Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics


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Manchester City's constant triangles

September 20, 2023 — Constant triangles. The full-back pushes forward, and Manchester City forms a 3-4-3 diamond in possession. It was the most enjoyable match of theirs that I have ever watched.

Figure 1.1 - Manchester City's 3-4-3 diamond
Figure 1.2 - An illustration of Manchester City's 3-4-3 diamond in the first and second half

In the first half, Sergio Gomez pushed forward to the left-wing, allowing Phil Foden to move inside into the left half-space. Matheus Nunes occupied the right half-space, and Julian Alvarez operated at the tip of the diamond.

The full-back pushes forward, but they can easily fall back to form a back-four rather than a back-three.

Both Gomez and Bernardo Silva kept the width on the wings while the four midfielders centrally entered the merry-go-round.

Bernardo Silva came off injured, and the electric Jérémy Doku filled his place at right-wing.

In the second half, Sergio Gomez came off for Manuel Akanji, allowing Kyle Walker to push forward to the right-wing, and Jérémy Doku switched to the left-wing. Phil Foden moved to the right, and Matheus Nunes to the left. Nunes and Doku both had great chemistry exchanging passes on the left.

The switch from a box to a diamond next season

July 6, 2023 — A box midfield is inferior to a diamond in possession, but teams have been forced to use a box last season due to a lack of sufficient profiles for a diamond. They now have the profiles and should make the switch next season.

A diamond is not rigid like the box midfield used by Man City last season.

With a box midfield, there are two players in the pivot narrow (Rodri and Stones) and two players in the half-space (Gündoğan and De Bruyne). You will never see players switch to the other side of the pitch. It’s very rigid and predictable.

A diamond is the opposite. Rodri, Foden, Nunes, and Alvarez are constantly switching position. It’s hard to even get a screenshot of the diamond, like in Figure 1.1, because they are constantly moving to get open. Fluid.

Another difference is the wingers and how they interact with the midfielder underlapping in the half-space and the defender overlapping behind.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of the difference between Manchester City's box midfield and diamond when the right-winger has the ball

Because the midfield is rigid, in a box midfield, the midfielder in the right half-space (De Bruyne), the inverted center-back (Stones), and the right outside center-back (Walker) are ready to move when the right-winger (Silva) receives the ball. They’re always there ready close to make the run because they are static.

De Bruyne will always look to underlap and make the run behind the opponent’s left-back, and Walker will overlap behind to provide a pass to the corner. This takes the responsibility off of Bernardo Silva to go 1v1 with the left-back because he’ll always have those two progressive passing options. That automation is there to fall on.

In a diamond, there’s normally no underlapping or overlapping run for Bernardo Silva because players are constantly moving, and the outside center-back has to stay back because there’s no inverted center-back to fill for him. This forces him to go 1v1 more often.

They did manage to create overlapping runs towards the end of the 1st half, but Bernardo Silva was fairly isolated on several occasions before being subbed off in the 44th minute.

This one minor drawback with the wingers can be quickly overlooked because the number of passing options each player has is a dream.

Figure 3.1
Figure 3.2
Figure 3.3
Figure 3.4

Each player has at least two passing options at all times. It is mentally and physically exhausting to defend against.

Figure 4.1 - Illustration of a rondo drill with three defenders

Think of the rondo drill everyone has practiced at some point in their life at football practice. Players pass the ball on the outside, and defenders have to try to chase and win back the ball. Imagine that drill but it’s the entire pitch. That is what FK Crvena Zvezda was up against.

Normally it’s like this where the other team is chasing City, but with a 3-4-3 diamond, each player is equidistant from the other player. The space between each player is the same distance throughout the entire pitch. Each triangle is close to the same size.

No matter where you go on the pitch, there is a triangle. Pass, immediate triangle, pass, immediate triangle, pass, immediate triangle. You can’t get that with any other formation. It’s a constant.

Figure 3.5
Figure 3.6
Figure 3.7
Figure 3.8
Figure 3.9

Those constant triangles allow Manchester City to easily maintain possession while they swiftly play through between the lines, slotting in either a midfielder in the half-space, a winger, the odd run by Kyle Walker from the back, or Erling Haaland into the box.

Figure 5.1 - Pitchplot of the entire match by Between The Posts

They very easily created tons of high-quality chances. 38 shots with 4.12 open play xG is immense. Should have finished more of those chances, but that’s football. Some days you can’t buy a goal; other days, they would have had 10.

Figure 6.1 - The positional movement when in defensive transition.

When Manchester City lost possession, because every player on the pitch is equidistant, there were fewer gaps. The center-backs remained compact, and the passing options on the counter were limited. The transition to defense is much smoother in a diamond, so you almost immediately win back possession.

Other than the one silly FK Crvena Zvezda goal from their only shot in the first half, they couldn’t connect more than one or two passes before Manchester City completely blocked off a passing lane and won back the ball.

This is dominance, and I look forward to watching more of this in the future. It was enjoyable because it was relentless. There was no let-up. Pass and move, always an option open to pass. Always room to improve but close to perfection.

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