Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Manchester City needed more runners against West Ham

May 4, 2023 — Julian Alvarez didn’t put in the performance of a runner, the runner Manchester City needed yesterday against West Ham.

To fill Kevin De Bruyne’s boots in right center-midfield you must make runs off-the-ball, even if you know you won’t get the ball. Those runs open up space for others which allows City to progress the ball forward.

Figure 1.1 - West Ham out of position shape in the first half to shadow cover Manchester City’s pivot and center-midfielders.

West Ham‘s zonal man-marking hybrid structure out of possession, with the main focus being to cover shadow City’s double pivot and the two center-midfielders, was effective. It was similar to how Manchester United defended against Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final, and West Ham were successful at hindering City’s buildup in the same way United were.

It forced Manchester City wide and then trapped them wide, with little options central.

If the center-midfielders didn’t move, West Ham could sit back and wait while applying pressure to force City to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Stefan Ortega and reset.

Figure 2.1 - Alvarez passes to Mahrez but Alvarez doesn't make the run into space — pass and go.

Without movement Manchester City weren’t able to penetrate West Ham’s defense easily. Bernardo Silva was moving outside frequently but the same could not be said for Julian Alvarez.

In Figure 2.1, Alvarez should have made the run into space immediately. This type of run is something Kevin De Bruyne mastered, it’s his favorite type of run to make. That run would then open up pockets of space between the lines for John Stones and Haaland.

Manchester City needed runners. Alvarez is capable of being a runner, but he didn’t pick up on the queues to make runs when an injection of unpredictability was needed to create space between the lines.

Figure 3.1 - Alvarez moves central and Silva moves wide, while Walker dribbles central.
Figure 3.2 - Walker passes to Alvarez.
Figure 3.3 - Quick two pass exchange from Alvarez, to Rodri, and then to Stones who is free.

In the second half, things began to change for the better. Alvarez began to move more, which complemented Bernardo Silva’s movement.

In Figure 3.3, Alvarez’s move to the right created the central space for John Stones to be left unmarked. The key is to keep the constant movement going - move, check for the ball, collect, pass, and then go. As a result, John Stones is free, followed by the left-wing, left center-midfielder, and before you know it, the ball is getting crossed into the danger area.

In the 77th minute, Phil Foden replaced Alvarez, and within a short amount of time, he showed what a runner can do to open up space for others.

Figure 4.1 - Foden spreads the ball wide to Grealish.
Figure 4.2 - Foden immediately begins to make the run into the left half-space.
Figure 4.3 - Foden's run opens up space for Haaland, and Silva passes to Haaland in space.

Figure 4.1 shows Foden spreading the ball wide to Grealish, followed by Figure 4.2 where Foden makes a quick run into the left half-space. Finally, Figure 4.3 illustrates how Foden’s run opens up space for Haaland, and Silva passes to Haaland in space.

These types of runs are what was missing in the first half, runs that create space for others and make City’s attack more threatening.

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