After a disappointing result against Huddersfield a strong showing in last night’s game was essential for Pep and City with outrage lurking in the shadows should Monaco not be dispensed with easily despite their imperious form this season.
Guardiola made seven changes from the side that underwhelmed against Huddersfield at the weekend. Caballero continued in goal whilst Silva, Touré and Sterling, who were rested at the weekend, made a return to the starting XI alongside Fernandinho. The weekend’s substitutes Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané also resumed their roles in Pep’s preferred lineup.
Facing City was Monaco, a team with frightening attacking capabilities. In Ligue 1 they have outscored the dominant force of PSG by 26 goals and look set to give the Parisians their first real challenge in the league in recent years. With Radamel Falcao rediscovering his best form and group of young talented players behind him, Monaco have the potential to cause anybody in Europe a lot of problems.
Flexible and Varied Build Up Structures
A key feature in the first half of the game in particular was Monaco pressing high up the pitch, right up to the City penalty box in order to disrupt and prevent easy progressions of the ball upfield. In order to combat this City demonstrated their ability to change fluidly between several variations of two first phase structures.
The game began with the team primarily playing out from the back in a 2-3 structure. Stones and Otamendi occupied the first line of play and would circulate the ball between themselves whilst looking for the opportunity to find one of the full-backs or Touré and Silva on the next line of play. Monaco were able to press this relatively easily using man-orientations to maintain access to the ball. Moreover the clever use of cover shadows by Falcao and Mbappe meant they were able to force the ball back to Caballero and prevent play from moving forward.
Moreover, by forcing the ball back to Caballero, Monaco were able to capitalise on his lack of ability with the ball at his feet. Whilst he did a more than acceptable job at recirculating the ball amongst his defenders, when tasked with anything more than that he fell way short of the standard that Bravo has set so far this season. It was a result of his inability to play longer escape passes to Fernandinho (who was often free on the left hand side of the pitch) that Monaco were able to equalise despite City beginning to take firm control of the game.
In order to minimise the effectiveness of Monaco’s press as well as generate more time and space for players between the lines (along with reducing the need to send the ball back to Caballero) City began to alternate their first phase structure frequently.
City moved away from the initial 2-3 structure more and more as the half wore on, introducing multiple variations of a 3-2 structure in the first phase of play instead. This would most often be triggered by Touré dropping between the centre backs causing them to split across the width of the pitch. Either Sagna or Fernandinho would then move inside alongside Silva on the second line of play. Another variation was that both Sagna and Fernandinho moved inside to occupy the second line of play, allowing Silva and De Bruyne to operate much higher up the pitch and move behind the opposition midfield.
The variability of their build up structures allowed City to bypass the Monaco press more easily as the sudden change in structures meant that the French side took longer to reorganise their press and adjust their marking assignments as they could not reliably predict how City were going to structure themselves in order to progress the ball whilst attacking. This is no doubt a major reason for City’s growing dominance as the first half wore on.
Monaco Target Vacant Full-Back Space
Monaco’s primary method of attack was targeting (in transition) the space left by Fernandinho and Sagna as they looked to get involved with City’s attacking play. This proved fruitful across the opening sixty minutes of the game as they created several good chances as well as two goals from said strategy.
Once City advanced the ball upfield Monaco retreated into a more reserved and compact defensive structure, looking to draw the City players forward and punish them with a fast and direct transition-focused attacking strategy. The Monaco full-backs, Mendy and Sidibé, were excellent and constantly supported the counter attacks by covering huge amounts of ground and holding the width for the side. As a result of this, Lemar and Bernardo Silva were able to move inside and be more goal oriented in the final third. Bernardo Silva in particular benefited from this as he was able to find space in interior spaces and using his fantastic pressing ability to generate space and opportunities for the players rushing into space ahead of him.
It should be noted that as the game wore on City were able to contain these counter attacks more effectively with the full backs and Touré taking up better counter pressing positions in the Monaco half that allowed the team to win more of the second balls that they been losing towards the end of the first half.
Second Half: Combinations & Overloads in Wide Areas
Once Monaco had established a lead again in the second half they were more content to allow City to advance with the ball further and engaged them from a deeper position. This is partly game management, but also probably due to the fact that their earlier exertions had left them considerably fatigued. Thus, it meant that City now had to adjust and begin to breakdown their defensive block.
City were able to consistently generate overloads in wide areas and used these to fashion the bulk of their chances in the second half and the final goal of the game came from such a scenario. From a base 3-2-2-3 structure that we have seen used numerous times from City this season they looked to use the half-backs to push forward with the ball and gain numerical superiority in wide areas of the pitch. This was most commonly seen with one of Sagna, Otamendi or Zabaleta pushing the ball forward and creating a four-man overload against the two or three Monaco defenders in the vicinity of the ball.
As a result of this, City were either able to break through on the near side through strong combination play (the final goal) or they were able to free a player in the middle of the pitch to receive the ball and face the play.
This was a ridiculous game.