We take a look at the football behind some of Manchester City’s draws and losses this season.

Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon


  • Tottenham – 2nd Feb 
  • Crystal Palace (Draw) – 18th Jan 
  • Wolves – 27th December 
  • Man United – 7th December 
  • Newcastle (Draw) – 30th November 
  • Liverpool – 10th November 
  • Wolves – 6th October 
  • Norwich – 14th September
  • Tottenham (Draw) – 17th October

Manchester City have a blueprint for playing football. Arguably, they have the most defined playing style, or brand, in world football. That formula is well known – Man City will pass the ball around you and the name of the game is simple; they will just outscore you. 

Pep’s all-stars have lost 6 league games and drawn 3 this season out of 27 matches played. If you didn’t know better you might say that you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting points from City every time you play them, and Aston Villa have played Man City twice already without taking points – so, surely Villa are due some luck? 

It does not work that way, of course. City’s plan works to devastating effect (as Villa fans know more that most). However, sometimes City bite off more than they can chew, and their defence is left a little bit more vulnerable. So how do you stop a team like City? 

City are the betting man’s team

Manchester City have failed to score in a league game this season in only two matches – against Spurs in February and Wolves in October, where they lost 2-0 on both occasions. But, with an xG of 2.67 per game, you can’t bank on the Citizens turning up and simply having a bad day. An actual “bad day” for Man City is probably when they leave the ground having scored 2 goals or less. 

That vulnerable defence doesn’t look too shabby in the context of such a potent forward line – in truth, an xGA of 26.09 – or 0.97 per match – does not look like it should be a problem. Villa’s own stats are reversed in this nature; with Dean Smith’s men dragging the worst xGA in the league of 58.47. Couple that with a respectable, but underwhelming, xG tally of 33.27 and he best score line that Aston Villa could hope for in their wildest dreams is probably a 2-1 win or a 2-2 draw. 

In the world of stats, Aston Villa need a “structural break” to win – and by that we mean that Villa need to fundamentally change the balance of the goals they concede vs the goals they score. 

Luckily for Villa, football rarely comes down to just stats.

You don’t stop City, City stop themselves

Norwich 3 – 2 Manchester City

Man City formation: 4-2-3-1

Norwich formation: 4-2-3-1

The outlying fact in this game was that Norwich scored all three of their chances – while City spurned all 8 shots on target. 

But the narrative is that Norwich made the most of set pieces, scoring the first from a corner at the near post that looked all too easy (from a Man City perspective). Pep’s team were also guilty of making mistakes and Norwich knew what to look out for – when Norwich won a header or first ball in the midfield, City’s own midfield and defence moved up the pitch in an effort to make the pitch tight. However, for the second goal; Norwich were able to play a quick ball in-behind to two runners and catch out City’s high defensive line, which had lost its shape. Cantwell is on the end of a simple tap in. 

Norwich’s third comes from a three-man press up front – City were passing the ball between centre backs on the edge of their box, and Norwich’s three frontmen close of all the easy options and City give the ball away. This time, it’s Pukki that has the easy finish. 

How can Villa Replicate?

  • Have multiple runners in-behind and make quick, medium-ranged passes to them. Douglas Luiz’s passing range could be useful here.
  • Villa should physically impose themselves on that backline.

Newcastle 2 – 2 Manchester City

Newcastle formation: 5-4-1

Man City formation: 4-3-3

Man City left with a poor 2-2 when they visited St. James’ Park on 30th November. The stats are similar, which shows how much of a Machine Manchester City are; 75% possession, 88% pass success, 9 shots on target. 

Again, Newcastle finished 2 of their 3 chances on goal, and they had their shots from set-pieces. Meanwhile, Manchester City lost the tackling game and allowed Newcastle to tackle 18 times during the game. 

The first goal for Newcastle comes from a razor-sharp, fast ball from Midfield into the Magpies’ front line. City anticipate the ball, but the Newcastle attacker is sharp and catches out the on-rushing City defender with a first-touch pass. The space created in-behind from the defender allows Newcastle to get in a cross for a good finish. The second goal? A set-piece routine ending in a long shot from Jonjo Shelvey. 

How can Villa Replicate? 

  • Catch City out with one-touch football to get in-behind.
  • Play balls into Conor Hourihane and Douglas Luiz to give them longshot opportunities.

Tottenham 2 – 2 Manchester City

Tottenham formation: 4-2-3-1

Man City formation: 4-3-3 

Truth be told, Tottenham were in all sorts of trouble for the opening portion of this match. A missed penalty, some heroic/lucky defending combined with poor finishing from City all contributed to a scoreless first half. 

While City are the masters of the tactical foul, this time it cost them. Zinchenko was already on yellow when he brought down Harry Winks, who was setting up a counter-attack with a great run. Mike Dean made the simple decision to send off the Citizen and that took some of the pressure off Spurs. 

The first goal comes from a long pass, almost like a set pieces situation and just a simple ball into the box. The crucial part of this goal, is that Spurs have plenty of men in City’s box and manage to make life difficult for City. Pep’s men don’t clear the ball, and Begwijn is given the chance to chest down the second ball before dispatching the chance with a good finish. 

The second goal? Well, a theme is developing here, as City look eager to push up when Spurs have the ball in midfield. A very sharp, quick medium-range pass from the midfield into Son allows him to turn into space left by the City defence (who once again move up the pitch in anticipation). The rest is what Son does best as he finds the back of the net. 

How can Villa Replicate? 

  • Make the most of City’s tactical fouls – everyone, not just Grealish, can commit City players and create the potential for one of Pep’s men to be sent off.
  • Villa must put numbers into the box and make life difficult for the City defence. Man City do not clear first or second balls very well – Keinan Davis and Ally Samatta could be crucial here and perhaps this game calls for a 4-4-2.

Get the basics right

Winning fouls, making quick passing decisions, getting on the end of set pieces and being physical – it is all down to turning up on the day and being sharp. Being sharp and getting the basics right; it’s not rocket science but that is usually how teams beat Manchester City. The fact is, Villa did just that against Leicester twice in a row having lost to them heavily a couple of weeks beforehand – and Man City have lost a similar number of games to Leicester despite holding such a high status and fear-factor.

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