Three things we learned from Manchester City's 2-1 win over Sunderland
The arrival of Pep Guardiola was always going to bring with it a period of change at Manchester City. While his new team looked to be adapting well to his philosophy against Sunderland, there were still indications that the system isn’t fully operational at this time.
The way Guardiola utilised his full backs was a complete detraction from anything else in the Premier League last season. In possession in the back for, City often converted from a four man back line to a two man back line, with Clichy and Sagna pushing forward and narrowing.
In doing so, they created a three man holding midfield with Fernandinho or allowed him to drop into the centre and form a back three.
This allowed City to retain possession incredibly effectively at the back. Possession at the back is widely criticised as negative football, but City’s possession attempted to draw Sunderland’s players out and create more space for David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne. From there, the two attacking midfielders could spread the play and create with the space afforded them.
While it ensured City dominated possession, it did leave City short of attacking quality out wide. Their wingers had to drop in deeper without support from the full backs, inhibiting the attacking influence they could have on the game.
City still managed to attack from wide, as proven by Raheem Sterling and Nolito’s driving runs forward, but it wasn’t as effective an outlet throughout the game as it could’ve been.
Despite the victory, Guardiola’s side looked unconvincing in converting possession into attacking opportunities. Sunderland defended compactly and weren’t drawn out into making challenges that would overly jeopardise their side very often. Despite that, City continued to come back in from wide positions for the most part and tried to play through the middle.
As such, while City recycled possession incredibly well, they rarely created opportunities from open play. While their incredible possession play nullified a lot of the threat from Sunderland, their reluctance to diversify inhibited their own attacking talents.
The close scoreline was even more surprising given Guardiola’s teams often achieved league success by putting lesser teams to the sword, while they struggled against top teams on a European level. History would dictate that Sunderland should’ve conceded far more than they did, indicating that Guardiola still needs more time to work on the offensive side of his new squad’s game.
David Moyes’ influence at Sunderland isn’t quite as apparent. The Black Cats looked a capable defensive unit, yet they were well drilled and solid at the back during Sam Allardyce’s tenure as well. Time will tell if Moyes can develop Sunderland into an even more proficient outfit that aren’t fighting relegation season after season, but one glaring issue stuck out in the game against City.
Sunderland struggled heavily against the possession football that City played. While they managed to bring a goal back, Sunderland never truly threatened from open play until the last breaths of the game.
They refused to be drawn out and press by City’s possession, and while they remained a compact defensive unit, they offered absolutely nothing in attack. They defused attacking situations by waiting and punting the ball clear, gifting back possession to City.
Their passive approach to counteracting possession football won’t win them many games, and Moyes will undoubtedly need to take a more positive approach to take points away from home this season.
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