kiev's lines with a penetrating pass to Silva who got himself into intelligent positions where lanes were open. This often meant drifting from the centre into either halfspace, more often the right, but this wasn't too big a problem as it allowed him to dribble into the centre which could drag Kiev players from their position, potentially providing him with an opportunity to slip Aguero through.
Despite Silva and Aguero linking up nicely when the Spaniard found space in between the lines, not everything was so positive and well worked. Due to Fernandinho not being a natural right-winger, he didn't have the attacking intelligence a natural forward would have. This meant he struggled at times to make intelligent runs forward which Silva would be able to find when he had the space. Due to this, Silva was often forced to play down the left to either Sterling or Clichy, who made forward runs more frequently. After a while though, this became predictable and Dynamo made sure to track all of Sterling and Clichy's forward runs, as this could significantly limit the influence of Silva when on the ball in Zone 14 (regarding Zone 14: http://leochanperformanceanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/what-is-zone-14-in-football.html?m=1). Due to the right side being relatively ineffective in attack and Kiev suffocating their left side in the final third, this forced Silva to play more horizontal and backward passes than he would've liked to.
Interchanging and Flexibility
With the tactically innovative and flexible Pep Guardiola planning to join the club next season, we can expect City to be extremely fluid in attack. However, we are not being made to wait as current boss Manuel Pellegrini seems happy to watch his forwards move fluidly into almost whichever area they see as the best in their current situation.
One player who largely influenced the movement of the players around him was David Silva. Silva's drifting movements into the halfspaces and sometimes even wings opened up lots of space for his teammates on central positions. When Silva moved into a wing or halfspace, the winger from that side would usually move infield and push up alongside Aguero to attack the box, if the winger decided to remain on the wing to create a 3v2, this meant there was space for Yaya to make runs from deep into the 10 space, an area he is so dangerous in.
'This shows Silva moving wide to attempt to create an overload, as well as opening the 10 space for Yaya Toure to move into from deep'
The movement of the winger moving infield not only got themselves in a dangerous position but also opened more space for Silva and an overlapping full-back to overload the wing. Silva was very useful in these situations, where City overloaded a wing/halfspace, as his good decision making and precise passing made life a nightmare for Dynamo's full-back and eventually wingers, who were forced to track back and support their respective full-backs. This limited the attacking threat of Dynamo on the counter-attack as Yarmolenko wasn't able to move into an attacking position quickly enough in the transition from defending deep.
Fernandinho Moves Intelligently in New Role
Making the switch from playing as a standard 6 to playing as a right-winger isn't one many players have done, even less so successfully. Fernandinho though, made the switch against Dynamo Kyiv and played a very good game. Although he was put into the role primarily to aid City without the ball, adding some much needed aggression and intelligence to their high-pressing, Fernandinho actually did very well when on the ball.
Rather than attempt to beat his opponent with a skilful dribble or even with raw pace, Fernandinho played cleverly and made lots of simple horizontal passes and movements, to create space and opportunities for more creative players in the team.
One simple movement with the ball from the Brazilian was to receive the ball very wide, which dragged the full-back near the touchline away from the centre and then to accelerate quickly infield when the full-back was still on the back foot. This made up for his lack of pace as by moving at the correct moment he could get past him as it would be almost impossible for the full-back to make a change of direction so quickly. As Fernandinho dribbled inside towards the halfspace, the full-back was forced to chase his shadow, which opened a lot of space on the wing. This was perfect for an overlapping Bacary Sagna if the ball got moved out to him. The way the ball was moved out to him was simple, yet very effective. Fernandinho would play a short horizontal pass to Silva or Toure who would then attempt to play a first-time diagonal pass in between the centre-back and full-back, into the space opened up by Fernandinho on the wing. This provided Sagna with plenty of time and space to cross or cut the back back in or around the box.
All in all it was a much improved Manchester City performance who were very good in both phases of the game, attack and defence. Despite Man City creating quite a few of their chances through high-pressing, they were very good with the ball and used it more effectively than we've seen them previously. The one-two between the #10 and full-back we've seen lots by City this seen wasn't seen so much against Dynamo Kyiv, however, Fernandinho's movements inside which created space for Sagna made this unnecessary. The fluidity of City's movement caused Dynamo serious problems throughout, and even forced them into a 30th minute tactical substitution to prevent City finding so much space when attacking.