The way City moved the ball gave me goosebumps at times. The performance was like an orchestra that was directed by the master himself. There was great exuberance in the way City executed this melody composed by Pep Guardiola. The positional structure, the passing, the movement, the homogeneity between players, everything was so perfect. In fact, the perfection of this performance made you wonder if this was truly real.
Mahrez is in blistering form
The positional intelligence and the sharp movement of Mahrez was a treat in itself to watch. It was Riyad Mahrez at his absolute best, going past opponents in a way that seems impossible to execute. It is not just about the dribbling skills of Mahrez or his ability to manipulate the ball that made him stand out today. His positioning, his intelligence and his movement were almost impossible for Lewis Hall to handle. Forget Lewis Hall, even the most seasoned left backs would have been bamboozled by this Mahrez masterclass. It was so good and on the money that you simply had to take your cap off to it
Earlier in the season, one of the criticisms of Mahrez has been that he is just too static and predictable. Take the community shield against Liverpool for example. Mahrez was constantly cutting into the midfield and that was it. That just made it so predictable. This was a scenario that repeated in almost all of the games before the world cup for Mahrez.
In contrast to it, you can now see that he is mixing up his play a lot better. In the last 2 games, Mahrez has picked the right time to stay wide and also cut inside. This has made him very difficult to defend against. Since he is not cutting in all the time, defenders cant stay narrow, they have to go out to him. This is creating space for other people to run into. City’s third goal was a clear example of Mahrez creating space for Walker to underlap and assist Foden.
This is the Mahrez we all want to see. Someone who is free flowing, unpredictable and running at players to dribble. The free kick was beyond excellence. It was a strike from one of the best free kick takers in world football. His penalty was thumped with so much vigor that you felt the net might just come off. I am very happy to see Mahrez get back to top form at this time of the season. What ever people might say, he is peaking at the right time. This is just the beginning and there is just so much more to come from him.
Haaland or Alvarez?
This might just be one of the toughest dilemmas for Pep Guardiola to solve. Haaland has been in great form and the goals have been flowing consistently from him. But, looking at the mesmeric and flowing football today, there is no hiding place, you have to ask the question. The truth is that Haaland makes City much more predictable in terms of opponents knowing whom to mark. We become much more rigid in terms of positional fluidity and rotation with Haaland in the team. This is not me going against Haaland or criticizing him. I am just highlighting the facts and trying to understand how Pep can solve this dilemma
Playing a 4-4-2 might be an answer, but the problem still remains. The very premise of this fluid system is that the false 9 drops into the midfield and creates overloads. Now, even in a 4-4-2, if Haaland does not drop into the midfield like an Alvarez, the same problem remains. We will not be able to get that midfield overload.
I also felt that with Alvarez in the team, Chelsea were not able to mark our striker as tightly as they did at Stamford Bridge. The reason was simply that there was rotation going on between City’s forwards and no none of the defender’s knew whom to mark. This also meant that we could get around the opponent with simple passes and positional rotation when compared to threading exquisite killer passes. The movement in the midfield itself was enough to bamboozle the opposition defense.
There is definitely no simple answer to this question, but it seems that Pep will have to work overtime to figure out the best way to play Erling Haaland without disrupting the rhythm of the team.
Positioning of the full backs might be the answer to park the bus teams
It was a bit surprising for me that our full backs did not invert into the midfield. Instead, they were providing overlapping and underlapping runs to help out our wingers. In fact, there was a moment when Sergio Gomez found himself in the striker position, cutting in from the left hand side. I was wondering why were we not playing in such a way in the earlier games. Specially when teams were parking the bus against us. This kind of movement would have just dismantled them like a stack of card facing a gust of wind.
Whenever we have faced park the bus teams, one of the frustrating things was that our wingers were easily doubled up by opposition defenses. This is why Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez were so ineffective in our earlier games. In stark contrast, you saw how Walker’s runs made sure that it was impossible to double up on Mahrez. The same thing can exactly be said about how Sergio Gomez played, freeing up Cole Palmer
Just imagine Jack Grealish having the help of an overlapping or an underlapping full back. He would then be isolated 1v1 against the opposition full back. This is when Jack is at his best. I just hope that Pep continues with the approach over the tactic of inverted full backs. This would just bring the best out of all our wingers. Also, when playing this way, people like Cancelo would become even more devastating with their underlapping runs
Pep’s Man City has always been about flowing football played with great attacking courage. we have always been about our defenders having great courage to defend wide open spaces when the opposition breaks away on transition. I do not want Pep to contain our attacking verve in favour of preventing counter attacks. Attacking the opponent with great panache football is our true personality and i truly hope that Pep does not sacrifice that for anything else