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Manchester City

How Pep Guardiola set Manchester City up for success against Brighton and Hove Albion

Alexis Monteith

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It wasn’t surprising to see Manchester City take to the field at Brighton and Hove Albion with a formation featuring three at the back. It was perhaps to be expected. Pep Guardiola and his team used their pre-season to improve their grasp of a system they struggled to execute properly last year.

So bad was there failure to adapt to this system that the Catalan coach spent the majority of the year playing his team with four at the back. Playing with the same formation for most games may not seem out of the ordinary until you consider that Guardiola is a strategist known for his use of various formations and tactics.

Another of Manchester City’s failures last year, according to Guardiola, was that his team was simply not good enough in both penalty boxes on the field. His players were not clinical or decisive enough with their attacks in the opponents’ boxes and they were not efficient enough in restricting attacks in their own box.

“I have to be honest, I noticed we are having problems in the boxes and we didn’t solve it so I have to analyse it myself this summer,” Squawka quoted him as saying earlier this year.

Whatever his plan would be for the game at Brighton it was always likely to reflect the work he did during the summer of improving his team’s grasp of playing three at the back and devising strategies for addressing the issues of both boxes. Manchester City came away with a 2-0 victory against Brighton and a performance that showed promise for the new season.

The first thing that was obvious from his choice of players was that Guardiola’s priority was defence, despite the fact that City spent most of the game in attack. The wingers started the game on the bench with the coach opting to use wing-backs Kyle Walker and Danilo instead. Their role would be to carry out the functions of the traditional wide midfielders in addition to their defensive duties.

The reason for this choice was clear from the beginning of the game. Danilo and especially Walker both had the impressive pace and energy to constantly run up and down the length of the pitch. They balanced their attacking and defensive roles superbly to be available when needed at either end of the field.

In attack they proved to be worthy replacements for the wingers contributing to a number of dangerous combination plays, with Walker being the more impressive of the two through his movement and passing.

Their effectiveness in playing the roles of both wingers and defenders justified Guardiola’s selection. He was able to maintain an attacking threat on the flanks without sacrificing defence, allowing him to partner his two strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero for extra punch in and around the Brighton box.

From a defensive perspective the Spanish head coach’s strategy was sound: two attacking wing-backs, who could quickly return to defensive positions, combined with three central defenders (John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi) and a holding midfielder, Fernandinho, to restrict Brighton from getting into threatening positions for most of the game.

It was a formidable defensive unit. On the rare occasions Brighton did get into dangerous positions the defenders were still successful in keeping a clean sheet.

This was a promising start to the season for Manchester City, who, while they often restricted teams from getting many goal scoring opportunities, tended to concede goals on too many occasions when their opponents did get into dangerous positions last season.

An example of Guardiola’s frustration at this situation came after a heavy 4-0 defeat at the hands of Everton last season. In a statement quoted by the Telegraph the City coach lamented:

“We lose in other circumstances that I cannot control. The opponent arrives the first time and scores after we miss a lot of chances. The second half we start and the second time they arrive and they score. Mentally for the players it is tough.”

But Guardiola is indeed trying to control those circumstances. Going to Brighton to play against, what most would consider, a much weaker side, with so much of his emphasis placed on defence shows that he is adapting.

All three central defenders and the holding midfielder mostly stayed away from the attacking play further up the field. This is surprising coming from a coach famous for an all-out attacking philosophy.

So, with his own box prioritised and protected as much as possible, how did Manchester City fare in Brighton’s penalty area?

Football is never simple and Brighton did an effective job of limiting City’s attacks with two lines of four implementing a low defensive line under relentless pressure. City were again faced with what has now become a routine problem for them in the Premier League – how to break down a compact, organised team playing with almost their entire team behind the ball.

Before opening the scoring in the second half, City had a few chances they failed to capitalise on, but for most of the time Brighton held them at bay.

The visitor’s two goals came from errors made by Brighton in possession. De Bruyne stole the ball from Brighton’s Dale Stephens at the halfway line to start a quick counter attack for the first goal by Sergio Aguero.

In the case of the second, the aforementioned Argentine striker lost the ball for a brief second a short distance in front of the Brighton box, but was tenacious enough to win it back right away and initiate a series of passes leading to an own goal by Lewis Dunk.

It was not just good fortune for City, but a reflection of their tenacity. Nevertheless, it was clear that City are still struggling to put away their chances.

It is not an easy problem to solve, but one might argue that his problem is now a “good” one compared to last year. For example, in the Brighton game he had a choice to make between starting with good wing-backs, good wingers, or some kind of combination of the two.

