Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City's staircase

Manchester City stagger their double pivot, and they form staircase, connecting one side of the pitch to the wing. The direction of the staircase dictates which wing they would like to play through, left or right.

Figure 1.1 - Flat double pivot.

We are used to this, a flat double pivot. John Stones will stay in line with Rodri. This is the measured approach, great for working the ball quickly between the back-three center-backs and the pivot, but it can be difficult to play out of this when there’s limited space.

Figure 2.1 - Staggered double pivot.

When you stagger the pivot, now you open up passing lanes between the lines. Who drops dictates where they want to play the ball.

If they want to play to the left, Rodri will drop, and Stones will move forward. If they want to play to the right, Stones will drop, and Rodri will move forward.

Figure 3.1 - Staircase facing towards the left-wing.
Figure 3.2 - Staircase facing towards the left-wing.

And you’ll notice the intent because Manchester City’s midfielders react to the change on who is dropping. They naturally form a line pointing to the wing they want to play through.

In relational terms, this is known as escadinhas, meaning ‘staircase’ or ‘ladder’. Players arrange themselves on a diagonal. This arrangement then opens up one-two quick passes to play through the lines. You can learn more about relationism here.

Figure 4.1 - Staircase facing towards the right-wing.
Figure 5.1 - Wall pass off Manuel Akanji to Rodri from Kyle Walker.

I’ve always called this a wall pass — these naturally form due to the staggering of the pivot. The staircase creates this passing lane from Walker to Akanji and then to Rodri, which opens up the pass to the wing. Once Rodri receives from Akanji, he can turn and play wide to Bernardo Silva.

If the pivot remained flat, this passing lane would never be open. They’d be stuck passing between the back-line and the pivot. It’s harder to access the midfielders or the wing.

Figure 6.1 - Wall pass off Manuel Akanji to Jérémy Doku from Nathan Ake.
Figure 7.1 - Jérémy Doku plays Kevin De Bruyne in, and De Bruyne crosses to Bernardo Silva for the winning goal.

The winning goal was the product of a wall pass off of Akanji. The diagonal formed facing towards Doku. As a defense you can then anticipate that City will try to play to the left-wing. Doku, play De Bruyne in, cross across the ground to Bernardo for the goal.

Match: Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea, 20 April 2024

Players: Manuel Akanji, Rodri, John Stones

P.S. John Stones walked so Manuel Akanji could run, and he’s quick. The way he moves on the half-turn, the runs he makes in the half-spaces, carrying ability, dribbling in tighter spaces. Akanji is more mobile than Stones, he’s a better passer, better crosser. I prefer Akanji now in that “Stones role”, but the fact they can switch the two whenever they like, and allow Stones to rest his legs, is huge. Stones has the intelligence, but Akanji is more athletic and more able in the smaller spaces.

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