Is the Low block beginning to haunt pep and city again??Westham vs Mancity 1-1 review
It was the summer of 2018 and pep had just won his first title in England shattering records and shutting down all of his critics. Despite the resounding success pep knew that his team had certain difficulties that season which could haunt them in the future. City found it almost impossible to break down teams that were defending in a low block. The presence of David Silva helped pep overcome the difficulties against low block the following season, but the same problems seem to have returned again.
Lack of dynamism in the midfield
City had 60% possession in the first half with zero shots on target. It was as if Fabianski was given a day off by city’s attackers. Even worst city were defending for their lives by the end of the half and city’s fans were praying and hoping that somehow they could get to halftime without conceding a goal. The midfield looked lifeless with no one seeming to have the tactical nous and swiftness to drive through the compact low block that Westham was sitting in. The situation was so bad that all of the city’s front three had to drop into the midfield to compensate for the lack of service and as a result no one was there to make runs and cause chaos in the Westham backline.
One of the most important things when looking to break down a low block is that midfielders make runs from deep, this confuses the defenders and thus causes a lack of cohesion in the defense. But there was no one making runs for city, both gundogan and bernardo were busy recycling Possession and playing one twos with their defensive counterparts.
Lack of width was apalling
The most disappointing thing was that the players seemed to be tied up in knots. This was a contest that was calling out for the tactical nous of pep and demanded his in-game management skills. The players were looking down to pep to change something and provide them with a fresh lease of attacking life. Strangely pep called sterling aside after westham’s first goal and instructed him to do more of the same, which was to cut inside. It seemed as if the problem was apparent for everyone to see except pep. Westham were defending narrow and by telling both his wingers to cut inside pep made the job much more easier for them.
This was a manager who made his mark by the way his team’s stretch games by maintaining width. This was a man who subbed Thierry Henry for not maintaining width, even after scoring a goal. But strangely in this match he was not keen on stretching westham who were defending comfortably in a narrow setup. Maybe he expected one of his superstars to produce a moment of magic and win the game by cutting inside and dribbling past people.
Excellent walker was a colossus at the back
City’s defense once again looked all over the place against the pace and physicality of Antonio. Although the first goal was just outstanding forward play from Antonio and nothing could be done about it, Antonio had the beating of both centerbacks all day. Eric garcia was lucky to be on the right side of a narrow penalty decision and looked scared to engage with antonio. The frustration was that westham were pressing city’s midfielder’s high up at certain suitable moments and they were losing the ball too often. This almost left garcia and dias isolated at the back. Antonio is a very difficult forward to deal with, he is a unique player who has both pace and physicality, this makes it very difficult for defenders to get close to him.
Walker was quite often the only city defender who was winning all of his challenges and was keeping bowen under his control. In the second half, walker switched sides and engaged in a fifty-fifty with antonio and won it comfortably. The physicality of walker in that duel was too much and antonio had to go off after that. This is a prime example of the defensive colossus walker has become for city. He had also made a fantastic run forward in the first half which reminded everyone of his attacking prowess. Its just a pity that we are not able to utilize the attacking side of walker efficiently. Maybe when laporte comes back , he can concentrate more on his attacking capabilities.
This is why foden is a superstar in the making
The introduction of phil foden in the 2nd half changed the dynamics of the match completely. Suddenly westham had to deal with a player who was making runs from the midfield, who was making runs off the ball and spinning defenders inside out. The compactness of westham’s low block had suddenly disapeared and the defense were quite unsure as to who was marking who. This is a hallmark of a great player in the making. The first goal for city was all about foden’s brilliance and his fantastic technical skills on the ball. Though cancelo’s cross was just behind, foden took the ball into his stride and slotted it brilliantly past the keeper. Excellent awareness and finishing. This is something city’s players have to learn from him, how to operate in tight spaces.
Sterling’s finishing costs city yet again
Football is a team sport but more often than not individual moments do decide the game. This was not the first time this season that sterling cost city points after going clean through on goal. The very fact that sterling is not comfortable finishing one on one’s rises the question as to why pep plays him through the middle in the absence of aguero. I feel that there are better choices like mahrez and torres, both of who are much assured in finishing. Also, when you play sterling through the middle, it takes away that aspect of stretching the defense on the wing and providing space for the midfielders to run into. Sterling is a world class winger but finishing is not his major strength, it never has been. There are other aspects he does well and coupling them with his ever improving finishing is what makes him world class. It is important for pep to tap into his strength where he could influence the game much more, rather than put him in positions that take away certain important qualities from his game.