Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 4-0 Newcastle

Manchester City scored twice in each half to run out comfortable 4-0 winners over Newcastle in an impressive performance at the Etihad. David Silva and Sergio Aguero each found the net before Newcastle’s Steven Taylor was sent off just before halftime for a forearm swing into the back of Aguero. Yaya Toure added a sublime freekick early in the second half and substitute Samir Nasri closed out the scoring in the 75th.

There were three major tactical features of the game: David Silva’s ability to create overloads and find gaps coming inside from the left, the refreshing width provided by Jesus Navas on the right flank, and the partnership and clever movement of Aguero and Edin Dzeko.

Manuel Pelligrini set his side out in a similar 4-2-2-2 formation to the one typically used by Roberto Mancini, the man he replaced. Clichy, Lescott, Kompany and Zabaleta made up the back four. Toure and new signing Fernandinho made up the center midfield, occupying the space in front of the back four. David Silva frequently tucked inside from a starting position on the left, as he did under Mancini, while Jesus Navas stayed wide on the right to provide width. Aguero and Dzeko were given starts up top over newcomers Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo.

Newcastle did not include French midfielder Johan Cabaye in the squad after Arsenal had a £10 million bid rejected for him earlier in the day. They lined up in something of a hybrid 4-3-3/4-4-2. The midfield three was made up of Jonas Gutierrez, Cheick Tiote and Moussa Sissoko. Hatem Ben Arfa started on the right of a front three. Yoan Gouffran was on the left with Papiss Cisse as the main striker. In possession Ben Arfa would frequently drop deep on the right flank while Gutierrez would drift wider to the left. Gouffran would tuck inside close to Cisse making the shape more of a 4-4-2. Defensively they formed two banks of four with Ben Arfa dropping in alongside the midfield three and Cisse and Gouffran staying higher up the pitch. 

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David Silva’s Movement:
David Silva’s movement is always a handful for opposing defenses. He’s tremendous at reading the runs of his fellow attackers, finding space between the seams and creating overloads for opposition defenders. For instance, when Aguero drops into midfield and is picked up by the opposition holding midfielder, Silva will drift infield alongside Aguero to create a 1 v. 2 situation for the holding midfielder to defend (Figure 1). When Aguero drifts wide and is picked up by the opposing left back, Silva will tuck just inside and create 1 v. 2 situations for the left back (figure 2). 

Figure 1

Figure 2
He’ll also drift into the space between the opposition right-sided center midfielder and right midfielder/forward, where he can collect passes from the two deeper lying midfielders and have the space to run at the defense. He was incredibly dangerous in this space last night, collecting possession from Fernandinho in the gap between Sissoko and Ben Arfa. City’s opener came from this type of movement. The image below shows Silva tucking inside of Ben Arfa where he’s able to receive a pass from Fernandinho and has the space to turn and dribble at the defense. He releases a pass to Dzeko on the left side of the box whose deflected pass across the face of goal falls for Silva to head home.  Identical movement from Silva in the 29th allowed him to release Dzeko through on goal again but the Bosnian striker was unable to finish. 

Navas provides width:
For much of last season Maninci employed Samir Nasri on the right. Like Silva, Nasri enjoys tucking infield from wide areas. When the two played together City could often therefore become a bit narrow. In Jesus Navas, Pelligrini has a true right-sided winger capable of providing width and stretching the defense laterally. This gives City a bit more balance going forward- they can through the middle with Silva tucking inside or down the wing with Navas hugging the touchline. The graphics below compare where Silva and Navas received passes yesterday. Nearly every pass Navas received was down the right channel whereas Silva moved freely around the pitch to create overloads. Navas had a shaky start but was excellent in the second half, combining well with Zabaleta and whipping in some dangerous crosses.

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Movement of Aguero and Dzeko:
The final major defining feature of this game was the partnership between Aguero and Dzeko. When playing with two forwards it is obviously important both understand the off-ball movement of one another. One of the major strengths of a two forward system is that against a team playing four at the back, both opposition center backs have to pick up a forward so neither is left free to provide cover.

One way teams using two forwards like to take advantage of the lack of a spare center back for the opposition is to put both forwards on the shoulder of each of the center backs. One forward then checks into midfield, drawing one of the center backs with him. The other forward will then make a diagonal run into the space that becomes available. The figure below shows an example. Here, Dzeko checks into midfield for the ball, forcing Coloccini to step out of line with the rest of the back four to close him down. This opens up space in behind for Aguero to make a diagonal run into. 

In fact, the example illustrates the forward movement City used to score their second goal. Dzeko checked into midfield for a pass from Kompany, forcing Coloccini to follow him. Rather than step forward to force Aguero into an offside position, Taylor follows his diagonal run in behind but doesn’t have the pace to keep. Dzeko provides a clever flick and Aguero is one on one with Krul to tuck it home. Below you can see a screenshot of the buildup. Coloccini steps out to Dzeko just as Aguero begins his diagonal run in behind.

Although Dzeko was guilty several times of wasting his own goal scoring chances, his movement with Aguero was clever and he deserves credit for setting up the first two goals and generally stretching Taylor and Coloccini around the field in the first half. 

Pellegrini will be pleased with what was a dominant performance in all facets. I didn't discuss it in any detail above but Fernandinho and Toure formed a powerful and formidable midfield pairing capable of both breaking up attacks from the opposition and springing into the attacking third to offer extra options. Fernandinho completed the second most passes in the attacking third of any player behind Silva. 

Tacticially it wasn't an especially different look from Pellegrini although the inclusion of Navas added width City frequently lacked last season. 

It's difficult to judge Alan Pardew's side after such a difficult opening fixture in which they played half of it with ten men. They have plenty of power in midfield but were desperately missing the technical ability of Cabaye and could struggle to break teams down if he ends up departing for Arsenal. Ben Arfa looked to be the only player capable of providing any creativity in a lineup full of strength and power.