Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Cesc Fàbregas and Manchester City’s progression to a diamond

July 5, 2023 — Cesc Fàbregas is going to be an incredible manager. He has a clear and descriptive way of translating things that happen on the pitch into simple terms.

When I hear Cesc describe what Dennis Bergkamp’s role was for Arsenal, that’s the role I expect Kai Havertz to take up. He’s not a number 9, but someone to play behind within the pockets.

The transition period he describes where Arsène Wenger began to “build the team in a different way” when Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp left; this is the transition Manchester City is in right now. They have lost Ilkay Gündoğan, and potentially Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, and Bernardo Silva. They won the treble and now they refresh. Give Oscar Bobb, Carlos Borges, James McAtee, Rico Lewis, Shea Charles, and the rest of the youth a larger part.

It is time for Pep Guardiola to try new things, with new profiles. This is why I theorized in February that Manchester City might start experimenting with the 3-4-3 diamond formation. The signing of Mateo Kovacic solidified that thinking.

Figure 1.1 - Mateo Kovacic poses for pictures, with his new #8 Manchester City jersey, after signing.

Mateo Kovacic on where he feels the most comfortable:

“Most comfortable I feel on the left side of the midfield, but in the end it’s always the manager who decides where you play. I think I am quite flexible.”

Ilkay Gündoğan plays high up the pitch in the left half-space, making runs off the shoulder of Erling Haaland. Mateo Kovacic is not that type of player. He’s more comfortable on the left, but he’d be better a bit deeper, carrying into the left half-space.

Slowly Rico Lewis and John Stones have been trialed in a more advanced right center-midfield position. Not high and not deep, but in the middle, between the central number 10, Kevin De Bruyne, and Rodri, the defensive midfielder.

They didn’t have the profiles to commit to a 3-4-3 diamond in settled play, prior to February. John Stones was still just getting used to playing in the midfield, to the right of Rodri in the double pivot. At the time, they had no confident backup to Stones for that more advanced role. Pep Guardiola made several remarks saying that he wasn’t comfortable playing Phil Foden centrally yet. It wasn’t feasible.

To ease into the change, Manchester City in their second phase play, over the past few months, began shifting from a 3-2-2-3 box midfield to a diamond when they rotated in possession. Rather than trying to play through teams with a static box, that would shift to open up better angles and create more triangles.

Then finally in the FA Cup Final against Manchester United and the Champions League Final against Inter, they debuted the 3-4-3 diamond to start, in settled play, to help break down both teams.

Figure 2.1 - Manchester City depth chart, including each player's two best positions. Gabriel Veiga included as they are linked with him.

New signing Josko Gvardiol can not only play as a center-back, he could feature in the midfield. They have the profiles now to make it work. They have the versatility to do what they want. A switch to a diamond is the natural progression.

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