Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City's disorganized high line and lack of positional awareness

Manchester City have had this problem all season where their high line is unorganized. It is easy to get played onside by at least one of the defenders because they are always staggered. They lack communication in transition to defending their box.

Figure 1.1 - John Stones keeps Alejandro Garnacho onside when he follows Marcus Rashford forward up the left-wing.

The moment John Stones follows Rashford, Gvardiol and Ake should notice this and move in line with Stones. There’s a very large pocket of space for Garnacho to run into behind Stones, and they never attempt to close that space. Garnacho has the jump.

Figure 1.2 - John Stones still keeping Alejandro Garnacho onside after Marcus Rashford finishes his run.

Their high-line isn’t disciplined. They aren’t attempting to create an off-side trap. One of the defenders is always playing someone onside, either near them or on the far side.

Even when Stones abandons Rashford, Ake isn’t in line with Stones, and Gvardiol is positioned to have Garnacho in his blindside, behind him. Gvardiol should probably be ahead of Garnacho to be ready for that ball over the top.

The ball over the top was played, and it resulted in the first goal.

Figure 2.1 - Nathan Ake keeps Alejandro Garnacho onside as Marcus Rashford switches the ball to Garnacho.

The second goal was the same exact thing. Stones and Ake are roughly in-line, Ake is ahead of Stones, but Gvardiol is not. Again, they are not worried about Garnacho; they are perfectly fine with the ball being played over the top.

I don’t necessarily understand the reasoning behind why they wouldn’t be worried about a ball played ahead of Gvardiol to Garnacho. They are happy to rely on their pace to compensate for the space they’re allowing Garnacho to have, while simultaneously guarding no one. There’s no obvious benefit for Gvardiol to position himself the way he is.

Figure 2.2 - Alejandro dribbles on the wing. Kobbie Mainoo is ahead of his marker, Kyle Walker.
Figure 2.3 - Alejandro Garnacho dribbles inside.

The ball is played wide, so they get away with Gvardiol’s positioning, but now they have another problem. Gvardiol is challenging Garnacho, Ake is tracking Wan-Bissaka, and John Stones is watching Bruno Fernandes, but who is marking Kobbie Mainoo? It should be Kyle Walker.

I mentioned this last season; Kyle Walker relies on his pace a lot to bail him out of situations that develop due to his poor positional awareness. He improved at the start of the season but has since regressed back to old habits in the later part of this campaign.

I would assume he is expecting John Stones to see and mark Kobbie Mainoo; therefore, he’s fine with jogging back, but Walker should be back marking Mainoo. Stones is preoccupied with watching Fernandes and can’t see or defend against a low-cross to Mainoo behind him.

Figure 2.4 - Alejandro Garancho crosses on the ground to Kobbie Mainoo. Kyle Walker is jogging back.
Figure 2.5 - Kyle Walker attempts to close down Kobbie Mainoo at the last second, but he gets off his shot, and scores.

The mixture of a lack of an offside trap due to the disorganization of their high line mixed with a lack of positional awareness makes you feel like the opposition will score on each transition. The positive thing for Manchester City is that they rarely give the ball away, but when they do, someone is always playing an attacker onside.

They might as well not use a high line and allow the opposition to enter their half. Limit the possibility of conceding on the counter.

Match: Manchester City 0-2 Manchester United, 25 May 2024

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