Tactical Analysis: Manchester City @ Monaco 1-3 UCL (2nd leg) 03/15/2017 An epic tactical battle between two opposite teams

This is an exciting game where two teams with opposite styles played against each other. Monaco and Manchester City dominated each half. However, Manchester City failed to convert many chances they created and crashed out of the competition.

Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Caballero // Clichy-Kolarov-Stones-Sagna // Fernandinho // Sanes-David Silva-De Bruyne-Sterling // Aguero

Monaco (4-4-2): Subasic // Mendy-Jemerson-Raggi-Sidibe // Lemar-Bakayako-Fabinho-Bernardo Silva // Mbappe-Germain

Monaco’s dominance in the first-half

 Monaco used a very high press against Manchester City. Monaco uses the high press to guide the opponent’s ball movement into the area they desire. This strategy is similar to that of Atletico Madrid. However, Monaco wants to force the opponents to play the ball centrally and to avoid defending on the flanks. Therefore, they used a 4-2-2-2 formation in the initial defensive phase:

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The formation is characterized by the hexagonal shape of the front six players. The two strikers and the two defensive midfielders position rather centrally. Instead of forming a flat horizontal line with their Bakayako and Fabinho, the two wide midfielders (Bernardo Silva and Lemar) occupied the space between the two strikers and the two central midfielders. The hexagonal shape is important for Monaco to funnel the opponent’s ball to the central area where they want to defend. When pressing, Mbappe and Germain would be the first line of defense. Firstly they aimed to prevent City’s center backs from breaking the line by bringing the ball forward. Fernandinho often dropped back to the defense to create a back-three in the initial build-up. In that case, Mbappe and Germain aimed to close down his passing lanes to the flanks. The key element for Monaco in their defensive shape is the position of Bernardo Silva and Lemar. They always occupied the positions to block the passing lanes to City’s full backs. Therefore, the only options for the City to progress the ball are 1, Fernandinho received the ball and carried it upfield. 2, City’s full-back, usually Sagna, moved inward to receive the ball in the midfield. 3, Long ball. All of these scenarios required City to operate in the central area, where Monaco’s most potent defensive weapons, Bakayoko and Fabinho, functioned.

Caballero often found Fernadinho unmarked when he dropped back. Because of the advanced position of Bernardo Silva and Lemar, they blocked Fernandinho’s passing lanes to Clichy and Sagna. Moreover, Fernandinho lacks the passing range to deliver long and accurate passes. Therefore, the only option for him was to carry the ball forward and moved into the hexagonal area formed by Monaco’s first six players.

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Once the ball moved inside the hexagon, Monaco’s front six players started to attack the ball very aggressively. They all moved and closed down the ball handler and his passing options. A recurring theme is that the Monaco’s players would “sandwich” the ball-handler where pressure would be coming from multiple sides.

Even if Fernandinho carried the ball past through the front four of Monaco, he still had to face Bakayoko and Fabinho. He did not have the skills to dribble past them, so he always decided to pass through them, either to Aguero or David Silva. However, Bakayoko and Fabinho and Monaco’s defenders maintained a very short distance between each other. Such arrangement means that Monaco had a numerical advantage when they channeled the ball through into this area.

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In the first half, Sagna had moved inward to help City’s build-up. He would move all the way to the left flanks to get rid of his marker Lemar (Monaco played a zonal defense). In that case, his passing lanes to the winger on the same side was still blocked. His passing options would still be limited to the central area where the ball would eventually found Aguero, where he would have to fight against his marker and one of the two defensive midfielders.

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Monaco’s “hexagonal press” was so successful in the first half that Manchester City could not generate any shot at all. Monaco spent three times more passes in the final third compared to their defensive third (90 to  33). In contrast. Manchester City had only 34 passes in the final third compared to 74 passes in their defensive third. Manchester City never gets into the offensive phase, and they could not move the ball past the Monaco’s midfield.

Monaco is everyone’s darling this season with their high-scoring tactics, scoring 2.9 goals per game (leader of the four top domestic leagues in Europe).  They thrive on the defensive-to-offensive transition.With their athletic and physically imposing players and the aggressive and intensive “hexagonal press”, they generate a lot of physical duels and counter-attack opportunities.

Entering the offensive phase through build-up, Monaco reverted into a back-three. The back-three was formed by either Bakayoko or Fabinho dropped back with the center back to create a 3-5-2, or a skewed 3-4-3 to the left side with Mendy pushed up to the midfield while Sidibe moved inside with the other center backs.

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In any case, the goal is to allow Mendy to push forward to create the overloading scenarios with the Lemar and Mbappe.

But scoring a lot of goals does not mean that Monaco is a creative team. They only have one real creative player in Bernado Silva. All of the other players lack passing ranges. Most of the time Monaco are short of the ideas to build up from the back and resorted to playing long ball forwards.

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In this regard, Monaco resembled an old British club who plays mostly long balls to bypass midfield and any build-up.

City’s adjustment in the second-half

Guardiola made several changes at the half-time.

Firstly, City’s players occupied the positions with longer distances between each other. Both City’s center backs positioned almost to the by-line. The full-backs occupied to the areas almost to the sideline. The goal is simple: by stretching the distances between each player, it made it more difficult for Monaco to press them.

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Secondly, Manchester City used De Bruyne instead of Fernandinho to drop back to help build-up. Fernandinho lacked passing range when he carried the ball. He would pass the ball back to the keeper immediately when being pressured close to their box. Even if he moved passed the front four of Monaco, he lacked the passing ranges and creativity to generate opportunity. With De Bruyne as the primary ball distributor, City could now open Monaco’s defense with his passes:

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He has the passing range to spread the ball to the two flanks, City could now finally operate the sides and used the width to stretch Monaco’s defense.

When being pressured, De Bruyne could still manage to generate dangerous vertical passed to the front players.

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Such ability is important because City could now attack before Monaco could settle into its desired defensive shape. Therefore, it was harder for them to generate numerical advantage for the loose balls, which was an area they dominated in the first half. This change is critical for the balance of the match: Monaco could not consistently pressure City because it also took them a long time to transition into the offensive phase from the defensive phase. It means that Monaco was a lot less dangerous for City because they could not pressure them as much. Manchester City could play a lot more easy passes compared to the first half. Such advantage allowed them to use passes to generate structure they preferred.

Thirdly, Manchester CIty’s players moved a lot more collectively in the second half. Such team-wise movement of players allowed them to generate overloads close to most loose balls and minimized the physical advantages of Monaco players.

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(Nine Manchester City’s players versus five Monaco’s players)gif#11.gif

Collectively, these adjustments made it harder for Monaco to press and pressure City’s defenders during the build-up. With much more threatening passing ranges from De Bruyne and the collective movements of the players, City canceled the advantages of Monaco’s players in 50-50 duels. All of these changes impact the dynamics of the game: Monaco was less capable of disrupting Manchester City’s transition into the offensive phase, which means that City could now control the possession a lot easier. Manchester City could now open the defensive structure of Monaco. Controlling the possession is also critical for City to minimize Monaco to generate the defensive-to-offensive transition. Therefore, Monaco was mostly confined to be defending in the second half.

Conclusion

It is an exciting tactical encounter. Both teams were capable of playing their brands of football. Guardiola would feel disappointed that Manchester City could not convert all the chances they created in the second half. They could have qualified if they were clinical in front of the goal. But both teams have serious flaws that it would be safe to say that neither team would be able to win the competition in the end.

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