Tactical Followup: City v Newcastle

In my preview article for the match against Newcastle, I wrote about some of the things I wanted to keep an eye on. So how did City perform in these three areas? Unfortunately, one of them was about Stevan Jovetic, who didn’t play yesterday. That will have to wait for the next match. Here’s what the stats show for the other two.

How often does Jesus Navas drag multiple defenders out wide to cover him, and how much space does this leave in the middle and on the opposite wing? 

Here are his completed passes from yesterday, which shows us a few things about his approach.

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1. The starting position for almost all of his passes comes from the far edge, right on the touchline.

2. Navas played quite a few balls back and forth along the touchline in a near vertical manner. These were mostly to Pablo Zabaleta. At times it seemed as though the two were running some set plays. Navas would get the ball on the wing and then move until multiple defenders came to stop him. He then stopped, pivoted, and passed a through ball to Pablo. The same happened in reverse.

3. Navas has a reputation of someone who gets to the goal line, and bombs crosses into the box. While he did send in 10 crosses yesterday, he also played a number of smart, well-weighted balls into the penalty area.

4. The number of times he recycled the ball. There were a number of times that he passed the ball all the way back to the back line, rather than forcing the ball into the middle. That is a key in Pellegrini’s system. Don’t force something, because that will put pressure on our defense defending a counter-attack.

How often does Yaya rampage forward, and how often does he hang back? I want to see a good understanding develop between him and Fernandinho.

I was very very impressed with Fernandinho yesterday. I thought that he and Yaya weren’t required to do too much, especially defensively, but they still showed a good understanding between them.

Fernandinho spent a good portion of this time in attacking areas. Here’s his action zones.

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Here are Yaya’s action areas.

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Fernandinho spent almost a quarter of the match inside the attacking third, and spend 75% of his time in middle-advanced parts of the pitch. He was positioned in a much more advanced role than Yaya was for the most part.

Looking at both of them though, we see that there were times that Yaya also pushed forward, and Fernandinho played more behind. It will be interesting to continue watching the two of them play together in the middle of the field.

Fernandinho played a lot of good passes, completing 90% of them. Here are his completed passes yesterday.

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That’s a good spread of passes. many of them are accurate long balls played to both flanks, while others are moving the ball around in the middle of the pitch. I think that Ferna will continue to show why he was such a priority for the Man City brass, and why he is worth the 30 million that was spent to bring him in.

Yaya the Beast

 

There is a fierce, primal creature inside all of us. Part of being civilized is learning to use our words instead of picking up a club.

Occasionally, there is a need for this inner creature. Society has traditionally rewarded the fierce in battle, or the politicians who create and govern empires.

As the demand for General Pattons in the world has decreased, the modern warrior has found fewer refuges in the world. One of the only ones remaining is in the world of sports.

Gnégnéri Yaya Touré is one of these modern warriors. A true beast of a man at 6’3″ and 180 lbs., he strikes fear into the hearts of smaller opposing players. While his highlight reel features plenty of perfect passes, or well struck shots, the eye is always drawn to him dribbling over and through and around opposing players.

There is no doubt that one of the most important players to Manchester City’s success this season will be Yaya. Any time he is on the field, he makes the team better.

This season will be the first one since the 2010-2011 one that he hasn’t had to leave for a month to participate in the African Cup of Nations. With the tournament originally scheduled for even years, we lost him during January 2012. Fortunately, we had Nigel de Jong and a younger Gareth Barry to help not leave such a gaping hole in the midfield. We won all but one

Unfortunately for our 2013 season, the tournament was changed to odd years. His absence cost us 4 dropped points against QPR and Liverpool in consecutive weeks. When he came back, he looked exhausted in the Southampton game. That 3 game stretch might have been the worst of the season, and it was when we lost sight of United at the top of the table.

Having Yaya back for the full season is going to be an enormous boost to the team. This is a man who averages about a pass per minute. That’s about 2500 passes over the last two season. If he’s not missing a full month, he’ll average closer to 3000 passes. Considering that his pass completion is about 90%, that is an invaluable asset to have.

