Manchester City edged past Stoke with a narrow but crucial victory which has allowed them to keep up the pressure at the top of the table.
Yaya Toure struck with 20 minutes left to play after being moved forward into attacking central midfield, leaving Stoke hovering precariously above the relegation zone.
With regards to the system that Manuel Pellegrini went with, I will risk sounding like a football ‘hipster’ and say that this was a 4-2-2-2 formation. This is not because I think 4-4-2 is awful or that a top team can’t be successful with it, or even because the way they play the system is more fluid than a usual teams 4-4-2.
I suggest this is the best way to describe the formation because of the way the middle four were deployed. Toure and Fernandino behind, dovetailing and alternating with their forward movements, while one protected deeper. Silva and Nasri meanwhile had no designated positions at all:
Above, we see the pair both on the right hand side in the 2nd minute of the game, looking to link with each other and work as a two, rather than wingers on opposing flanks.
Now just over a minute later, we see them both on the left hand side. Again, they are working as a pair and looking to link with the full back.
Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate the ‘2-2-2’ is through their average positions (Whoscored.com):
As you can see, all of City’s width comes from the full backs, Zabaleta and Kolarov, while Silva (21) and Nasri (8) have matching average positions in the centre of the field. Fernandinho (25) appears deeper than Toure (42), as he was pushed higher up towards the end, while Negredo (9) played deeper off of Edin Dzeko (10), who remained high up to stretch play.
Mark Hughes set Stoke up to remain compact in two banks of four, with Jon Walters adding defensive work rate working back from behind Peter Crouch. Incredibly, Hughes also got a disciplined and hard-working defensive performance from Peter Odemwingie out on the right hand side. He did a man-marking job on Aleksander Kolarov, and often found himself tracking into extremely deep areas:
Here you can see the type of man-for-man job Stoke were trying to use throughout the game. The arrow showing Geoff Cameron’s movement is an example of him following Silva into the extremely deep areas he tended to drift into.
Simultaneously, you can see Kolarov taking his run forwards and Peter Odemwingie follows him into these areas. There were many occasions when Cameron would find himself level with the midfield, and Odemwingie found himself level with the defence. The same went for the opposite side with Pieters and Arnautovic.
Manchester City completely dominated possession with a massive 74.1%, something that appears obvious when you see the average positions of the players. Stoke only completed 160 passes, barely seeing the ball and simply sitting back in shape, while City completed an incredible 620. 242 of these were also in the final third with an impressive 83% accuracy.
Despite these impressive statistics there was something missing from the City performance and they will be looking to up their game in the closing stages to the season. They only managed 6 shots from inside the box, partly due to Stoke’s almost air tight defence, and only created 2 clear cut chances.
Manuel Pellegrini will take the 3 points at this stage in the season, as Chelsea grinded out a win over Everton earlier in the day. The final third of the season has no longer become about winning in style, and at this crucial time it will be seen as a great result.
Manchester City now face a trip to Wembley for the League Cup final, an FA Cup quarter final and a trip to the Nou Camp to go on top of their growing list of challenges in the league.
Stoke enter the pressures of the relegation battle with only 11 games to go, and will be disappointed not to have stolen a point from this game.