Manchester City: How the top three set the tone for the dominant display of the Champions League in Marseille


Manchester City had a lot of issues to deal with in the opening weeks of the season so their performance in Tuesday’s win over Marseille was just what they needed.

Uneven form has seen City drop points in three of their first five Premier League games, and they were without fit forwards in France following injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.

But Pep Guardiola’s team responded with an impressive display in a comfortable 3-0 win this keeps them at the top of Group C and besides the result there were a lot of positives all over the pitch.

No problem this time against five at the back

The graph on the left shows where Marseille picked up the ball – only three of their successful tackles (green triangles), interceptions (blue) and ball recoveries (yellow) took place in the city half. In contrast, 37% (23/62) of City’s successful challenges came in the Marseille half, including when Kevin de Bruyne (17) took possession from the edge of the box to score his first goal. team.

I was really impressed with the intensity of the whole City squad against Marseille, and I think the way they fared after the French has a lot to do with their top three.

Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Phil Foden set the tone from the start with their energy, with and without the ball, and their dynamism helped City establish themselves in the game from the start.

Yes, Marseille sat down and stayed deep with five at the back, so much of the game was played in their half of the pitch, but what was remarkable was the speed of the roll whenever City lost ownership.

Average position graph
How far have City pushed Marseille’s back five? During the first half, the average position of the keys of the 11 Marseille players was in their own half. In contrast, even City center-backs Aymeric Laporte (14) and Ruben Dias (3) were near the center line.

They would react quickly and get the ball back because of the pressure they were putting Marseille under – and they scored their first goal by forcing an error on the edge of the local area.

It was very different from how they struggled to make forays against a similar formation in the first half of their draw with West Ham this weekend – when Foden and Torres were both on the bench.

Heat maps of Man City's possession against West Ham (l) and Marseille (r)
Heat maps of City’s possession in the first half of their games against West Ham (left) and Marseille (right). City had 66% pre-break possession against the Hammers and 68.2% against Marseille – but they operated much higher up the pitch against the French.

No false nine role for Torres

Seeing Torres in the lead this time was a surprise, as I thought Sterling would get the job – and the Spaniard wasn’t a false nine either – his role was different, which was still a bit unexpected.

Pep told him to go stand on the shoulder of Marseille’s center halves and use his pace to try and get behind their defense when he can.

This made perfect sense with Kevin de Bruyne on the pitch, as with a false nine going deep, the opposing defense can push upwards, reducing the space for De Bruyne.

Instead, having someone play fast as number nine stretched the game and gave De Bruyne more room to roam around.

Snapshot showing Man City XI against Marseille: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko, Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne, Sterling, Torres, Foden

Torres did well in an unknown position and the only thing I was missing was in the heist game City would get from Aguero or Jesus – although he improved in the second half.

I’m not sure having him in this position ever counts as a long-term answer, but it certainly worked against Marseille.

I actually think Guardiola is going to mix things up with his attack while he’s without Aguero and Jesus in the next couple of weeks, whether that’s with Sterling in a role identical to what Torres played here, or as a false nine.

In the past, Pep has used De Bruyne more forward alone, or with Bernardo Silva, so he has a lot of options.

Sterling, for example, can play anywhere on this three front. Pep regularly plays him on the left so he can cut inside to his right to finish, or leave room for his full-back to move widely around him.

He’s very good at it, but I enjoy seeing him on the right against Marseille and he had a productive night.

Kevin de Bruyne's passes against Marseille
De Bruyne made 58 passes against Marseille and 47 of them were successful (green arrows) including his two passes (blue arrows)

De Bruyne was also a pleasure to watch, on his first departure for City since October 3.

Without him they haven’t been as good as usual in recent weeks but, when he’s in great shape and playing like this, they have nothing to fear in attack.

Excellent team performance

City’s defense has been viewed as suspect for some time now, but they were so comfortable for the first hour or so on Tuesday that their center-back team Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias could have put on their slippers.

It took Marseille until the last half hour to find a way to get past the City press but, when they did, Laporte and Dias were ready.

Dias made some really important clearing headers when dangerous bullets were placed in the city area, and it was really a good sign that he didn’t let his focus level drop after an open too. easy of the game.

Graph showing Group C of the Champions League: 1st Man City, 2nd Porto, 3rd Olympiakos and 4th Marseille
City are 13th in the Premier League after two wins, two draws and one loss in their first five games, but they lead their Champions League group after beating Porto 3-1 and Marseille 3-0

Every City player had that kind of focus, though, and he just seemed like a really good balance for the whole team.

Once they realized that Marseille were not coming out of their own half, Ilkay Gundogan and Oleksandr Zinchenko were allowed to step forward and join the attack.

It turned into a very smooth team performance. In total, 760 of City’s 821 passes were successful, showing just how good they were, both collectively and individually.

You have to remember Marseille had lost their last 10 Champions League games so this was a game City had to win – but they made it very easy.

Michael Brown was talking to Chris Bevan of BBC Sport.

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