Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City's solution to restore fluidity against Real Madrid

May 20, 2023 — Pep Guardiola made a subtle but effective change to improve Manchester City’s fluidity against Real Madrid. Ruben Dias moves back to open up space, and either Rodri or John Stones must be parallel to Manuel Akanji at left-back.

The solution implemented in the second leg was simple:

  1. Always have someone close and parallel to Manuel Akanji, either Rodri or John Stones.
  2. Ruben Dias must move back when Manuel Akanji receives the ball to create space for the pass to the player parallel to Akanji.
Figure 1.1 - Ruben Dias, Manuel Akanji, and Rodri close triangle.

Rodri parallel and Ruben Dias pushed back. Both open themselves up for the pass in pockets of space.

Figure 2.1 - Ruben Dias (pushed back), Manuel Akanji (inverted), John Stones, Ilkay Gündoğan diamond.

In order to shorten the distance between Manuel Akanji and John Stones, Akanji inverts.

Shorter distances allowed for quicker connections and progress into Real Madrid’s end.

Smaller distances, easier to quickly connect short passes, to pass out and progress into Real Madrid’s half.

Figure 3.1 - Rodri is not parallel to Manuel Akanji, so Dias moves back to create space. That frees up room for a switch to Kyle Walker.

Real Madrid were not prepared structurally to pressure Manchester City but if you compare and contrast this with what we saw when City faced Fulham, it’s night and day.

The pass back to Ruben Dias was almost always the only positive option, or a forced pass wide to Jack Grealish.

Figure 4.1 - (30 April 2023 against Fulham) Akanji takes his first touch with his left foot to switch the ball to his right foot.

Manuel Akanji now had more options to connect play, with more comfortable angles to pass and receive the ball:

The lateral pass to Rodri or Stones, and the back pass to Ruben Dias. Two options.

Manuel Akanji inverting opens the pass out to Jack Grealish on the wing. A third option.

If Manchester City could manipulate Real Madrid’s press by staggering players, it would open up space for Kyle Walker to be free on the far side. A fourth option.

And so on. More options, less problems.

Figure 3.2 - Rodri stops his run to allow the space to remain open for the switch from Manuel Akanji to Kyle Walker.

When a player wasn’t parallel, Ruben Dias would quickly move back to draw defenders away from the open space, preventing the lateral pass or switch from being blocked.

Figure 5.1 - Ruben Dias passes to Manuel Akanji. Rodri is parallel to Akanji, and Ilkay Gündoğan completes the diamond.
Figure 5.2 - After passing the ball, Ruben Dias moves back to create space for the pass from Manuel Akanji to Rodri.

Pass and move. Ruben Dias played the most crucial role, and it was an easy role. Pass to Manuel Akanji, move back to open the room.

Figure 6.1 - Ruben Dias (moved back), Manuel Akanji (inverted), and Rodri (parallel) triangle.

After the first leg, Pep Guardiola mentioned that Manchester City needed to improve their fluidity:

“We try to adjust something for the second leg to be a bit more fluid, play with a bit more rhythm.”

And then in the second leg pre-match press conference:

“I have an idea to do something differently, just to be more fluid in attack.”

Fluidity was restored and their passing flowed like water. It’s tweaks like this that won Manchester City a spot in the Champions League Final.

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