Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City's aggressive press to stop Kulusevski and Udogie

Manchester City targeted two Tottenham players out-of-possession: Dejan Kulusevski and Destiny Udogie. Their entire defensive structure was built around pressuring those two players and taking them out of the game.

City played more conservatively than I thought they would, and the key as to why is Bernardo Silva. He is the facilitator that allows the defenders to move up the field out-of-possession. His position dictates how they play, which sides of the pitch they can move defenders to.

Figure 1.1 - Bernardo Silva drops to the space to the right of Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji inverts into the double pivot.

To start a game against a team like Tottenham who try to create chaos, Manchester City try to absorb that pressure by making their back-line spread out. By adding Bernardo Silva to the back-line in the build-up, having him drop, they take the sting out of Tottenham’s counter-press.

That allows them to maintain their overload versus Tottenham’s initial press while Manuel Akanji inverts into the double pivot from left center-back.

Figure 2.1 - A normal Manchester City counter-press with Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden pressuring, but Manuel Akanji is quite high up the pitch to mark.
Figure 2.2 - Continued counter-pressure with Manuel Akanji staying high to mark Dejan Kulusevski.

Manchester City identified that Tottenham’s left side was the dangerous side. Bernardo Silva is the lead in the counter-press with Phil Foden helping to double-team the ball carrier. Try to force Destiny Udogie to get rid of the ball quickly.

Rodri doesn’t move that much as a 6, that’s normal; he always does that. This is the weird portion; Manuel Akanji moved all the way to the right side of the pitch to help overload Tottenham’s left side and man-mark Dejan Kulusevski. That was an aggressive move but it worked. The aim is to stop Udogie and Kulusevski. Tottenham had trouble coping with the limited space on-the-ball.

Figure 3.1 - Bernardo Silva pressuring Destiny Udogie with Kyle Walker aggressive, and Phil Foden covers for Walker.
Figure 3.2 - Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji switch sides so that Akanji can help overload the ball-side and mark Dejan Kulusevski or Destiny Udogie.

Another weird movement out-of-possession. Manuel Akanji is at left center-back; the ball goes out of play, Akanji switches sides with Dias so that he can again, overload Tottenham’s left side.

Figure 4.1 - Ruben Dias aggressively challenges Dejan Kulusevski after a corner kick, and Bernardo Silva covers for Dias.

Bernardo Silva is the cover on the right side. If a center-back goes forward to challenge the ball carrier, Silva will move back to cover for them. And Manchester City were uncharacteristically aggressive. They normally don’t take risks like this to put this much pressure on the carrier.

Figure 5.1 - Ruben Dias aggressively pressures Dejan Kulusevski, and Jérémy Doku covers for Dias.
Figure 5.2 - Dejan Kulusevski is forced to pass back quickly.

Jérémy Doku was the cover on the left side. It’s not really Julian Alvarez’s game to be tracking back to cover for a center-back. Normally, Jack Grealish helps the left-back from left-wing, so this isn’t surprising that Doku fills that same role. The goal is to herd Tottenham from the right to the left.

Figure 6.1 - Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden double-team the ball carrier and Manuel Akanji moves over to mark Destiny Udogie.

Then when they herd you to the left, they squeeze you. Again, Manuel Akanji moves over to mark Destiny Udogie.

Figure 7.1 - Kyle Walker aggressively pressures the ball carrier and Bernardo Silva covers for him, marking Dejan Kulusevski.

Bernardo Silva is so good at being aware as to when to cover for the center-backs.

It’s uncharacteristic and rare to see Manchester City pressure an opponent this hard. It shows how much respect they had for Tottenham’s attack that they didn’t want to allow them to have any time on the ball.

The problem in the second half was that the organization and intensity of Manchester City’s out-of-possession pressure wasn’t there like it was in the first half. Tottenham didn’t need to change anything; they were afforded time and space on-the-ball.

Figure 8.1 - Dejan Kulusevski's header in the 90th minute equalizer.

Dejan Kulusevski was made quiet in the first half, but he doesn’t need many touches on-the-ball to impact a match. Allow him to get into the game and Tottenham will eventually score, and they did in the 90th minute.

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