The flaws of Manuel Akanji and Kyle Walker that cost Manchester City against Real Madrid
May 10, 2023
May 10, 2023 — Manchester City will need to make changes in the second leg against Real Madrid because there were several defensive flaws in yesterday’s performance. Here I’ll focus on the roles of Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji and their impact on the match.
Before the match, I outlined my concerns:
Concerns for Man City today vs Real Madrid:— Tactics Journal (@TacticsJournal) May 9, 2023
- Poor positioning from Walker; he gets forward too much, leaving space for Vinicius Jr.
- Akanji's right-foot angles in the buildup when pressed; he looks uncomfortable at LCB
- Akanji's lack of spacial awarness and body positioning pic.twitter.com/60Vo3dDN6U
All of those issues and concerns came to life during the match in a big crescendo. Everything played out exactly as I envisioned it would. It was a mess, and Manchester City were lucky to come out with a draw.
I mentioned previously the issues created when Manuel Akanji is played at left-back:
- Manuel Akanji’s weak foot and bad angles at left center-back in Manchester City’s 3-2
- The space Manuel Akanji’s positioning creates
He is fine at right-back but is a liability at left-back.
The issues in the buildup continued during yesterday’s match, but Real Madrid did something Arsenal did not. They put pressure on Manchester City and curved their runs to force Manuel Akanji to pass only to his right.
It was confirmed today through City’s performance; had Arsenal pressured City (and it’s not hard to do), they would have likely beaten them and stayed top of the league.
Akanji didn’t look any more comfortable on the ball than he did during the Arsenal or Fulham match recently, and several of his passes were miscued, ruining the rhythm and flow of City’s buildup, making it easier for Real Madrid to win back the ball and cover the spaces.0
The distribution into Jack Grealish from Akanji, in particular, was poor. Akanji’s passes weren’t accurate, and when the ball would be played to Grealish, he’d have to stretch to collect the ball.
Ederson, Ruben Dias, Gundogan, and Rodri all avoided playing the ball to Akanji, which limited their options when they attempted to play into Real Madrid’s half of the field.
Pep Guardiola after the match:
“We try to adjust something for the second leg to be a bit more fluid, play with a bit more rhythm.”
Before the match, I mentioned that Kyle Walker likes to get further forward than any other Manchester City defender. To compensate for Walker getting forward, John Stones would rotate back to cover for Walker, but sometimes he didn’t, as shown in the following example.
Real Madrid did the same against Chelsea, with Camavinga leaving the space open on the right wing to trap Manchester City in the corner and quickly win back the ball, enabling them to launch a counterattack after dispossessing Walker.
I'd expect Real Madrid to crowd around Haaland, like they packed the middle against Chelsea, and funnel the ball into the wide areas. Camavinga vs Bernardo Silva for Man City is going to be an interesting matchup with Silva isolated. pic.twitter.com/sK7Fos8TF9— Tactics Journal (@TacticsJournal) May 9, 2023
Once Walker loses the ball, City is left with only Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji back to defend against Vinicius Jr., Kareem Benzema, Rodrygo, and Valverde. Not good.
Ruben Dias and John Stones play the part of worried parents watching over their children, Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji. Sometimes, the children wander off, act aloof, and they bear the responsibility to come to their rescue and clean up the mess. It’s an exhausting task.
Figure 1.3 is a direct copy of the situation in which Manchester City found themselves in Figure 2.1 when they played against Arsenal.
And Figure 1.4 is a direct copy of Figure 2.2, with the same setup and the same amount of space for a Real Madrid forward to run into behind Dias.
Overall, Kyle Walker was very good when he positioned himself correctly. However, when he’s out of position up the wing without adequate cover from Stones, overcommits to challenge the ball, or fails to commit to a tackle when he should, he becomes a liability.
This first example shows Walker overcommitting to the ball unnecessarily, forcing Stones to cover the space and opening a gap behind Stones.
Walker did not need to close down Vinicius this quickly to win back the ball. He should have been more patient and oriented his body to make it less simple and easy for Vinicius to get around him and into space.
The second example shows Walker not committing to challenging the ball when he should, making it too easy for Camavinga to pass the ball to Vinicius Jr.
Kyle Walker’s timing and positioning are inconsistent. He doesn’t jump, resulting in Vinicius Jr. scoring the first goal. He moves unnecessarily, and the ball is played around him, creating a mess that falls on the shoulders of John Stones and Ruben Dias.
Manchester City, at times, appeared very disorganized as a team defensively. Real Madrid will capitalize on similar chances, as depicted in Figure 7.1, which they should have converted into goals. Madrid will review the footage and adjust their distribution strategies to exploit the open players on the far side.
If it weren’t for the heroic performance of Ruben Dias, the outcome could have been very different. His leadership and remarkable timing in blocks and tackles made him my Man of the Match.
“We expect to adjust a bit in the second leg [vs Real Madrid]. I have a bit of an idea on what we need to do.”
Manchester City will be hoping that Nathan Ake is fit for the second leg, as they missed his awareness and on-the-ball ability at left-back. If they fail to make any adjustments, I don’t have much hope that they’ll be able to defeat Real Madrid and advance to the Champions League final.