Skip to main content

Analysis of a Disaster - Looking back at Man City's Champions League exit

A gut wrenching, head scratching defeat to Olympique Lyonnais means that Manchester City have disappointed in Europe one again, crashing out in the quarter-final stage.

A gut wrenching, head scratching defeat to Olympique Lyonnais means that Manchester City have disappointed in Europe one again, crashing out in the quarter-final stage.

It is now four years in a row that City have not been able to advance beyond the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League - the competition that Pep Guardiola was ultimately brought in to make progress in.

It's a gutting defeat no doubt, but here we'd like to look at two key areas from a tactical perspective. Firstly, the attacking organisation and game plan - what did we do right and wrong? How did Pep Guardiola make adjustments as the game went on?

And, the back three. Why did Pep Guardiola even choose a back three as opposed to the usual back four? Was this responsible for City's defence conceding so many on the night?


The offensive gameplan

Manchester City have been poor defensively all season, so it comes as no surprise that we struggled in that area once again. However, Kevin De Bruyne struggling to really get going was a big shock. To find out exactly why this was the case, let's look at Gabriel Jesus' off the ball movement.

In the image below, note how Gabriel Jesus is occupying the middle centre back. Superficially, this may seem like a decent place to be, but this movement actually enables Marcal to man mark Kevin De Bruyne.

Perhaps this is a good way to look at it; Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo have the wing backs pinched on the sides, but Gabriel Jesus staying central doesn't provide Manchester City with the chance to free De Bruyne up in some space.

Not to mention, every time Fernandinho got the ball, Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar stepped out of midfield to cut off the supply lines into De Bruyne's feet.

This resulted in De Bruyne having to drop much deeper to collect the ball, which wasn't ideal. What made it worse was Jesus didn't attack the space that De Bruyne left either, this is a very good example of that:

To be fair to Pep Guardiola, after about 35 minutes, he did make adjustments to the attacking shape, and from 35-45+2 minutes, Manchester City produced their best display of the half. It doesn't come as any real surprise that our brightest flurry of attacks came as De Bruyne got more involved.

One of the changes that Pep Guardiola made, was dropping Ilkay Gundogan deeper in build up. When Rodri was the lone pivot in build up, Caqueret was able to run out and press Aymeric Laporte whenever he received the ball, to prevent passes forward.

With Ilkay Gundogan dropping in next to Rodri, Caqueret had to stay narrow and closer to the German midfielder. But why does this matter?

Well, because at this point, Pep Guardiola had switched Kevin De Bruyne to that same left side, and by keeping Caqueret tied to Gundogan, it meant Cancelo could receive the ball in more space, to play the ball to De Bruyne quicker and easier.

This is a good example of that. Ilkay Gundogan here moves Caqueret inside and narrower, so Laporte can have space to move into, which leads to Cancelo getting the ball under better conditions, thus benefitting Kevin De Bruyne.

This is another example. Once again, we see Ilkay Gundogan dropping deeper alongside Rodri, significantly freeing up the left hand side, allowing Laporte and Cancelo to service the ball into De Bruyne a bit better.

Now, these changes took place from the 35th to the 45th minute, and it resulted in our brightest spell of the opening half. But it's really interesting to look at the touch map for both De Bruyne's first 35 minutes, and the 35th minute to the 45th.

In this image, we can see that for the first 35 minutes, which was prior to these adjustments being made, De Bruyne was receiving the ball in deep, wide positions. Not ideal conditions for your most creative player to be receiving the ball in.

However, after De Bruyne switched over, and Gundogan dropped deep, he recorded these touches in just ten minutes of play, compared to the 35 minutes of stagnant possession:

It's clear that here he received the ball in much better situations, in just ten minutes of play. Not surprising that this coincided with the brightest spell of the half.

In the second half, the first of just two substitutions that Guardiola made was to bring on Riyad Mahrez for Fernandinho. This saw Manchester City shift from a back three (or five depending on how you look at it) to their traditional back four.

Of course, this change added an extra attacker, but in my opinion it added something a bit deeper; and that was runs in behind the defence. By doing this, you force the opposition defence to move back, creating more space in the middle - space for players like Kevin De Bruyne.

About two minutes after entering the match, Riyad Mahrez provided City with a good look at how he fitted in with the attack in this game. The Algerian has just finished running in behind, and has moved the Lyon defence back. Now he positions himself between two players, occupying them both. On the opposite side, Sterling is doing the same thing.

Something to also admire here is how Gabriel Jesus pins the central defender. He's playing like a target man at this point - something I personally want to see more of. I'm not asking him to become a classic Stoke-style striker, but in this game we needed players being more aggressive to receive the ball. 

With all this, we finally played a vertical pass!

The introduction of Riyad Mahrez helped us. He provided energy, and his off the ball movement was much better than a lot of the players that started the game. Look here as he drops off to link up with Gabriel Jesus.

