Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City pass their final test

June 11, 2023 — Manchester City passed all seven challenges I set out before the match yesterday to beat Inter in the Champions League Final.

Inter are Brentford on steroids June 10, 2023 — Inter is my favorite to win the Champions League Final if Manchester City fails to tackle these seven challenges.

  • Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space
  • Control the middle
  • Ignore Inter’s wing-backs
  • Subdue Batman and Robin
  • Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press
  • Break Inter’s low-block out wide
  • Don’t let Inter cross

It’s fair to say, that was Manchester City’s toughest opponent this season. It wasn’t perfect, it was a tough match like we expected, but it was enough to win. I’ll recap each point with examples from this match.

Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space

Manchester City should be most proud of this. They successfully limited Bastoni’s space, making it difficult for Inter to build up from the back.

Figure 1.1 - Tactics board showing Bernardo Silva pressing Alessandro Bastoni, forcing the ball back to Andre Onana.

Bernardo Silva put in a ton of work chasing Bastoni down on every possession, curving his run to force the ball back to Andre Onana. It’s exactly what I wanted to see from Manchester City.

Andre Onana’s distribution was wayward. A lot of his passes were inaccurate, either out of bounds or several yards off the mark.

He completed only 10 of the 21 long balls he attempted, with Ruben Dias coming up big, winning 6 of 11 aerial duels for Manchester City.

Figure 2.1 - Alessandro Bastoni subbed off in the 75th minute.

Alessandro Bastoni was visibly frustrated throughout the match and was subbed off in the 75th minute. Mission accomplished. He had almost no impact on the game when Inter were in possession.

Control the middle

It’s a domino effect. Because they cut off Alessandro Bastoni, stopping both Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella is then easier.

Manchester City pounced on both of them the minute they received the ball, all throughout the pitch, but especially in the middle.

When those two looked to cross from the corners, Rodri or Ilkay Gündoğan would come out to meet them. Rodri is right there to put a leg out.

Brozovic and Barella receive the ball with their back to goal or on the turn then ‘wham!’, assertive tackle. They really zeroed in on those two.

Ignore Inter’s wing-backs

Inter’s wing-backs were ignored by Manchester City. Denzel Dumfries, Federico Dimarco, and then later Robin Gosens all hugged the touch-line for the entirety of the match.

Figure 3.1 - Manchester City's 4-2-4 shape with Bernardo Silva curving his run to pressure Alessandro Bastoni.

Bernardo Silva’s job was to pressure Bastoni, as mentioned earlier, and neither Dumfries nor Dimarco were marked.

Both are decoys in the first and second phase. They’re of no threat.

Figure 3.2 - Manchester City trap Inter on their right-side.
Figure 3.3 - Manchester City close in on Denzel Dumfries 3v2 forcing him to play long, and make a mistake, forcing the turnover.

Trap Inter in the corner and then once Dumfries is played the ball, Manchester City close him down, forcing him into a mistake, which leads to a turnover.

They repeated this same pattern throughout the match.

Subdue Batman and Robin

The domino effect continues. Because they:

  • Limited Alessandro Bastoni’s space
  • Controlled the middle
  • Ignored Inter’s wing-backs

Subduing Romelu Lukaku, Edin Dzeko, and Lautaro Martinez was a simple task. They hardly had time to get a foothold in the match.

Lautaro Martinez, in particular, was a target for Ilkay Gündoğan. The second Martinez touched the ball, his legs were taken out.

Each possession, the ball was pumped up to them, and quickly won back by Manchester City.

Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press

Inter were neither aggressive nor passive; it was sort of in-between. They were reacting and waiting.

Figure 4.1 - Inter's man-to-man marking.

Dynamic man-marking gave the illusion that it might be easy to play through Inter, but once Manchester City started to advance into their half or into the corners, they’d begin to contract on the ball carrier.

They were tempting Manchester City to play long and attempting to block the space central.

Break Inter’s low-block out wide

Inter did leave space wide because of their tendency to sit narrow, but Manchester City did not take advantage of this deficiency in the first half.

Figure 5.1 - Inter favor the ball side. John Stones is free on the far side in space.
Figure 5.2 - Inter leave John Stones in space.
Figure 5.3 - Inter leave Manuel Akanji, Bernardo Silva, and John Stones in space on the far side.
Figure 5.4 - Inter leave Bernardo Silva in space on the far side.

On several occasions, the opportunity to switch play to a free man was passed up by Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias, and Ilkay Gündoğan. A quick switch would have opened up space centrally.

Figure 6.1 - Inter favor the ball side, leaving space on the far side for Manuel Akanji to be played the ball.
Figure 6.2 - Manuel Akanji drives into space and plays Bernardo Silva in on goal.

Manchester City adjusted at halftime and began to use that space more efficiently in the second half.

The game’s only goal originated from this space and narrowness.

Figure 6.3 - Inter protect the goal but leave space behind them at the top of the penalty area. Bernardo Silva passes back.
Figure 6.4 - The ball falls to Rodri and he scores.

Pep Guardiola mentioned this in a post-match interview with CBS Sports:

“The first half, […] when Calhanoglu jumped to Rodri, and the space with John Stones, we didn’t find it. In the second half, it was a little bit better. We scored a goal and after we had a clear chance with Phil Foden.”

Don’t let Inter cross

In the first half, Manchester City did a good job blocking cross attempts. Ilkay Gündoğan and Rodri were the ones tasked with challenging in-swinging crosses in front of the penalty area.

Figure 7.1 - Ilkay Gündoğan and Nathan Ake close down Denzel Dumfries, not allowing him to cross the ball.

You can only do so much, though. Crosses are Inter’s main source of attack. They’re going to get one or two in, and they nearly scored from both chances.

Two big chances were stopped by Romelu Lukaku’s leg and a tremendous save from Ederson. Additionally, Ruben Dias showcased one of the best reflex headers I’ve ever seen as he cleared the ball out of play.

Figure 8.1 - Manchester City hoist the Champions League trophy.

It wasn’t easy, but Manchester City passed the final test, winning the match 1-0.

Their first Champions League title and becoming the first English club to complete the European Treble. Premier League, FA Cup, and the Champions League. Incredible.

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