Which System Suits City Best?
By Guest writer, Fri 18 November 2016 09:49
Pep Guardiola has employed a number of formations so far in his time as City manager
Alarm bells started to ring when Manchester City went through a sticky patch a few weeks ago and some would argue - after only two wins in their last eight games in all competitions - City still haven’t dragged themselves out of their mid-autumn slump. However, City started the season in scintillating fashion and the victory over Barcelona at the start of this month will be a great source of encouragement for the Etihad faithful.
It’s very clear that Man City have been in a period of transition since Spanish super-manager, Pep Guardiola arrived in the summer. Guardiola himself is still finding his feet at the Etihad and decisions are still being made behind the scenes, about how the club is run and how the players train.
It’s a similar story on the pitch. Not only is Guardiola unsure about which players to play and which don’t have a future at the club, but he hasn’t even settled on a regular formation.
During his most successful years at Barcelona, everyone knew how his team would set up, stopping them playing was the hardest part. He fiddled around with formations a bit at Bayern Munich, but so far during his brief beginnings at City, he’s tried a hatful of different tactics and team shapes. The question remains, which of these formations suit City best?
Surprisingly, the 4-3-3 formation – with an anchor-man in midfield and a fluid front three – which Guardiola made famous during his time at Barcelona, has very rarely been seen so far in Manchester.
Instead, City have played with a much more traditional 4-5-1 - with Nolito and Raheem Sterling staying fairly wide, allowing Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva freedom to move forward and support Sergio Aguero.
As usual with Guardiola, there is a twist in this conventional looking system, as the full-backs are encouraged to step into central midfield when City have the ball. This tactic radically changes the shape of the team and you could see this system being Guardiola’s go-to tactic, when he wants City to really dominate a match.
Against Manchester United in the Premier League, Guardiola started with a modified 4-4-2 formation, a tactic he has seldom used during his career. They packed the midfield with a very narrow set-up, with the versatile De Bryune deployed as a secondary striker alongside Ikechi Iheanacho. Whilst this system proved successful, it was used specifically to exploit United’s weak, ill-disciplined central midfield and to try to unsettle a newly formed defensive unit. A plan which worked perfectly.
Guardiola has even tried to utilise a 3-5-2 system, which is very rarely seen in Premier League football. Most teams in England play with a solitary centre forward, so three central defenders nullifies lone-striking formations very effectively. However, Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy clearly aren’t capable of playing in more central defensive positions. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling feature out-wide, but neither have the defensive attributes needed to play as auxiliary wing-backs.
During that historic win over Barcelona last month, City started with a 4-1-4-1 formation. On paper, this seems like an unusually defensive tactic for Guardiola, but with Fernandinho holding the fort in midfield, the attacking midfield quarter of Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan played with great discipline while the Catalonians had possession, but burst into life when City won the ball back, showing great imagination, movement and attacking freedom.
Since leaving La Liga, Guardiola has struggled against Spain’s big three, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid taking it in turns to eliminate Guardiola’s Bayern from the Champions League, during his three year stint in Bavaria. Maybe that historic night at the Etihad will prove to be a turning point in Manchester City’s history - especially in European football - and after such a sparkling display, I’m sure we will see City deploy that 4-1-4-1 formation to devastating effect throughout the rest of the season.