One area that I expect him to continue to improve in is his shot selection. Two seasons ago, he took 52 shots, but 36 of them were off target. That’s an accuracy of only 31%. Last season, he took 49 shots, but only 26 of them were off target. In one season, he shot up to 47% accuracy.

More importantly than that, his shot selection has gotten better. In the 2011-2012 season, this is how his shot selection looked (shots that were on target):

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 That’s not too bad, but consider the fact that his 3 shots at the upper left corner were all goals, and that of his 6 goals, 5 of them were aimed at corners of the net.

This is his shot selection from last season:

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This is a man who learned a lesson. Out of the 23 shots on target, only 4 of them were aimed right down the middle. The rest went to the corners. This was also reflected in the goals that were scored. On his 8 goals, all of them were aimed towards a corner.  Here is the graphic showing this from Squawka.

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That looks like a man who has learned where to place a shot. Not only are more shots on target, but only 3 of them would be considered right down the middle. He put a whole bunch of them in the bottom left corner, and it paid off with 3 goals.

Keep checking back here to see how Yaya’s play trends during the season. Here are three things I expect to see.

  1. Yaya spends more time in forward positions
  2. Yaya takes more shots, and puts around 50% of them on target
  3. Yaya’s goal tally in Premier League games is close to 15

The reasoning behind all of these trends I feel will come down to his new midfield partner.  I want to see how he plays with a higher-caliber midfielder alongside him in Fernandinho. I expect Yaya to get forward more (since he can rely on Fern to cover for the back 4), and take more shots from these positions than he has the last two seasons. If he does, I see him getting to at least 10 league goals, and probably closer to 15.

 

 

 

Action Areas and Weaknesses

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*This is an article I wrote for BitterandBlue

Before we get into the meat of what I want this article to be about, humor me for a second.

Imagination Time

If I were to ask you to describe the perfect combination of attacking passes from Manchester City players last season, what would you say? Mine would have gone as follows:

Vincent Kompany wins the ball just outside the penalty box, then passes quickly to Matija Nastasic to his left. Nastasic finds Yaya Toure through the middle with a well-weighted 20 yard ball. Yaya dribbles up a few yards before finding David Silva on the left touchline. Silva cuts inside, beating the RB, sucking in a CB and a DM, before passing a diagonal pass to Carlos Tevez. Tevez fakes a shot, drawing in another defender, before playing a perfect through ball to Sergio Aguero, who then fires a ball past the keeper at the far post.

That was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes just thinking about it. The best part is, we’ve all seen sequences like that from City over the past few seasons. There have been passages of play that make you sit back and be grateful you’re a blue.

Now think about the worst playing that we saw last season. In my head I see a bunch of players getting bunched up in the middle of the pitch for the attacking third. Silva, Samir Nasri, Aguero, and Tevez all trying to find a yard or two to fit the right pass in, or get a good shot off. The defenders have 6 or 7 players back, all limiting the space available.

That sequence happened far too often. It seemed to happen more against teams who were determined to defend deep, limiting the space that attackers had to work in. The lack of space also seemed to correspond directly to the way that Mancini’s squad looked to create width. By using Silva and Nasri to cut inside, from opposite flanks, rather than staying wide, all four players on a back line are able to stay more narrow, rarely leaving the penalty area.

Far too often, the main source of width was from the fullbacks. It’s good to get some attacking width from those guys, but they can only do so much in spacing the other team. Fact of the matter is, teams aren’t going to send 2 defenders out to stop Gael Clichy. He doesn’t strike fear in opposing defenses.

Action Areas

The detailed match statistics that Squawka puts together are pretty fascinating. In addition to showing the usual stats, they also have some pretty interesting ones. One of my favorites is the Action Areas.

It has the pitch broken down into the different parts of the field, showing how much time a given player spent in that area, or broken down by the whole team.

Here are two matches that we lost last season, one was the 3-1 loss at Southampton, and the other a 3-1 loss at Spurs. They show the areas for the whole team.

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Now here are two Action Areas from matches that we won, and that we dominated. The first one is from a 4-0 spanking of Newcastle, and the other a 5-0 win against Aston Villa.

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What do the Action Areas show?

