Manchester City would be the ultimate chameleon team.
Jurgen Klopp put it well after his Liverpool side were kicked out of the last 16 of the Carabao Cup by City just before Christmas.
“We are all with the city,” he said. “Different ideas for different games and always in the game. You never know exactly what’s going to happen.”
But while the managers are trying to find solutions to the opposition against the City – either those that have happened before, or adapted to what is happening before their eyes – Guardiola and his staff have also been busy looking for answers to the questions that have been raised. .
City’s possession game has been sorely tested in the last few weeks, first at Elland Road and then at Stamford Bridge. Leeds United’s narrow 4-3-3 approach from possession made it more difficult for City to access their No 10s – Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan – in their 3-2-4-1 formation when they had the ball.
But the thing about the City is that if you stand up at one time, they can beat you at others. The limitation of City’s threat in the possession phase did not stop in City’s transition, and Leeds were lucky to concede only once in the first half – without certainty, from the transition.
Then at Stamford Bridge, Graham Potter used a similar approach without the ball that had frustrated City for the first half. In the second, however, Guardiola was composed and City was better, after introducing Rico Lewis and keeping Rodri in midfield when they did not have the ball.
Ludovico’s role in the double pivot 3-2-4-1 was more daring than Bernardo Silva’s, and the young man’s movement provided the development on the right side of the load. As he improved in the second half with pressure and pressure, Guardiola’s side took a big advantage after dropping points against Everton.
Three days after Chelsea played in the league, they turned themselves into the third round of the FA Cup. Once again, City started with the same formation with the ball – 3-2-4-1 with Sergio Gomez moving inside to partner Rodri on the wing.
And Chelsea continued with a narrow 4-3-3 when they didn’t have the ball, with Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech marking City’s double pivot in front of a midfield three.
This time the city is ready. After eight minutes they changed their shape in possession, sending Bernardo next to Rodri and playing wide with the full backs Gomez and Kyle Walker. from 3-2-4-1 to 4-2-4/4-2-3-1 when they were in possession.
This is the best solution against Chelsea’s narrow 4-3-3 – Mountain and Ziyech still marked the two most advanced midfielders of the city, leaving wide space for the full back of the city. They had time on the ball because Chelsea’s midfield three couldn’t stretch out the middle for fear of City playing through them.
So the city managed to switch stories from one side to the other with full backs with no pressure to make the next move. Here, Aymeric Laporte plays the ball towards Walker on the right side, and you can Mateo Kovacic the initial spot.
… which allows Walker to receive the ball with no compelling ease.
Then, when the city wanted to change the ball in the other direction, it was the same mission. In this close capture, Gomez is in acres of space as Conor Gallagher is positioned infield to link Chelsea’s midfield three. So when Manuel Akanji plays diagonally…
Gomez is able to comfortably control the ball with Gallagher still moving across the pitch to defend.
The wide position of Walker and Gomez has been very troublesome at Chelsea for more than one season. In this example, Gallagher is stuck in the middle of his situation and largely ignores Gomez.
… so when Cole Palmer (blue light) steps into the space vacated by Bashir Humphreys — who passes to Phil Foden — Trevoh Chalobah is left in two-row one position.
Palmer runs behind him (blue) and Gomez runs free ahead of him (yellow). Chalobah’s body tilt says it all – he doesn’t know whether to adapt his body shape to the ball towards Gomez or towards Palmer. Laporte continues this, playing jump after Chalobah…
…and Palmer scores from this point on.
In the example, Lewis Hall (No 67) is in a narrow position to maintain the stability of Chelsea’s defense, but Walker makes a touch on the right line. Near the center of the circle, Kovacic doesn’t even know what’s going on behind him, whether it’s Riyad Mahrez floating into space or Walker providing width.
Rodri notices Walker’s run and crosses England’s right-back…
… who conveniently rules that Hall cannot move to compress him due to the presence of Mahrez. Kovacic, meanwhile, is late to the party.
As a result, Walker has enough time and space to pick a solid player. He opts to play the ball to Foden, who is marked by Julian Alvarez, who makes a free run into the box. Choosing the Argentinian could have resulted in a better chance for the City.
In the first half, Walker and Gomez were free to receive the ball wide. Here, Kovacic is nowhere near Walker – who calls the transition of the game – with the ball in the other direction. So when Rodri plays the ball to Akanji…
… Swiss defender Walker can easily find that Kovacic is far away and Hall cannot commit Mahrez behind him because of the danger.
Once Walker gets the ball here and Hall goes up, the Chelsea defense has to shift across to cover. It creates a gap on the other side of the field, which creates a bigger position from Gallagher moving inside to the center of the pitch and defending Gomez on the left side. After the ball city they are working on the right…
… turn to the left, away from Gomez and Gallagher.
He receives the ball without pressing any Chelsea player. From this attack going down the left side, City will win the corner that leads to the first penalty that Alvarez scores.
City’s third goal, a 17-yard drive that ended with Walker’s cutback to Foden, was also the result of a change of play from one side to the other.
In the build-up to the goal, City began attacking from the right side, while on the other side Gomez kept his width with Gallagher near the center of the circle.
So when Walker drives past Hall, there is an exchange of play in it, because Ziyech is Rodri and Gallagher in midfield. Both are away from Gomez to the left.
City gain possession for two seconds, so Kovacic moves inside to protect the center of the pitch. But again, due to the constraints of the position and the movement of the mark Bernard, Walker is free and nods for the transition of the game towards the right side of the city.
Rodri recognizes and plays the ball into Mahrez as Walker begins his run.
The run puts Hall in a two-point one-shot as Kovacic can’t track this all the way from a narrow midfield position. Mahrez then found Walker’s run…
…and the City defender pulls back for Foden to score City’s third and effectively end the game.
At half time, Potter limited the game to five yards at the back, but it was too late. The game is already over.
Guardiola’s City are famous for their adaptations in the game. Starting with a certain shape, then changing mid-game. Or changing players around to provide different solutions. It gives them an advantage whenever they need it.
A line perhaps Klopp missed. Different ideas for different games, and different ideas within the same game.
When he was right about one thing with the city, you never knew what was going to happen.
(Top photo: BBC Sport)