Last year, his choice would have been between good wingers and poor wing-backs, lacking in pace and well past their prime. Now he has more strength in depth through most of the positions in the team and it showed through his team selection and the changes he made during the game.

Guardiola’s new full-backs allowed him to properly secure his defence at Brighton before concentrating on attack. When it became clear that the Seagulls were still holding firm, he brought on Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva who could contribute something different.

Their pace and dribbling ability were yet another option to try to penetrate Brighton’s box and create space by pulling defenders out of position.

While these options did not directly create goals against a Brighton team that eventually succumbed to its own mistakes, it is hard to imagine all of City’s opponents successfully parking the bus on a regular basis against a team that can relentlessly attack in so many different ways with a variety of skill sets.

Brighton were effectively stifled for most of the game and it is undoubtedly the continuous pressure that led to their mistakes. City were patient throughout the game, showing very little frustration and, when Brighton made their mistakes in the second half, Guardiola’s men were still sharp enough to capitalise on them.

The speed of City’s passing was somewhat slow against Brighton but this can be expected to improve as the season progresses past the nerves of the opening day and the new players become better integrated into the team.

The game at Brighton and Hove Albion was a telling introduction to the new armoury that Pep Guardiola now has at his disposal. It showed that the Spaniard is prepared to use his new options to come up with creative solutions to challenges, both in attack and defence.

Brighton was not the runaway victory that many were expecting, but it demonstrated that whatever formation is used Manchester City are now better equipped to solve the problem and challenge for trophies this season.

I'm a Manchester City and Inter fan writing about European football but my interest also extends to the United States and Major League Soccer.

Manchester City

Manchester City must guard against complacency

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Photo: Reuters

Manchester City have been absolutely fantastic this season after they failed to pick up any silverware last term, the first time Pep Guardiola has gone a whole season as manager without winning a trophy of some description.

It looked like the Premier League leaders would become the second side to complete an invincible campaign but Liverpool ended their hopes of that with a classic 4-3 win.

After the weekend’s action, the Citizens have a 16-point lead over 2nd-placed Manchester United but must make sure they don’t let that slip away.

It is an extremely tough task for any of the Premier League’s top sides if they want to catch the Citizens but they certainly shouldn’t lose hope of closing that substantial gap.

In the two games after losing to Jürgen Klopp’s side, Man City didn’t falter and scored six goals to earn six more points but in the third match, they failed to beat a resilient Burnley unit.

They drew 1-1 which was disappointing after taking the lead from a scorching Danilo strike in the first-half.

The two results against the Clarets and Liverpool have showed that Pep Guardiola hasn’t built a completely bulletproof team.

The two matches that they have dropped points in since the New Year were against very different teams.

Liverpool are sublime going forward but leave a lot to be desired for at the back, while Burnley are an incredibly tight defensive squad with little cutting edge in attack.

The latter relied on an 82nd-minute ‘smash-and-grab’ equaliser while the former overcame City with a furious nine-minute spell in which they scored three goals to put the fixture beyond doubt.

This should give confidence to every other team in the league as a side who aren’t considered by anyone as one of the Premier League’s ‘big teams’ managed to take points from them.

Man City are facing a few tough fixtures in the league as well as some congestion as they are still fighting on four fronts.

Their next four matches are in four different competitions with one in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, and their first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League, before a return to Premier League action.

Their two league games after next week are against Arsenal and Chelsea and while wins in those would be considered as them getting one hand on the title, they could easily slip up.

You can get 21/5  for Chelsea to beat City on Sunday 4th March. For a Man City win, punters can get 8/13 and 29/10 if it’s a Draw.

You can have Man City to beat the Blues in your 5+ Acca Insurance with Coral Betting and if one of your legs lets you down, you’ll receive your stake back.

To win the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side currently sit at odds of 1/500, so you’re likely to find more value in the race for the top four, where you can back Chelsea at evens and Arsenal at a HUGE 14/1.

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With four matches in the space of three weeks, including the EFL Cup final and a Champions League match, Manchester City might encounter some injuries and that could be their undoing in the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The two London sides have certainly got their problems but the Gunners look like a different animal with a couple of very good January signings while Chelsea can be absolutely fantastic if all of their players are fit and firing, especially Eden Hazard who has been linked with a move to Man City.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are in an unbelievable position to go on and win their third Premier League title but as their Spanish boss has said, they aren’t over the line yet and still have a lot of work to do over the next 12 matches.

It would be unimaginable for them to let their lead at the top of the table slip but a run of poor results or a bad set of injured players and they could be in a bit of trouble.

However, they are still on for a sublime quadruple and at the end of this month they have the chance to win their first piece of silverware in the EFL Cup final against Arsenal.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Arsenal

Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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