Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The flaws of Manuel Akanji and Kyle Walker that cost Manchester City against Real Madrid

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:

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:

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.”

Figure 1.1 - Illustration made before the match to show an example of the numerical disadvantage Kyle Walker creates for Manchester City, when he gets too high up the pitch.

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.

Figure 2.1 - Bernardo Silva has the ball and John Stones makes a run to the corner. Silva passes to Rodri.
Figure 2.2 - Walker makes a run down the wing to the corner, and Rodri plays him the ball.

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.

Figure 2.3 - Walker misplaced his first touch and Camavinga recovers the ball. Camavinga passes up the left-wing.

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 3.1 - Modric spots the space behind Akanji and passes wide.
Figure 3.2 - Modric begins to run into the space, as Akanji challenges the ball carrier.
Figure 3.3 - Ball is played to Modric in space behind Akanji, and Dias is forced to cover.
Figure 4.1 - (26 April vs Arsenal) Akanji steps out leaving space behind him.

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.

Figure 3.4 - Dias stepping out to challenge Modric creates a space behind him, which Stones can't commit to defend because he is marking Benzema.
Figure 4.2 - (26 April vs Arsenal) Ball is played over Akanji and Dias is forced to cover.

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.

Figure 5.1 - Walker overcommits to challenge Vinicius Jr. unnecessarily, and Vinicius dribbles around Walker into space. Stones is forced to cover.
Figure 5.2 - Stones covers along with Rodri 3v1, and a 1v3 forms behind them for Vinicius Jr. to pass to.

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.

Figure 6.1 - Walker doesn't challenge Camavinga, and instead covers the open space to his right.
Figure 6.2 - Camavinga passes to Vinicus Jr. for the goal.

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.

Figure 7.1 - Manchester City are incredibly compact, and leave three Real Madrid players free on the far side.

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.

Pep Guardiola:

“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.

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