Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Manchester City's +1 with Alvarez, Foden, Grealish, and Lewis

Manchester City’s two best performances of the season came in the past two matches, in a 3-4-3 diamond, with Julian Alvarez up top, Phil Foden behind as the 10, and two controllers in the half-space.

Rodri on Phil Foden:

“He’s been playing in two sides of the wingers, in-between the lines, as a false 9. I think as a player he can play anywhere.

I think he’s the best player we have in between the lines turning and facing the goal.”

Figure 1.1 - Ball is passed to Phil Foden as Jack Grealish begins his run into the pocket.
Figure 2.2 - Phil Foden turns and passes to Jack Grealish.
Figure 2.3 - Jack Grealish scores.

We saw that quality from Foden to turn and face the net in the first goal. Jack Grealish looks much better in the left half-space, free to move with space open central. He can never access that space on the touchline. He’s finally contributing goals because he can drift into the pockets towards the center of the penalty box.

The problem is that when Erling Haaland is on the pitch, you need Julian Alvarez as the 10 to open space for the left and right center-midfielder, as I discussed here. Therefore, Foden has to play somewhere else.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of the movement within this 3-4-3 diamond formation when they pinned Crystal Palace back.

Without Haaland in the lineup, now Alvarez can play up top and Foden can play as the 10 at the tip of the diamond. Even though Haaland has improved dramatically on-the-ball compared to his first season last year, Alvarez is a better player between the lines in comparison.

Erling Haaland would normally be a passenger, watching at the top, pinning the two center-backs. With Alvarez up top, he will still move to create space for others, but now he acts as a +1.

Instead of having only three players moving, Alvarez and the two center-midfielders, manipulating the opponent’s second line, now four are constantly moving.

Figure 3.1 - Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden, Rico Lewis switch position as Jack Grealish is passed the ball.

Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden, Rico Lewis, and Jack Grealish are constantly looking to change position to drag their defender. That then creates space between the lines for a midfielder, like Grealish, to carry into.

Figure 3.2 - Julian Alvarez makes a dummy run forward to open the space forward for Jack Grealish.
Figure 3.3 - Jack Grealish passes to Phil Foden, while Rodri makes a run forward.

That dummy run from Alvarez opens the space for Grealish to carry. Then Rodri makes his usual run forward to overload the two center-backs. Split that diamond in half, and it’s now a triangle between Lewis, Foden, and Rodri.

Figure 3.4 - Phil Foden chips the ball forward to Rico Lewis and Rodri.
Figure 3.5 - Rodri helps it down to Rico Lewis. Lewis slots it home on the volley for the goal.

It’s the fact that all four can receive the ball between the lines that makes the difference. They are all a threat on the turn. Haaland is not a threat on the turn, so defenders won’t need to follow him to stay tight to him when he drops deep like Alvarez did. When the defenders don’t follow him, there’s less space between the lines.

I could see Manchester City resting Haaland the next time they play against a team like Crystal Palace because of how well this works to break down a compact low-back. That +1 makes it so much easier.

Match: Manchester City 2-2 Crystal Palace, 16 December 2023

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