Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City don't take risks when they defend

Manchester doesn’t take the risk of attempting a tackle. They put their trust in their ability to shepherd their opponent into an area where they can intercept the ball, or force a difficult shot that they can attempt to block.

Figure 1.1 - Buildup Pass Completion of Premier League teams comparing their opponent's buildup completion percentage to their buildup completion percentage. Visual made by markrstats

They don’t lunge at passes. They don’t slide into tackles. If they do it’s either a mistake or a calculated risk worth taking because they have a numerical advantage. But more often than not, if you get past their counter-press, they will allow you to get a shot off.

This is a unique trait when you compare it to other teams at the top right of that visual in Figure 1.1. Forcing the opponent to make a mistake passing is not their goal. Therefore, the opponent’s pass completion percentage is higher. They want to herd the opponent into areas they can block shots from.

The quicker you attempt a low-quality shot and turnover the ball, the quicker they get possession back. Then they pass you to death.

We saw that in the match against Chelsea, but City took too many risks.

Figure 2.1 - Josko Gvardiol slides in to challenge the ball carrier.
Figure 2.2 - Chelsea is free down the wing.

This attempted tackle by Gvardiol is a risk. Gvardiol might be able to argue that that was a calculated risk because they maintained numerical superiority without him at left-back, but it was a risk.

Figure 2.3 - Manuel Akanji forces Cole Palmer inside.

Another feature of City’s defense is forcing the forward inside for the lower quality shot across the goal. If the shot goes in from there they’ll allow it, but they don’t want to give teams an easy cross.

Figure 3.1 - Chelsea advances down the right-wing.
Figure 3.2 - Josko Gvardiol misplaces his touch, it rolls off his heel, and the ball falls to Reece James.
Figure 3.3 - Reece James crosses to Raheem Sterling on the ground for the tap-in.

That attempted touch by Gvardiol was a risk. I’d chalk it down as an understandable error. It’s football, that happens. The thing to note was City allowing Chelsea to advance without any interventions into their own half. They don’t attempt a tackle.

Figure 4.1 - Raheem Sterling dribbles at Kyle Walker.
Figure 4.2
Figure 4.3 - Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, and Rodri attempt to block Raheem Sterling's shot.

Look at the concerted effort Walker makes to not attempt a tackle on Raheem Sterling. He is running away from the ball, not putting a foot in. Walker forces Sterling inside, then when he goes to shoot the ball Dias, Rodri, and Walker collapse to block the shot.

Figure 5.1 - Raheem Sterling nutmegs Jérémy Doku.

This attempted tackle from Doku is a risk. Once Sterling gets by Doku, then City has to shift resources away from other forwards to mark Sterling. This attempted tackle led to a Nicolas Jackson shot at the top of the box.

Figure 6.1 - Cole Palmer dribbles at Manchester City's back-line.
Figure 6.2 - Manchester City tries to get in Cole Palmer's way, but they never attempt the tackle.
Figure 6.3 - Cole Palmer gets through 1v1 with Ederson.

Manchester City will position themselves to block the shot but they won’t attempt the tackle. They will leave it to Ederson to deal with 1v1, and Ederson makes a nice save to deny Palmer. Putting a foot in to stop him from advancing into the box is a risk because they risk gifting them a penalty or free kick in a good position.

Figure 7.1 - Ruben Dias slides into Armando Broja, in the penalty box.
Figure 7.2 - Ruben Dias takes out Armando Broja's leg.

This is a risk from Ruben Dias, to slide into Armando Broja in the 90th minute, gifting Chelsea the equalizing goal from a penalty kick.

Those unnecessary risks cost Manchester City three points.

Match: Chelsea 4-4 Manchester City, November 12, 2023

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