Manchester City put in a stellar performance against Stoke in their 4-1 victory at the Britannia.
Pep Guardiola’s dream introduction to the Premier League continued with Sergio Aguero scoring twice from set pieces and substitute Nolito poaching two in a solid win for the Citizens.
While City were ultimately too good for Stoke, the score line gave a slightly unjust account of the home side’s performance.
While they offered little going forward in comparison to the visitors, Stoke defended admirably throughout the game, and were it not for the individual brilliance of Kelechi Iheanacho, they may not have conceded from open play.
Throughout the match, the Potters pressed City superbly across the entire pitch. City played a heavy possession game, but were continuously dispossessed by the Stoke midfielders in an aggressive display of how to disrupt a side that relies on keeping the ball.
More importantly, Mark Hughes’ side refused to let their focus on pressuring their opponents prevent them from forming an effective defensive shape. Before the Stoke line up even thought of stepping up to challenge the City players, they ensured that pushing up wouldn’t leave them exposed at the back.
In doing so, they created an incredibly solid defensive unit that Potters fans can take pride in. They kept a potent Manchester City side from scoring from open play for 85 minutes, and even then, those goals were down to individual brilliance from Kelechi Iheanacho rather than defensive errors.
Despite the eventual heavy defeat, Stoke will be a serious defensive force going into this Premier League campaign, and it’ll take some considerable attacking talent to break them down. Fortunately for City, that’s exactly what they have.
When people think of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the first thought is often one of controlled, possession focused football. Short passing, efficient movement and lethally effective football.
It’s evident from the visit to Stoke that Guardiola’s effective football doesn’t stem from possession, but from what is effective in the moment. While possession is a focal point for Guardiola’s teams, a refined long pass from the back four can be as devastatingly effective as anything else.
Cross-field passes can serve as a means of stretching the opposition, both forcing them backwards and wider. This creates space within which the more intricate possession football can take place.
It can also create opportunities on goal against teams that play a higher back line by dropping balls in behind, allowing players like Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling to latch onto them and run at goal.
Aleksandar Kolarov sprayed the ball from left back to the right wing fairly regularly throughout the game and John Stones also contributed with a couple of incisive passes through the midfield.
Therein comes from why John Stones was so highly sought after by Guardiola. His passing range is instrumental to the way City will play under the Spaniard, and that was emphasised in at the Britannia.
As suggested earlier, perhaps the biggest take away from Stoke versus Manchester City is Pep Guardiola’s willingness to adapt to different situations.
Marco Arnautovic could be considered one of Stoke’s greatest threats given his performances last year. Jesus Navas’ incredible pace and work rate made him the ideal option to start and track Arnautovic to try and nullify that threat.
Even with Navas on the field, the Stoke winger initially pressed forward and broke in behind the back line on a couple of occasions. In response, Guardiola moved his full backs from the more advanced and central position he’s favoured them in in past games to a more conventional back four. From then on, Arnautovic’s influence on the game was considerably more sporadic.
Stoke pressed from minute one, leaving City scrambling for options in midfield to smuggle the ball too under pressure. As such, Sergio Aguero regularly dropped deeper into the midfield to provide an additional passing option, giving Guardiola’s side the opportunity to effectively retain possession as much as possible.
Going forward, Guardiola’s incredible talent for adapting his tactics to different circumstances could be a vital aspect of their push for the Premier League title.
Featured image: All rights reserved by luciecarter15