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Attacking Wrinkles - Manchester City and Barcelona

By Ted Knutson | December 11, 2013 | Main

One of the things I've wanted to do on StatsBomb for a while is provide some tactical illustrations of things we've either referred to on the podcast or in articles, but failed to provide visual evidence for. Describing situations is one thing, showing them to you is another.

In last week's podcast, Ben and I talked a bit about how interesting the Manchester City attack is. They attack from both sides of the pitch with skill players and overloads. On a good day, Navas might just be the winger most likely to skin an oppositing fullback in the league, and Nasri on the opposite flank looks like a new player under Pellegrini.

One of the cool things I have mentioned is that both Aguero and Negredo also seem capable of a "post-up" game as well. Through your feedback, I learned the phrase post-up doesn't really have any meaning to non-basketball fans, so I spent some time this week figuring out how to make gifs, so we can show you this stuff with pictures instead of just words.



This is a short clip from the City v. United match earlier this year. Watch as the ball comes to Yaya, he initially looks at Aguero for a potential pass. Aguero seals off Rio with his body (the post-up), Nasri cuts toward Aguero looking to draw in Vidic, and Negredo makes a run into that space. Yaya skips the pass into the post, and Rio does a full shove on Aguero to avoid it, but the concept is there.

I've seen that sort of post-up seal a number of times so far this season from City, and been impressed that both Kun and Negredo are strong enough to pull it off. Basically, the ball gets played in to feet of one of the two forwards. At that point you get one cut (like the one Negredo makes here) from inside, and usually an overlap from a fullback or Nasri/Navas outside.

It gives City so many options when combined with movement that they get better chances in the final third than most teams might, as it sets up the following possibilities:

1) The post-up man hits either cutter toward the basket for a potential open shot.

2) If the ball is passed to the cutter, they either take the shot, or look to play a low cross into the other cutting player. They can also drag it back to Aguero for a 1-2 as he moves.

3) The post-up man can turn his defender and shoot.

4) If the entire defense drops to track runners, the initial passer can fill the space and take a shot in traffic, or they can pass back out and reset.

It's complicated as hell to time right, but City have the knowledge of where the runners are going to be, while the defense does not. When it works, it looks a lot like the super-powered Barcelona run patterns, or a bit like what Fergie had United doing last year. If I see more (especially successful ones), I'll make some more gifs.

The other thing I wanted to show is yet another wrinkle that reminded me of Fergie's United attack last season. This sequence from the Spurs match (where Tottenham defended terribly in general), shows how a talented group of moving parts can wreak havoc on opposing defenses.


It starts with a pass from Nasri on the sideline (I cropped that) to Aguero who cuts in. You see Nasri briefly appear on the right, but he stops and drags his marker up the pitch, which opens the space for Aguero as Walker stops marking Kun when Dawson goes to make the tackle. It's such an easy pass for Negredo at that point, that all Kun has to do is put it away. Lloris does well to stand his ground here and saves the chip, but it ends up being the definition of a "good chance" against an entrenched defense.

Also notice Zabaleta making the far-post overlap on the left in case Aguero wanted to pass (and he probably should have), much like I described for the post-up play.

Spacing, movement, and talent make this City attack a real handful todeny.

Cescy Football
Take nothing away from Mesut Ozil, but Cesc Fabregas is the best attacking passer I have ever seen, especially when it comes to throughballs. I watched him rise from a teenager to one of only 2 players in the Premier League to have 20+ assists since 2003. (I only have assist data from 2008 for the other Euro major leagues, and Xavi is the only other guy to post a 20, though I think Misimovic in Bundesliga had one season that would get there on a per90 level.)

ANYWAY, Fabregas hasn't played the same position as he did at Arsenal since he moved to Barcelona.

Until now.

What happens when you combine the best throughball creator in football with Neymar and Messi as his wing forwards?



And this. (Okay, this one is from Messi, and was wrongly called offside.)


And finally this.


To be fair, the Valencia central defenders helped quite a bit here, but wow is that a problem. This also occurred three times in three minutes, meaning Valencia had no fucking clue what was going on, despite having seen the same thing sixty seconds before.

Barcelona have some weaknesses in the defense again this year, but Fabregas is only four clear chances short of the top mark set in that metric across the entirety of last season. In fourteen games!

I've watched a number of Barcelona matches over the last few seasons - I don't remember them attacking in this fashion regularly. It's one reason why I think they are probably more dangerous to good teams than they were last season. Variability in attack is important, and making teams uncomfortable attacking you because you can pull this trick out of your bag is a big bonus.

This was kind of a test run to see if we could use .Gifs to illustrate tactical concepts. Presumably the images will become better/more useful as I gain any kind of competence with image software. Sadly, we'll never get to the point that Sky or the BBC are with video clips and highlighted players and the like, but maybe we can get close enough.

In the meantime, let me know what you think, and also poke me if we talk or write about something you guys would like to see examined in more detail.



Article by Ted Knutson