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Manchester City - Playing Philosophy, Game Model & Positional Play

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Playing Style & Game Model Principles:


Since Pep Guardiola has come on board as the Manchester City Head Coach, he has changed the DNA and Identity of the clubs playing philosophy towards the following game model (their is others principles/tactics/concepts that we've not listed - However, these are the most clear areas based on our analysis):


- Fluidity in the Building Up Phase

- Positional Rotations

- Constant search for Numerical superiority and Free Players between lines

- Inverted FB's to overload the Central Channel

- False "9" role to create another option between the lines

- Wingers that can play on either side (strong foot or weak side foot to drive inside)

- Interior Space (Always has a player that makes movements in the interior space or as some bloggers call it "Half Spaces")

- Immediate and Quick Counter pressing

- Possession with Purpose - Ability to hold on to the ball and sustain possession for longer sequences until high quality penetration opportunities arise


Note - Some of our videos highlight the 5 channels that Pep uses in his training session to teach positional play


This video provides an example of Manchester City's Identity and Philosophy under Pep Guardiola:

Here is a video example in tactical view of Mendy positioned as an inverted FB and the principles behind this structure:

This video example shows the use of interior spaces (half spaces) and how Man City players create, open and exploit attacking spaces when possession is in the attacking 1/3 (wide channel).

From the Defensive perspective, Manchester City aim to win possession back as quick and high up the pitch as possible through Counter pressing. Pep has a philosophy of positional play, which has a huge emphasis on creating numerical advantages around or away from the ball. This concept of numerical advantages/superiority is a springboard for the counter pressing (immediate pressure on the ball, double teaming) as players are in close proximity to the ball/opponent in possession that they can deny penetration and regain possession within 6-8 seconds after a turnover. These videos provide some examples of the counter press and high pressing from Man City.



High Pressing vs Manchester United:


Manchester City Build Up - Tactical Analysis:


Pep Guardiola is an advocate of the very popular Positional play philosophy, which has been interpreted and implemented in different ways by various coaches. In my opinion, each coach has to find a philosophy and model that suits the qualities of the players at their disposal which Pep has proven to have done at FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.


Some core principles of positional play are:


- Create Numerical Superiority (Overloads)

- Create a Free Player between the lines

- Create build up structures that create superiority (Numerical, Qualitative, Structural)


For the purposes of this post, we will focus on Structural superiority and provide examples of build up variations from Manchester City.


Build Up #1 - Back 3 with Inverted FB:


This is an example of build up in a back 3 with Zinchenko (Left Back) inverting on the left side to create a 2nd pivote with Gundogan. Walker (Right Back) stays with Stones/Laporte to establish the back 3 structure. Aguero operates in the false 9 to provide occupy space and be available between the lines. Width is maintained on the ball side from the wingers.


Pep would utilize the back 3 build up against opponents that have 2 Forwards in their first line of pressing (3v2 structural advantage in the build up)

Back 3 with Double Pivotes Centrally - Zinchenko Inverted

Back 3 with Double Pivotes in Half Spaces - Zinchenko as the inverted FB on Left Side


Build Up #2 - Back 3 with High FB's:


Another variation of the back 3 build up against 2 forwards - This time Zinchenko (left back) & Walker (right back) position high and wide. Fernandinho (Holding Midfielder) drops between the centre backs to establish the back 3. De Bruyne and Silva position in the interior channels to receive in the spaces beyond the front 2 and would thus eliminate the opponents 1st line of pressure. Due to Walker and Zinchenko positioned high/wide, the wingers invert and create a narrow front 3. This creates a numerical overload in the central channel for vertical penetration.


Back 3 with Inverted Wingers & High FB's plus Double MFD Pivotes in Half Spaces

Build up #3 - Both FB's Inverting:


This animated video shows both FB's Inverting to create Double Pivotes with the Holding Midfielder dropping between the Centre Backs to create a back 3. The Front 3 & Attacking Midfielders maintained their traditional roles in the starting shape (1-4-3-3).


We have seen this structure work against an opponent defending with 1,2, or 3 forwards. The wideness or narrowness for the inverted FB would be based on the positional structure of the opponents 1st line.




Build up #4 - Short Build from Keeper vs High Press - Creation of Numerical Superiority:


Opponents would often set up to high press Manchester City's Short Build up. Pep maintained their identity through adapting his structure to still build from the back. The Centre Backs would come low and pretty much in line with the 6 yard box for the 1st pass from the goalkeeper. Ederson is very good with his feet and would support the centre backs (was the open player to safely transfer possession).


The midfielders would create single or double pivotes to create numerical superiority for split passes beyond the opposition front 2 or front 3. If all short options were denied, Ederson would play Long diagonal passes into the high full backs and eliminate the opponents high pressing. Once the full back was in possession , there is high quality opportunities to exploit key spaces and overload the opposition.


Man City Shortt Build Up from Ederson vs High Press - MFD Pivote Dropping Down plus FB Inverting

If the opponent marks man to man - drop down an extra midfield player plus Ederson has long options in the width

Build up #5 - 433 Shape - Attacking Midfielder positional roles to create numbers up:


This structure is the foundation of Pep's game model, which is a 1-4-3-3 Shape. His FB's are often Low or High - Always adapted to the opponents qualities. His Winger's maintain the width up high and look to stretch the opponents defensive shape. Attacking Midfielders can be narrow to overload centrally and link with the Centre forward or can position in the interior channels to create 2v1's or 3v2's in wide areas.


The holding midfielder occupies the "hole" between the opponents Front Line and Midfield Line. In this space, the holding midfielder can be used to draw out opponents through short passes, be available to switch play side to side or be used to eliminate the opponents 1st line.


Man City Typical Shape in 433

Attacking Midfielders will adjust positions from Central to Half Spaces dependent on opponents compactness/space availability

To provide further insights on the Man City philosophy, the below videos highlight some of the variations that we've presented.


Video of Man City Short Build Up vs High Press (Tactical View):


Video Example of Man City Build up in 433 Structure - Principles of Rotational Movement and Breaking Lines is applied too:

Video Example below of the FB-Winger Relationship - You can clearly see the attacking profile of the Man City FB's and their Overlap/Underlap movements.

Video example of how Man City adjust their build up structures in game vs Burnley (Back 3, Inverted FB and Traditional 433 Structure)

Video Example of Man City building in 433, Counter Pressing and then how the FB's vary the positional height and angle (wide/inverted)


Man City have a very clear game model and DNA that is highly adaptable and is constantly adjusting based on the match context. Pep Guardiola is evolving year to year with his model and we will continue to analyze the Pep Evolution in future posts.


Enjoy - Footy Analytics!


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