Why are City struggling at the back?

By Matt Allen@MattAllen001

In this piece I will discuss some of the defensive issues that Man City have been having this season. Pep Guardiola has already written his team out of the title race this season and this comes after a patch of poor form culminating most recently with a 4-0 loss at Everton. There are several reasons that city’s defensive form have been poor this season which I will outline below.

Speed

Both center backs lack pace and are often caught out when facing opposition that play either route one football or with faster strikers. When City have the ball in their attacking phase the center backs push up into higher positions up the pitch with full backs tucked into the inverted center midfield positions or up to support the wide attacking midfielders. This becomes an issue when City get dispossessed and a counter attack forms. They then get caught when the ball gets played over the top of the center backs for the opposition attackers to run on to. All three goals they conceded against Chelsea came in this way. The diagram below illustrates how the assist for all three of Chelsea’s goals originated from their own half. They obviously knew that they could exploit the lack of pace across the back three played against them, and did so effectively.

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Neither Stones nor Otamendi could cope with the pace of Hazard, Willian and Costa which meant that every time they were through one on one with Bravo, there was only going to be one winner. Against Everton, Mirallas caught out their lack of pace perfectly when he made a blindside run on Yaya Toure to get on the end of a Davies pass to assist Lukaku.

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The GIF above shows how Costa played Willian through to get their second of the match against City. One pass and a short dribble later and City’s lack of speed had been exposed.

Few Shots, Good Chances

City would statistically appear to be quite defensively effective at stopping the opposition from getting good opportunities to have a shot at goal. As of last week they were second in the table in shots faced at an average of 8.3 per game. Yet they’re 9th in goals conceded, their ability to stop the opposition scoring hasn’t translated into conceding less. One reason for this may be that the shots they do concede come from good positions. One example of this was in the Everton game where 83% of shots they faced came from inside their own penalty area. In the Leicester game where they conceded 4 again they faced 73% of shots from within their own penalty area and against Chelsea it was 70%. Against weaker opposition they face less shots within their own penalty area, and so Claudio Bravo is less exposed. Often it is the quality of the chances they concede, not the quantity which makes the difference as was outlined on Saturday evening where they vastly outplayed Spurs but still gave away two good chances, that was all they needed.

Pressure Off the Ball

Without the ball they’re far too relaxed and give their opposition too much time to plot moves around them. For Everton’s first goal in their 4-0 thrashing it stemmed from a poor vertical ball up to Kevin de Bruyne, it was clear that neither him nor Silva were going to receive the ball, but neither put Davies under any pressure when tracking back. This time and space made it too easy for him to slide in Mirallas. The most effective defending teams involve all 11 men getting stuck in, but often the case is that the attacking team can overwhelm City.

davies-eve-cityThe photo above shows the run that was made by Davies prior to their first goal. Silva and de Bruyne were in the perfect position to press for the ball back, yet they didn’t and it was one of the prime factors in the goal. It’s also noticeable that Stones doesn’t know whether to come out and press Davies or get back into a more defensive position and this results in him contributing nothing to the defence. This is partly to do with age and not having the experience to decide whether to drop back or close a player down.

So how would I change things?

One of the fundamental issues with the defence is the lack of pressure off the ball in their third of the pitch. A pressing strategy for the back four should be a priority as it would reduce the time and space opposition players have to either find a pass or shot on goal. By reducing this time on the ball the amount of shots faced from key positions would drop and this would lead to fewer goals conceded.

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The introduction of a holding midfielder would allow them to be much more secure in both attack and defense. The GIF above shows how they would begin with a shielding midfielder in front of the back four which would drop back just in front when attacking to add security when the full backs push up the pitch. Then should they lose the ball they can drop back to form a back five formation, where the holding midfielder can act as the center piece of the press.

It would appear that there are some pretty serious issues, but I’m pretty confident that over the remainder of the season Pep will begin to iron out the issues he’s yet to deal with and City will become a greater force to contend with.

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