Man City’s attacking patterns vs a five man narrow zonal midfield

This match had a pretty consistent pattern. Swansea were defending with a very narrow  midfield of five players. They were not entirely in one line, Cork was usually the deepest, with Fer and Carroll slightly higher on either side of him, Rutledge and Sigurdsson even higher. Manchester City were trying to break down this block, the same one Southampton struggled to play past. I was intrigued to see the attacking patterns Manchester City employed.

Swansea started defending in the middle third, forming a block of five players with the three central midfielders close to each other, Cork the deepest in the middle, the two wingers a little bit higher vertically, but horizontally the whole midfield organisation was very  narrow.

This compact midfield made it impossible for Toure or Stones to pass directly to Silva, Gabriel Jesus, De Bruyne or Sterling between the lines. So how exactly did City find players in the hole, or behind the Swansea defence?


The most interesting choice concerning the second phase of the buildup was the role of Fernandinho, who was indicated as a left-back on the teamsheet. He started out wide, and dribbled diagonally inside, or he already stood in the halfspace before getting the ball.

When Fernandinho dribbled diagonally inside, Silva made a run to the goal in the channel, which prevented Naughton from getting out and putting pressure on Sane immediately after the German international received a diagonal pass from Fernandinho.

After the diagonal he stayed in the central space, which put him in an excellent position to control the runs of Sigurdsson during the attacking transitions of Swansea from their own third.

Fernandinho appeared frequently in the right half space when the ball was coming back from the left side of the pitch, and Stones played a hard pass to either De Bruyne or Sterling on the wing. This way he was not only closer to the Swansea midfield line, and able to counterpress in case the ball was lost, but he could also provide a free passing option to recycle the ball if the penetration didn’t happen on the right side.

Gabriel Jesus movement in front of the Swansea midfield

 When Kolarov had the ball with free space in front of him,  Jesus moved in front of the midfield, in front of Jack Cork’s zone. The Swansea midfielder pressured him when Jesus received the ball, this was the perfect moment for Sterling to move into the space between the lines behind Cork.


What was also needed for this space to open is a player – in this case Sterling – playing between the lines in the right half space while the ball was recycled from the right side to the left – to Kolarov. Tom Carroll was marking the right half space zone, and made sure that the ball could not be played to Sterling standing behind him. Covering this passing option made him get too far away from Cork while shifting over, which left his colleague with too much space to defend. (You can see Fernandinho in the right halfspace in the video)

The same movement was made by Jesus again in the 14th minute, but he made the step back from the space behind Cork too early, before the ball got to Stones. This way he got into the visual field of Cork, who tracked his run, by the time Stones got into possession Jesus was marked.

The dangerous runs of Silva starting from the half space

manchester-city-incision-on-the-leftSince the Swansea midfield line was so tight that a direct pass from Toure to the players between the lines would have been impossible, a recurring passing pattern involved Toure playing out to Clichy, who played a hard ball on the floor to Silva. The Spaniard made a run to get out of the cover shadow of Routledge, and receive behind the winger running out to press Clichy.

On the right side De Bruyne and Sterling combined, with Fernandinho always a free option if penetration into the box wasn’t an option.

Stones dribbling into the game

The first line of the Swansea block in the middle third consisted of only Llorente, who followed Toure if the Ivorian stepped wide to ask for the ball when Clichy had it. With such movement Toure could make space for Stones to dribble into the game. Carroll stepped out to pressure the centre-back, with Sigurdsson and Cork closing the vertical passing options. At this moment Silva made a run into the channel, pulling Naughton inside,creating space wide for Stones to open up, and giving time for Sane to receive the ball without pressure.

Llorente marked either Kolarov, Stones or Toure whoever was closest to Clichy in the central space. This way the central trio of Manchester City could pull Llorente to one side, or play around in front of him by forming a flat three and Fernandinho pushing higher vertically. After a while Llorente stopped moving with the ball, and somebody could dribble into the game without pressure.

2-v-1-on-the-right-side-w-sterling-and-de-bruyneOn the right side either De Bruyne or Sterling was in the wide space, but not so wide that their boots were getting messy from the paint of the sideline. The player wide always made sure to be closer to the Swansea goal than Sigurdsson was vertically.

With a hard pass on the ground Stones could play to De Bruyne, and due to the originally narrow positioning of Sigurdsson, the two City attackers could create a 2 v 1 against Olsson. Also the wide player received the ball higher on the pitch than Sigurdsson’s position. If the penetration didn’t happen, Fernandinho would come in the second wave, giving a free option to play out from the area now closed down by the defending team.

Silva uses the occasional manmarking tendencies of the Swansea back four

silva-run-into-the-channelIn the 19th minute Swansea struggled to defend  the channel on their left side between Olsson and Mawson. This was due to the lack of shifting over when Stones passed to the player wide. In these cases Olsson attacked the wide player if he didn’t have a player in his zone – like Sterling in a previous example. However Mawson stayed in the centre, too occupied with Gabriel Jesus.

Silva had an excellent starting position. He was in front of the channel, but closer to the defence than Cork, so as the midfielder moved sideways during Stones’ pass to De Bruyne, Silva was out of Cork’s visual field.

Silva made his run with a direction and speed not to get into the visual field of Olsson. The fullback stepped up to press De Bruyne and left the space behind him open. Mawson was not shifting over, he was too man oriented on Gabriel Jesus.

Runs behind the defence 

A few times the players occupying the wide attacking positions tried runs behind the defence diagonally, with the central defender free on the ball playing a long ball behind the visitor’s defence. On City’s left side such a ball lead to an aerial duel between Sane and Naughton, with Silva picking up the second ball between the lines. On the right Sterling’s run behind Olsson was met with an accurate long pass from Stones, with the attacker  taking a heavy touch in front of Fabianski rushing out of his goal, and receiving a yellow card for what the referee deemed to be diving.



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