It may not have been as explosive a victory as the midweek one at Molineux, or even the previous weekend’s derby at Old Trafford for that matter, but City chalked up another victory on Saturday at home to Wolves and in doing so maintained their five point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League and now possess the best record through ten games (nine wins and a draw) since Chelsea achieved the same feat back in 2005/06.
The 3-1 victory wasn’t without a struggle however as a determined Wolves side more than matched City during the first forty-five minutes and aided by some smart goalkeeping from Wayne Hennessey ensured they went in at half-time level at 0-0, before City – ironically aided by a Hennessey mistake – got the lead early in the second half, a lead which they never relinquished.
During the course of this season so far, City have been very dominant (particularly at The Etihad Stadium) in terms of some of the key passing statistics. It is these numbers that have been the foundations for the side creating – and ultimately converting – so many chances.
What the numbers from Saturday show is how well Wolves matched City in these areas:
For the first time since the opening day of the season, City were both out passed and had a lower passing completion rate. In addition to this the number of touches (626-617), indicating that Wolves saw as much of the ball as City on the day. There was also very little difference in terms of the attacking half passes and possession duels won by both sides.
What led to this though? With his team selection for the game, Roberto Mancini reprised the same front four – David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko – that carved through Tottenham’s midfield pairing to such devastating effect earlier in the season. A key difference between that game and Saturday however was the performance of the Wolves midfield duo of Jamie O’Hara and Karl Henry in being able to check the opposition pairing of Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure:
What both O’Hara and Henry were adept at was in pressuring Barry and Toure, trying to maintain this pressure in City’s half to restrict the influence of City’s influential pairing and cut off their ability to create opportunities for Silva et al.
We can see with the combined number of touches (155 for Barry/Toure to 153 for O’Hara/Henry) and combined passing numbers (104/118 for Barry/Toure to 122/138 for O’Hara/Henry) that this was effective. This tactic was not strictly limited to a defensive perspective either; the Wolves pairing had a higher percentage of passes going forward whilst O’Hara created five chances and attempted five shots, which far outweighed what Barry and Toure could muster.
However, for all the success that O’Hara and Henry had, where their effectiveness was limited was in the supporting cast around them. The one stat where City were dominant was in the final third: 58 entries to 35 and completing 104/158 passes compared with 55/92. Whilst Barry and Toure’s ability to create may have been stymied, they were effective in terms of winning possession, tackles and interceptions.
Where City also possess the advantage of course is the options they have available. Whereas in 2010/11 they were often left frustrated when sides sat back and looked to stop Carlos Tevez (such a focal point of the attack of course). This season the number of options has increased, with a far more fluid style of play being adopted. This has afforded Mancini the ability to make in-game changes and a telling figure is that of the four games City have been goalless at half-time, they have gone on to win all four, scoring 13 and conceding just one in the process, evidencing that although sides – if they adopt the right approach – can check City to a degree they are still able to find ways through and create the opportunities that their in-form forward line have consistently converted.