One thing that bothered me throughout the match was the lack of forwards dropping off, and also the lack of players attacking empty spaces. Riyad Mahrez came on and helped with this massively.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The best way to disrupt an organised defence is through off the ball movement, and this is how we scored. The image below highlights how Riyad Mahrez drops deep to collect the ball - forcing Jason Denayer to follow him.

Now, at the very last second Jason Denayer and Marcelo switch assignments, but Raheem Sterling's run in behind and Mahrez dropping off has already given Manchester City the advantage. For the first time in the game, Lyon were reacting to a City attack.

Perhaps this is actually the best perspective to view this from. This really helps you to visualise just how much space Sterling was in for this ball to be played into. All sourced from a simple movement from Mahrez!

Mahrez continued to move in this manner, including this moment. Jesus is seemingly trapped on the touchline but Mahrez dropping off creates a simple 1-2 opportunity and Jesus ends up having a decent effort on goal.

It took us a while to get going, and I do think that Pep Guardiola's midfield was relatively stagnant. Using the Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri pairing is cautious in itself, but doing so in front of three centre backs is too defensive.

Bernardo Silva could have played the role Gundogan did; dropping deep and forming the temporary double pivot, but he'd also provide more vertical passing, more creativity to break down Lyon's defence, and he'd arrive into the box with more dynamism.

However, Pep and his selection isn't entirely to blame on the attacking front. We obviously can't forget that if Raheem Sterling converts THIS chance then we'd be tied up at 2-2...

The back three

One of the most surprising elements of Pep Guardiola's tactical outline for this game was the sudden implementation of the back three.

We have used this before - games against Sheffield United and Everton back in December, but that was a long time ago, and we're naturally a back four side. This sudden change was a massive one, so why exactly did Pep Guardiola opt for the three central defenders?

Ultimately, Pep wanted to create a 3v2 in favour of our central defenders against their centre backs. He was aware that Lyon had strength in countering teams, so wanted to use a spare man to stop this part of their game.

He essentially wanted this to be created; in transition, he wanted to be able to pressure the man on the ball whilst keeping the other striker between two defenders.

To be honest, this is how it played out at times. Take this example, where Fernandinho is taken out of the game by the high ball over the top. Having the extra man enables Eric Garcia to come along and halt the break of Lyon.

However, I do feel that playing in a system that was so unusual for the players did hamper us defensively. I know we have some smart, tactically astute personnel in our side, but suddenly switching to a back five against Lyon is bound to have some sort of negative ramification upon the defence.

Take the second goal as an example. Look how disorganised we look after losing the ball. Sure this is perhaps down to personal execution but I imagine suddenly playing in a new system could definitely hamper organisation.

There were a few moments like this, but to be honest, as much as I do believe that the sudden change in system was an influence on the lack of organisation and structure we showed defensively, I do believe there was another factor at play. For me, the high line that we used was tactical suicide.

Pep Guardiola is a manager based on principle, who plays high pressing, possession centric football, but if he's willing to compromise on team shape so drastically, why not adjust the line?

With Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia, and Fernandinho, we hardly had any pace at the back, leaving us susceptible to the long ball over the top. 

Within minutes Lyon were playing long balls over the heads of our centre backs, and the French side could see their was space to be exploited. Take a look at the below image, where their first goal came from. We simply cannot be playing that high with the players at our disposal!

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Pep Guardiola - an incredible manager and we should all be still happy to have him at the club. If he had opted for an attack minded team, playing our creative midfielders, then I'd have backed his decision to play so high up the pitch.

However he didn't, and it baffles me that he's willing to compromise to become so cautious, but then play such a high line that opens us up. Time and time again Lyon exploited us in behind, and if we have Nathan Ake, Aymeric Laporte, and potentially Kalidou Koulibaly, it's a different story. That's an athletic, quick, back line, that would do brilliantly in a line of this sheer depth.

Rounding up - Did Pep overthink?

Ultimately, yes, he did overthink. If you make such sweeping and drastic changes to your tactics to face a Lyon side that on paper are worse than us, then yes he did overthink.

However, I understand the use of the back three - literally invented to produce a spare man against two strikers, so I get that. I just feel that if he was going to play a more pragmatic system and midfield, he should commit fully by adjusting the back line.

All year, long teams have ruined us with balls over the top, and we've genuinely seen no change whatsoever. Now this doesn't account for the individual errors that Pep Guardiola simply cannot control - the shocking miss from Sterling, Ederson's mistake for the third goal, or even the VAR error on the second Lyon goal.

All in all, this match was something of a microcosm of what was a tough season. Individual errors defensively, Pep Guardiola's tactics being off, Kevin De Bruyne doing his best to get us across the line, and of course, that old reliable of VAR donning the colours of the opposition.


You can follow the author on Twitter here: @Brendan_1603

You can follow us on Twitter for live Man City updates here: @City_Xtra