Manchester City rolls back the years with century-old formation

Manchester City defeated Newcastle United 3-2 in a Premier League match at St. James’ Park last Saturday to rise to the second place in the league table. The Cityzens now have 43 points from their 20 matches, which is two less than Liverpool’s tally.

Saturday’s match was memorable for Kevin de Bruyne’s influence in it, as the 32-year-old Belgian midfielder came off the bench to score and goal and then register an assist. Pep Guardiola’s side start raising their level traditionally during the second half of the season and it might be the start of yet another titles winning run for them.

Manchester City used a very old formation in absence of Erling Haaland

Manchester City lacked a clinical striker upfront in the absence of Haaland, who is reportedly out until February at least. With Julián Álvarez more comfortable playing behind the striker, the Cityzens did not have a clinical finisher. Hence, they used a different formation for a considerable part of the match to breach Newcastle’s dogged defence.

Their customary 4-2-3-1 formation typically needs a clinical finisher like Haaland and hence, in his absence, the switch was impending. They started with a 4-2-3-1, but they soon switched to a 2-2-6 while dominating ball-possession.

City’s full backs, especially Kyle Walker, then played as auxiliary forwards at times in their attempt to break open the opposition defence. Jérémy Doku and Phil Foden, who started as wingers in the starting formation of 4-2-3-1, shifted inside to crowd the final third.

They only had Ruben Dias and Nathan Aké inside their half as the two defenders at times, with Rodri and Matteo Kovačić playing in front if them as holding midfielders. Thus, their formation became a 2-2-6 that was reminiscent of the 2-3-5 used by a number of teams almost 100 years, including the Uruguayan team in their World Cup winning campaign in 1930.

A century ago, the onus was on playing more attacking football and hence, teams could think of playing with five forwards. But, Manchester City’s attacking approach and their fast, free-flowing passing football inside the opposition half was a treat to watch.

Guardiola had to take off Bernardo Silva in the second half in order to accommodate de Bruyne in the XI. He did that instead of taking off someone like Kovačić, as he had to have two holding midfielders in his team to keep that formation intact. In the end,  de Bruyne’s individual brilliance did the trick for them, but the Cityzens could actually keep using that formation against a number of teams in the future.

Good formation choice given Manchester City’s obvious quality

Manchester City is a team that usually dominates possession and hence, they can afford to put numbers upfront, especially while they are in possession.

However, that will always be a lop-sided 2-2-6, as Walker is more adept going forward than Josko Gvardiol, who is primarily a centre-back playing as left back. Hence, it might become a 2-3-5 at times, with Gvardiol dropping to the midfield and Doku playing on the left flank. The versatility of the likes of Foden and Silva means that they can play in central positions as well.

Rodri, meanwhile, keeps delivering passes forward to drive the team’s attack, as they have enough quality upfront to make use of them. Even Doku has recently proved that he can shift inside. Álvarez, who is comfortable dropping back instead of waiting inside the box, can then overload the final third with his presence. Hence, as long as Haaland is absent, Guardiola can use the formation extensively.

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