Complete Preview is here to help you wade through all of the talent that is leaking out of Manchester City’s squad, before they face Aston Villa in the early kick-off this weekend.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
This week’s Complete Preview will take a slightly different direction, as if we went through players to ‘look out for’ we’d likely be naming the entire Manchester City squad, and if we looked at every tactic that Pep’s globe trotters have employed to reach the upper echelons of world football, this blog post would quickly turn into War and Peace.
City will provide one of the toughest tests Aston Villa have faced in recent seasons, and everyone knows how good the Citizens are. This is why it’s so exciting to see Aston Villa back in the Premier League, and it’s also why this fixture just feels right.
A Sterling style of play
Expected XI: Ederson [GK], Cancelo, Fernandinho, Stones, Mendy, De Bruyne, Gundogan, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Jesus, Sterling
Pep Guardiola’s style of play is broadly based on a philosophy that has underpinned all of his successful teams; Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
The idea is to keep possession of the ball, playing passes at the back, through the midfield and into the final third – all the while forcing their opponents to attempt to win the ball back by moving to intercept or tackle. This process of moving, or dislodging the opposition even slightly, opens up more space for attacking phases.
Despite slip-ups against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City leaving Manchester City in second place, they top the xG table on 29.54. Chelsea come in at second – ten goals below – on 19.54. Somewhat predictably, Liverpool are in third on the xG table with 18.46.
The team who currently occupy fourth spot in the xG table, surprisingly, is Aston Villa! Dean Smiths men have racked up an xG of 14.13.
Pep is potent in possession
Most of Manchester City’s xG tally comes from open play. They have an xG tally of 24.78 from open play, which is around 25% higher than Liverpool’s entire summation, including those from set-pieces and penalties for the reds.
The goals are spread around the squad too, with Rodri, Otamendi, Mahrez, David Silva, De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Kun Aguero all off the mark so far.
Out of possession, City are pretty handy too. They’ve only conceded nine goals so far, level with Manchester United, and only more than Leicester, Liverpool and Sheffield United. Their expected goals against, (xGA), is 10.28 and that pins them as the 4th best defence in the league for both xGA and actual goals conceded.
Unsurprisingly in modern football, Manchester City are a pressing team. Recently, Pep Guardiola came out and said how important it is that all of his starting eleven contribute towards a good defence – and this rings true for the Citizens in practice. They make 15.2 tackles per game, 8.8 interceptions per game and commit 10.1 fouls per game.
Compare that to a couple of other teams in the league:
|Tackles per 90 |||Interceptions per 90 |||Fouls per 90 ||
At a first glance, the sheer number of tackles don’t look off the charts, but remember that Manchester City have an average of 61.5% of the possession per game in the league so far, which means they physically don’t need to make as many tackles.
What can Aston Villa do to stop a team like the Citizens?
Tactic One, The Offside Trap:
This might make for a nervous game for Aston Villa fans, but Manchester City are caught offside 2.4 times a game in the Premier League. If they can keep a tight backline, Aston Villa might just benefit from VAR’s scrutiny with offside calls.
Tactic Two, Route One:
Whilst this sounds negative, Manchester City are littered with injuries at the back; Laporte, Rodrigo and Zinchenko are all in the treatment room, and John Stones has only recently started to come back from injury.
With that in mind, you might fancy Wesley’s chances at holding the ball up against a makeshift defence, or against a recovering John Stones. Plus, we know that Wesley’s ‘6.08’ match rating against Brighton will mean that the Brazilian is looking to pick up a good performance in this game.
Tactic Three, Press Effectively Higher Up the Pitch:
Marvellous Nakamba came out after the Brighton game and expressed his frustration at the wayward pressing from Aston Villa. They gave Brighton too much of the ball and made playing through the midfield easy for the Seagulls.
Sufficed to say that Manchester City will be more ruthless if the Villans do this on Saturday. Against Norwich, Aston Villa showed that they can get the press just right against a slightly shaky defence.
Whilst City’s players are better than Norwich’s, there’s a school of thought to say that you can force errors from their defence.
Tactic Four, Counter-Attack:
This is obvious, but you need to set up for a counter-attack. Aston Villa will likely start with a 4-3-3, but the key will be in personnel selection. Anwar El Ghazi might lose his place to Trezeguet for this game.
The Egyptian has 1.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, compared to Anwar’s 0.8, and is fouled considerably more. El Ghazi has proven himself at this level more, but Trezeguet may offer a more effective outlet, and a little more pace to trouble the gaps that City’s fullbacks tend to leave.
Tactic Five, Concede Width in Defence:
Wolverhampton Wanderers used the Mourinho-esque tactic of filing their midfield against Manchester City as they won 2-0 at the Etihad a few weeks back.
In doing this, you reduce the space through the middle of the park for those direct, quick passes from Gundogan, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. It also gives Aguero or Jesus less space to operate as he’s surrounded by defenders, and pushes Raheem Sterling out wide as he has to attempt to force something to happen.
In their midweek Champions League game against Atalanta, the Italian side gave Manchester City too much space through the middle and were ultimately punished five times.
A Game for all Engels (and Mings’)
It’s been a while since Tyrone Mings and Bjorn Engels were praised for their defensive prowess, and that’s largely because Aston Villa’s attacking players have found form.
In this game, they both need to own their own box and ensure they clear, block and head those fast, curling crosses that De Bruyne puts in so well.
Aguero was given too much space for Manchester City’s first goal against Atalanta, where he got in between the centrebacks and headed in the ball.
Mings and Engels have not been guilty of being beaten too often in a similar way, but they need to make their height advantage over the Argentina forward truly count.