Manchester City demolished Norwich City this past weekend in the Premier League’s second round of fixtures, with Jack Grealish grabbing his first goal for the club. Here is our analysis of the match, including a special look into how the former Villa captain fits into the squad.
Manchester City lined up in their favoured 4-3-3 formation on Saturday, with Norwich attempting to match them with the same shape. Manchester City spent so much time with the possession and momentum that their shape rarely ever actually became 4-3-3. Instead, it was more of a mix of 2-3-5 and 3-3-1-3, with players floating where they pleased at various moments. Manchester City’s over-arching ideologies were not necessarily ever guided specifically to a 4-3-3, and instead much more to positional play and ensuring balance. Within that structure, Jack Grealish fulfilled a role as the left winger in the team, and hugged the touchline much more than he would have at Aston Villa. This was the first noteworthy tactic, considering the questions asked heading into the season about how the Villa captain would fit in.
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Heading into the season, I posited that Jack Grealish might not be best suited for a wide role under Pep Guardiola, as the Spanish coach likes to have his wingers hug the touchline and stay wide. Well, that’s exactly what happened in this match…and…it worked. Grealish had no issue staying wide. In fact, the other City players around him actively played to his strengths throughout the match, getting him on the ball in that wide position whenever they could. It wasn’t the dribbling, foul winning machine that the Premier League has come to know, but it was a much more sensible, creative Grealish instead. As opposed to driving inside onto his right foot and making magic happen centrally, the 25-year-old would wait for the ball to come to him, and then play through balls into space for runners like Gundogan or Torres. In other moments, the likes of Dias and Walker would hit diagonal long passes into his feet, where he would then be receiving the ball closer to the box to deliver himself.
There is an argument that this is not the space where Grealish will do his best damage for City. But, it’s important to remember that players like Foden, Bernardo Silva and even Kevin de Bruyne all started out wide for City, and then grew into central attacking midfield roles as they grew accustomed to Pep’s style of play. The same could easily happen for Grealish. For now, the team are still making active strides to play to his strengths. Whether that continues once Kevin de Bruyne returns remains to be seen, but for now it’s certainly a positive thing for the man starting out his new life in Manchester.
Now, on a slightly more tactical note regarding the game, Norwich could have done a far better job cutting off these diagonal passes. Walker, Rodri and Dias launched these balls into Grealish’s feet time and time again. Yet, Norwich’s fullback – Max Aarons refused to (or was instructed to) give the Villa man that space to receive. What is generally good practice when defending is to worry about the supposedly most important thing first. That means that when the ball is on the far side as a fullback, you normally have that player compact themselves with the back-line and come closer to the middle. The danger isn’t Grealish when the ball is on the right side…it’s more likely the striker or a player like Gundogan making a late run. If the ball is played into Grealish, then Aarons can go and try to intercept the pass. But that never became the reality. The England international always received, and always gracefully took Aarons on 1v1 to great success. Had the Norwich man gone touch-tighter, City would not have been able to play these long passes. They might have still found other ways of breaking the Canaries down, as we’ll discuss, but at the very least they would have quieted and contained Manchester City’s most expensive, and hypothetically most dangerous player.
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After seeing the starting lineups, you would have expected Ferran Torres to play on the right and Gabriel Jesus to play through the middle. But the exact opposite turned out to be true, as the Brazilian fulfilled a dynamic play-making role in the right channel, with Torres as the false nine. This turned out to be a Pep masterstroke. Torres’ movement inside the penalty area was awesome throughout, and continuously created space for the likes of Gundogan and Grealish to find as others followed the Spaniard. This is exactly how Grealish scored his first Manchester City goal.
While they relied on switches to the left through long diagonals, City were more meticulous when attacking down the right with Jesus. As though it was something they practiced hundreds of times on the training ground, they synchronized a perfect set of passes that always cut open Norwich’s back-line. They used Walker or Bernardo to play an incisive through ball pass into Jesus to run onto, and the speedy Brazilian would then whip one into the box for one of the other attackers to finish. This is how Sterling and Grealish scored their goals, with the Brazilian’s timing of run and the weight of pass before it absolutely crucial to their success. Now with Jack Grealish available off the left, this is where someone like Sterling will flourish as a striker in the side this season.
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Man City defended high in normally a 3-1-3-3 shape, which was adaptable based on the positioning of Norwich’s players. Gabriel Jesus could sometimes become part of a front two press with Ferran Torres, which would in theory force Norwich to play down the right side due to the lack of a right winger. But Norwich never realized that, and opted for switches to their right instead.
City’s wide areas could have been exposed more in general, however, Ruben Dias comfortably dealt with passes into space whenever he was tested. With Kyle Walker and his extraordinary recovery pace next to him, that perhaps speaks to why the Canaries were hesitant to test City’s right more often.
Norwich on the other hand spent most of the game chasing. They stepped up their press from time to time, and this only made matters worse for them as they tired. Pressing against Manchester City can be quite a dangerous act. While it’s worked for teams like Leeds and Chelsea, it’s generally better to let City have the possession and then hit them on the break in the wide areas, which can be exposed due to Pep’s inverted fullbacks. By pressing more vigorously, not only did Norwich expend unnecessary energy, but they also limited themselves in terms of productivity. Whenever the Citizens found themselves under that pressure, they went backwards to Ederson, who would then hit a long ball over the press, and find a dangerous ball-playing midfielder in space. It was almost too easy for the Citizens in the end, and they won 5-0.
The Sky Blues’ thrashing 5-0 victory now certainly puts them on the map to be favourites to win the 2021-22 Premier League title, even despite their woeful 1-0 loss the week before.
So there it is! A quick analysis of Manchester City’s big win over Norwich! Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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