When I look at these two different results, a few commonalities jump out at me.

1. Possession on both attacking flanks is significantly higher in the wins than in the losses. In the 2 losses, City possession averaged 2.04 (left) and 3.51 (right). In the two wins, the possession was 6.18 (left) and 5.59 (right).

2. In the losses, the main place that City had possession were in the middle zones closer to our own goal. In the two wins, the possession was much more balanced between the zones closer to the opposing goal.

3. The ratio of possession in both areas right in front of each goal. In the 2 losses, the ratio of time City spent with the ball right near our own goal compared to near the opponent goal was 4 – 5 times higher. Meaning, we spent 5 times as much time with the ball in our own goal area as we did in their goal area.

In the two wins, we spent more time near their goal area with the ball than we did in our own area (6.22 – 6.57% v Newcastle), (7.49 – 6.77% v Villa).

What to do?

If you had a team who kept falling into the same pattern against well organized defenses, what would you do to give that team some better weapons to break it down? I think that I would follow the same pattern that the Man City brass did.

1. Bring in a world-class winger. Someone who will bomb down the touchline, creating width in a myriad of ways. I would want a player who can beat pretty much anyone in a footrace, so that defenders would have to throw a second or third defender at him to slow him up. I would also want someone who could drill a cross when he needed to, or just be comfortable playing a one touch passing game near the goal line. As someone (can’t remember if it was Zac, or Ben, or someone else) pointed out, that’s where Jesus Navas lives and breathes. Here’s a match of his where he did just that last season.

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That is an amazing performance of width and attacking play. Not only did he spend a quarter of his game in that weak zone, on the flank near the goal, he also spent another 16% of his time right near the goal. This is exactly what I would want from my problem solver. Get behind the defense, make them defend sideline to sideline against me.

2. Unleash David Silva. I want David Silva to be the man pulling the strings as much as possible. He is so good when he has a little bit of space and enough time. Just bringing in Navas is going to free up a lot of room for him on the other side. Teams will have to be sending guys at Navas, and the front striker (Dzeko, Negredo, Aguero). Silva can get in behind defenders that are caught watching the other side a little too much. If he gets that space, there will be a lot of perfectly placed pull backs across the 6 yard box.

As if that tactical freedom wasn’t enough, the addition of Jovetic can add another set of options. He is adept at playing on the left, which would allow Silva to play right behind the central striker. Imagine Silva pulling perfect passes left to Jovetic, or up the middle to Aguero, or wide to Navas. Chills. Gives me chills. I think that Merlin is going to have a great season.

(Final note about Silva, he played every match of Euro 2012, which ended up playing a big part in how tired he was. He should be in a lot better shape after a summer off)

3. Balance the midfield. Yaya Toure is unreal. Sometimes I forget how good he is, and then I go look through his stats, and remind myself how much he actually does. The only times I found myself getting frustrated with him were when he would try to do too much. It’s hard to get mad at a guy when he doesn’t have a midfield partner who is anywhere near his talent level. Here’s what he had to work with last season.

Gareth Barry has plenty of supporters, and plenty of haters. I am mostly ambivalent to him, but there were a few games where he opened up a can of suck. Javi Garcia is just the worst. I hope that he gets gone as soon as possible. Jack Rodwell is money, if he can stay healthy. He’s just a little too risky to depend on right now.

I think the bosses took a look, realized that Yaya just turned 30, and realized they need someone to partner with him right now. There’s been a lot of discussion whether or not we overpaid for Fernandinho, I think the need to win now means that you overpay for someone who is ready to fit next to Yaya immediately.

These two playing with each other are going to push the ball forward out of the defense and into the attack quickly and efficiently.

Conclusion

I am so freaking excited for this upcoming season that I can’t stand it. Honestly. I probably check the fixture list at least once a day. I want the season to start now. I want to watch these new players fit in with the good ones we already have. I want to watch Pellegrini figure out how to fit as many world-class players as he can on the field at once.

The brass seem to have identified the biggest weaknesses in the City team from last season. They perfectly plugged those gaps with the kind of players that will allow us to challenge for the Premier League title, and have a good shot at doing well in the Champions League.