The reign of Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City began with a resounding home victory over an energetic if poorly organised Newcastle side on Monday evening. The 4-0 scoreline didn’t flatter City on the balance of play but they were undoubtedly helped by a moment of madness from Steven Taylor. The game was already beyond Newcastle when Taylor was sent off for striking Aguero on the back of the head but the manner of Newcastle’s defeat may have been tempered had they retained their full complement of layers on the pitch.
Pre match the focus was on Man City and post match the focus was on Man City.
Pellegrini opted to hand debuts to Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. Alvaro Negredo began on the bench whilst Jovetic failed to make the 18 man squad due to fitness concerns. The remainder of the side was familiar from last season with Dzeko, having impressed in pre-season, starting in attack.
After a very poor season, Alan Pardew must have been looking forward to having a full fit squad to choose from. Given the selection of players at his disposal, last season’s struggles would surely be quickly forgotten. A late transfer bid for Yohann Cabaye prompted Pardew to remove him from the squad but otherwise, the team looked strong in their usual 4-4-2 formation.
This game was all about how City would adapt to Pellegrini’s requirements. Could they play the fluid football that has become synonymous with him wherever he has gone and which seems to be a basic need now for City’s owners?
The answer would be yes although caution must be exercised. This was a very poor performance from Newcastle.
City lined up in what appeared to be a 4-4-2 with Silva on the left and Navas on the right leaving Dzeko and Aguero in attack but shortly after kick off it quickly become apparent just how fluid and flexible the system being deployed was.
Silva repeatedly moved inside from the left whereas Navas remained much wider on the right although the winger did show signs of flexibility by moving across the pitch.Although Dzeko was often the main central striker with Aguero tucked in behind and offering greater movement, the Bosnian was also prepared to sacrifice his central position and move into vacant space. The result was a very fluid front four for the team with the full backs pushing high particularly Zabaleta who has developed a good understanding with Navas already.
Further back, the central double pivot of Fernandinho and Toure was very effective with the Brazilian more prone to breaking forward but one of the two players always sitting to allow the other to support attacks.
This contrasted sharply with a Newcastle team that remained fixed on their positions and was far too open and stretched at times. Newcastle were dominated for large chunks of the game and Cisse became a virtual spectator despite making many decent runs, he was left without support and chasing lost causes.
The pairing of Gutierrez and Ben Arfa were also too wide and too high from their central midfielders which created another problem for Newcastle when parts of the team decided to press yet the remained opted against this.
Newcastle Organisation and Pressing
Newcastle started the game and attempted to press their opponents across the pitch but the pressing was unstructured and not coordinated. With Silva moving infield and Fernadinho often pushing higher, the central pairing of Tiote and Sissoko were overrun. Tiote and Sissoko appeared desperate to press their opponent whereas Ben Arfa, not noted for his defensive diligence, refrained. This was clearly a problem for Newcastle and the side should have sat slightly deeper than they did early on and allow Man City to move onto them. If Ben Arfa had to be played, use him behind Cisse and sacrifice Gouffran with Anita moving into central midfield. The midfield had to be narrow and close to the defence to stop City exploiting gaps between the lines. This was a time for two banks of four, absorb the inevitable early pressure from a side under new management and look to counter. Instead Newcastle presented their opponents with a midfield four who were wide open and offered their defence little cover.
The second goal of the game arrived in a swift attack by City yet it was such a basic goal for Newcastle to concede. Komapny won the ball in his own half and moved forward into an open central midfield area. Tiote was slightly wide whilst Sissoko was behind his own defence and moving forward when Kompany passed to Dzeko who cleverly flicked the ball onto Aguero who finished superbly from a wide angle.
The graphic below shows the location of the ball being recovered. Despite pressing high for much of the opening 20minutes all Newcastle really did was expend energy:-
City on the other hand were far more coherent with an aggressive press often led by the pace of Jesus Navas as they recovered the ball in their opponents half o the pitch on 17 separate occasions compared to Newcastle’s five. City pressed their opponents high and Newcastle often returned the ball with aimless long passes, a scenario only exacerbated by the dismissal of Taylor in the 45th minute.
Contrast in Approach
That this game would see a clear contrast in style was obvious and the match stats showing Man City made 603 successful passes compared to Newcastle’s 312 bear witness to that. Yet City enjoyed “just” 55% possession. City recycled possession very well, moving the ball short distances sharply with quick combinations. Particularly impressive so early on twas the interplay between Fernandinho and Toure and further upfield the pairings of Zabaleta and Navas on the right and Silva and Dzeko on the left.
The graphic above clearly shows how Man City were passing the ball in deeper areas and constructing attacks, easily avoiding the disjointed pressing of Newcastle who were far more comfortable moving the ball forward early possibly as a result of missing Yohann Cabaye from the starting side. There was a central creative spark lacking.
Edin Dzeko Reborn?
“The new manager brings something different to us, especially to me. He gives me confidence and that’s what I needed.”
Many were surprised when Dzeko remained at City during the summer. That surprise will have intensified last night when Dzeko was named in the starting eleven. The Bosnian then produced a performance that demonstrated why that decision was taken in arguably his best 90 minutes for City. Dzeko may not have scored but he has not delivered such an all round performance.
The graphic below highlights his contribution in the attacking third for City:-
He recovered the ball three times, attempted four tackles and won three of them, conceded one foul, provided one assist and took eight shots at goal with four being on target. Allied to the bare statistics was his willingness to move wide and help create space. The static, narrow City of Mancini was gone replaced by a side full of dynamism in attack with interchanging of positions. Twice Dzeko went left and provided crosses for Silva who moved into the central area with the first such move leading to the opening goal for City via a deflected cross. This movement stretched the Newcastle defence and opened space for Man City to exploit.
City scored their fourth goal when Dzeko failed to collect a pass but Nasri responded quicker than both Debuchy and Coloccini. The slackness within the centre of the Newcastle defence for this goal epitomised their overall performance. Slow, lethargic and second to the ball. Newcastle were unable to compete with the vitality of the approach from City.
Engineering Work On Programme
It’s only the first game of the season and Pardew himself commented that “At the end of the day we have just lost a game, nothing else, and have two home games coming up now”. The words sound hollow though. The manner of the defeat must worry the Newcastle manager. The team were wide open at time in central areas with a lack of workrate from some players whilst others were over worked as they tried to compensate.
[quote]We played as an aggressive team without the ball and that’s important if we want to be an offensive team.[/quote]
A winning start for City and Pellegrini. There will be significantly sterner tests ahead but the encouraging start bodes well for the remainder of the season. The combination play in attack will have pleased the manager although City were often a little too hasty in trying to force the issue rather than recycle possession. Despite the overwhelming dominance, City only had 55% possession and not the total dominance in terms of controlling the ball some may envisage. This was not, however, sterile domination as the home side had a clear vertical edge to their play, attacking swiftly and with purpose irrespective of whether they had possession or not which Pellegrini noted.
The engineer can be pleased with the progress of work thus far.