Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Ruben Dias knows how to play like Rodri

There’s a case to be made for Ruben Dias to play as the 6 for Manchester City in the absence of Rodri, as he is suspended for the match today against Arsenal.

Rodri plays both simple passes and more cutting passes that dictate where play will go. His favorite pass is that switch from a half-space out to the wing.

He is a minimalist on the ball.

Rodri sees everything

May 18, 2023 — Rodri, for Manchester City against Real Madrid, shows why he is one of the world’s best holding midfielders with his ability to see the entire field and pick the right pass.

He makes minimal movements to help him read play better. He stays on his feet and jogs from open space to space. When is the last time you’ve seen Rodri attempt a sliding tackle? He knows when to force a pass and when to pause. He’s never rushed and is confident. His back is straight, and you can sense he knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball when he gets it.

Figure 1.1 - Rodri fakes the pass and turns, anticipating that conflict. He then passes out to Bernardo Silva.

When Manchester City played Wolves, the only player that stepped up, out of the shadows, and displayed these same traits was center-back Ruben Dias.

Mateo Kovacic and Mathues Nunes are players that should be playing in the half-spaces. They run at defenses. They don’t have that same vision to know when to switch out to shift a defense.

They understand how to go forward. They always want to rush things, and they’re often too direct. They don’t have the full grasp on what Pep Guardiola refers to as “understanding the game as a whole.”

Pep Guardiola on Phil Foden, and indirectly on Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes:

“When Phil plays on the right-winger, I can do it. In the beginning, when he played left-wing, he played well, but now, lately, not so good. In the middle, he can play on the right, left, in the pockets, no problem.”

What I would like, in the end, is that he plays as a holding midfielder, like the two holding midfielders that play there too [Kovacic and Nunes]. For that, he needs to understand the game as a whole, in everything, not just ‘me.’

But at the same time, have this instinct, like natural, like the big talent, in the final third; I’m not going to stop him. I’m not going to say, ‘don’t do that.’ Because he’s unique. When he was 16 years old, when he was 17, when he was 18, but as much as he grows, I have to add something to his game because it will be better for him in the future. Hopefully, since the time we were together, we can help him.”

Kalvin Phillips came on in the second half and attempted to play like Rodri, but he has no confidence. He had minimal minutes last season and this season. He looks like he’s afraid to make a mistake. Cole Palmer looked the same at times when he came on last season. Timid and worried that he’d be the reason the team lost possession.

The only way to fix this is to play them, but Foden, Kovacic, and Nunes need time to understand how to play deeper, and Phillips needs time to get his sea legs back.

Figure 2.1 - Ruben Dias lofts a pass to Jack Grealish, who is on the wing.

Ruben Dias stepped forward, and when he got the ball, he knew when and where it had to be to help open Wolves up. He knew when to rush and when to pause. Sure, he’s stiffer and not as coordinated as Rodri, but he has sat behind him so much that he knows what is required. He conducted the play behind Phillips in the second half of that Wolves match.

Akanji is also another candidate. He has featured in a double pivot with Rodri, most recently against RB Leipzig mid-week. Nathan Ake has been used inside a couple times this season. John Stones is injured; he won’t be available.

Bernardo Silva moves behind Akanji opening space in the half-space

April 7, 2023 — Arsenal’s man-to-man press led by Martin Ødegaard, Kai Havertz, and Declan Rice did very well to neutralize Manchester City in the first half, but City made key adjustments in the second half to disrupt and penetrate through the press.

Figure 3.1 - Illustration of the change in structure in the second half at the 64th-minute mark of the Community Shield against Arsenal.
Figure 4.1 - Illustration of a proposed lineup for today's match against Arsenal.

Knowing what we know from the Community Shield between Arsenal and Manchester City, Bernardo Silva’s role in the first phase was quite important. For that reason, I think they look to replicate it in today’s match.

I’d love to see a back-line of Nathan Ake at left-back to shut down Bukayo Saka, Josko Gvardiol as the center center-back, and Manuel Akanji at right center-back. Then Kyle Walker can push forward to right-wing.

Figure 4.2 - Illustration of the switch from a back-three to a back-four.

They can shift from this back-three to a back-four easily. Manuel Akanji could be switched with Ruben Dias. This being the ‘good luck, you’re not scoring’ formation and selection of players.

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