Manchester City lined up in their usual 4-4-2 shape, led by Dzeko and Aguero. Fernandinho and Javi Garcia occupied the central midfield spots in the absence of Toure, flanked by the usual Nasri and Silva, who roamed from their positions constantly behind WBA’s midfield. Hart in goal, supported by a defence of Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis and Gael Clichy.
Coming to the Etihad, WBA set up in a similar 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system. Another English ‘keeper, Ben Foster started in goal behind Jones, Dawson, Olsson and Ridgewell. Ahead of them was another bank of 4, with a double pivot of Mulumbu and Dorrans who were central to Amalfitano on the left and Brunt on the right. Sessegnon played high up in support of Matej Vydra, who led the line once again after their victory against Norwich.
Surprisingly, Mel started the holding midfielder Claudio Yacob on the bench, favouring a partnership of Brunt and Mulumbu to protect his back four. The more attacking-minded Brunt theoretically would add a threat from deep, as Sessegnon held a high average position; however, without the good defensive positioning of Yacob, WBA struggled.
Brunt’s poor defensive awareness exposed WBA to the extent that he swapped positions with Dorrans (left wing) early on, however, the damage had already been done with the first goal.
This move was even more surprising given City’s excellent use of the space in which Yacob covers well, as the two strikers often rotated in dropping deep whilst both Silva and Nasri came inside frequently.
Mulumbu is one to get dragged out of position easily and given that WBA spent long periods of the game in a low defensive block, it seemed necessary on paper to field someone alongside him with good tactical intelligence, but Mel chose not to.
It is questionable overall as to whether the 4-4-2 shape, which WBA adopted for the majority of the game, was the best. The home side created numerous chances behind their opposition’s midfield as WBA weren’t compact enough to close the space between their two banks of four.
Without the services of Yaya Touré in midfield, Javi Garcia came in to partner Fernandinho as a double pivot in City’s 4-4-2. The orientation of the pivot was very distinct as Javi Garcia dropped in possession to create a 3-man defence and Fernandinho pushed ahead to offer a threat from deep.
Although they’re already very attacking, Garcia’s role allowed the full-backs to push on well, whilst providing an assurance against a WBA counter-attack, which often consisted of Vydra and Sessegnon. By creating a 3-man defence, Garcia created a 3v2 numerical superiority for City which allowed the spare man to cover space and overall made defending a lot easier.
The effect of this was amplified in the fact that WBA were reactive in their game-plan and thus most of their threatening attacks would hypothetically come through transitional play: their only goal of the game, originating from a Man City attack, exploited central space on the occasion when Garcia was caught out higher up.
In addition to the defensive stability provided, Garcia gave support in City’s first phase of possession. Again he created numerical superiority against Sessegnon and Vydra in WBA’s 4-4-2 press, which made it much easier for the home side to build possession from the back.
Although it will largely be remembered for the great strike by Aguero for City’s second goal, the build-up play by City was interesting as they exploited the left-half space.
Upon bringing possession forward from the back down the left flank, they found themselves in a position on the touchline whilst Dzeko was the only player in the box.
Given the positioning of the players, it seems the wide play was purely to send WBA into a low block with little pressure to then bring it back inside to exploit – Dzeko was just a ‘decoy’.
An attack starting from their left back position, WBA’s goal was undoubtedly the highlight of the match, and not only for the exquisite display of skill from Dorrans.
The away side gained possession shortly, following a confused set piece by City, as the likes of Javi Garcia, Kompany and Demichelis were up field. Without their primary holding midfielder, West Brom broke against Clichy and Fernandinho who stayed back, and exploited the central space which in other moments was covered by the Spanish midfielder.
Although Garcia tracked back to the extent of being slightly behind the play, a 3v2 in favour of WBA occurred as Dorrans, Sessegnon and Vydra broke against Clichy and Fernandinho.
Obviously, given the scoreline, WBA had to step it up and press higher in the second half, however, that point never came and the match dulled as the away side showed little threat. Especially when WBA replaced Vydra with Anichebe on the 60 minute mark, with which they lost pace for the counter-attack albeit in exchange for strength and size. However, the likes of Demichelis found it much easier to defend against, compared to the pace and skill of Vydra, as Anichebe failed to impact the game.