Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The way Manchester City prepare for a tactical change

Every team does this, but the way Manchester City seamlessly move from one tactic to the next is down to the timing and application of the small detailed changes like moving Phil Foden inside four minutes before subbing on De Bruyne and Walker.

Figure 1.1 - Manchester City's 4-3-3 that was used in the first half and the beginning of the second half.
Figure 2.1 - Phil Foden wide right, holding width, with Matheus Nunes inside.

Phil Foden was tasked with holding width the entire match at right-wing against Everton, with Matheus Nunes in right center-midfield, inside, in the right half-space.

You only access 30% of Foden’s full capability as a player when you use him wide. He’s City’s best player between the lines, in the small spaces, receiving and quickly turning to pass.

When he’s hugging the touch-line, all he does is collect the ball and look to play it central. Can’t do that trademarked quick turn receiving.

I’d prefer Kevin De Bruyne or Matheus Nunes at right-wing and Phil Foden inside in the half-space. Let them collect and cross or switch play, allow Foden to work between the lines.

Due to the tight schedule and the need to give players like Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne rest, Foden had to play at right-wing.

Figure 3.1 - Pep Guardiola communicating a tactical change to Phil Foden during an injury break.
Figure 3.2 - Phil Foden telling Matheus Nunes what the tactical change is.
Figure 4.1 - Matheus Nunes is now holding width, wide right, and Phil Foden moves inside. They switch positions.

After 50 minutes of play, and no goals, it’s time to start making changes. The subs aren’t ready but this is the window at which Pep can both allow Foden to warm-up in the middle of the pitch, and try to affect the game while they wait for Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker come on.

Matheus Nunes and Phil Foden swap positions.

Figure 5.1 - Pep Guardiola talking with Kevin De Bruyne.
Figure 5.2 - Kevin De Bruyne is subbed on for Matheus Nunes and Kyle Walker comes on for Manuel Akanji.
Figure 5.3 - Kevin De Bruyne informing Phil Foden of the changes.
Figure 6.1 - Illustration of the difference in formation before and after Manchester City's substitutions in the 57th minute.

You can tell what Manchester City’s mindset is based on how they’re structured.

A back-four, like the one used in the first and second half, is their “withstand pressure” formation. It takes advantage of the space wide to play around a mid-block. They use this when the opponent is pressing them higher up the pitch. It’s the safer, more defensive approach. Control the wide areas to attempt to create transitional moments, stretching the opposition’s defense.

A formation like a 3-4-3 diamond is what they use when they have the opponent pinned back in a low-block. They gain numerical superiority central, push the outside center-backs high or inside, move one of the full-backs to the wing to let the winger invert into the midfield. Then the players central have the freedom to move around, interchanging positions, trying to dominate the spaces between the lines. This is their “we have you right where we want you” formation.

The problem is that you need specific profiles, like Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker, on the pitch to make that change.

Figure 7.1 - Kyle Walker now moves forward to right-wing in possession, with Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden in the half-spaces.
Figure 8.1 - Manchester City 3-4-3 diamond with Kyle Walker holding width on the right.

The tactical fix nets them two goals but that period of four minutes where Phil Foden got time to prepare for the change makes a huge difference. They can immediately hit the ground running the minute Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker are subbed on.

There’s no awkward first five minutes with the team getting used to the change.

Match: Manchester City 2-0 Everton, 10 February 2024

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