EPL

Talking Point: How Wolves' system proves a problem for slacking City

By Sports Desk September 16, 2020

Manchester City's latest Premier League title pursuit belatedly gets under way at Wolves on Monday.

Prior Champions League involvement saw Pep Guardiola's men sit out the opening weekend of the new season, while their meeting with Wolves is the final fixture of the second round.

City's rivals will have played twice by the time Kevin De Bruyne and Co take to the field, meaning they will be desperate for a fast start at Molineux.

But Wolves beat City twice last term as their championship defence came off the rails.

Do Guardiola's side have a problem with opponents like the high-flying Wanderers? Opta advanced metrics delve deeper...

ARE THREE-MAN DEFENCES AN ISSUE?

Wolves have regularly lined up with a back three since their promotion to the Premier League two years ago, even if the shape in front of that defence occasionally changes.

The ever-present Conor Coady was flanked by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss in a 3-5-2 at the Etihad last term, while Leander Dendoncker joined Coady and Saiss in the back line for a 3-4-3 for the return fixture.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side came out on top in both matches, yet of the nine occasions City faced a three-man defence between the start of last season and January 26, those were the only two defeats for Guardiola's men. They also drew with Atalanta's 3-4-1-2.

However, in the remainder of the season, that statistic was turned on its head. Other teams followed Wolves' lead and City struggled to break down their opponents.

Manchester United's 3-4-1-2 twice toppled City, while Arsenal's 3-4-3 and Lyon's 3-5-2 also secured victories. City scored only once across those four matches and were regularly caught out on the counter.

A 1-0 win at Leicester City - who played 3-5-2 - on February 22 represents the last time City beat a team using a back three.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO CITY'S PRESS?

Such systems have been particularly prevalent in the Premier League since Antonio Conte's Chelsea won the title in 2016-17, so why are City - champions in 2017-18 and 2018-19 - suddenly struggling?

The season before last, when Guardiola's men held off a challenge from Liverpool, City's pressing clearly led the way.

They ranked top in the division for high turnovers within 40 metres of an opponent's goal (217), high turnovers that led to either shots (43) or goals (nine), pressed sequences where opponents managed three or fewer passes within 40 metres of their own goal (578), the average starting position of their open play attacks (46.1m up the field) and opposition passes allowed per defensive action (10).

Teams like Wolves, who could defend in numbers and aim to counter, would quickly find sky blue shirts in their faces as they tried to launch attacks.

But while City actually improved in some respects in 2019-20, rivals also got to grips with the system. City had 252 high turnovers but were only joint-best in the Premier League. An increase to 587 pressed sequences was merely the third highest tally.

One new area for concern as City pressed their opponents was an inability to capitalise on their high turnovers, meanwhile, scoring only six times despite creating 65 shots.

And now facing an effective press, City increasingly committed costly mistakes at the back. There were 21 defensive errors that led to shots last season, up from 15 the previous campaign, while the number that ended in goals rose from two to a worrying seven.

The defeats to Wolves were littered with loose passes and rash decisions. In the 3-2 at Molineux, Ederson was sent off early and then Raheem Sterling and Benjamin Mendy each lost possession prior to goals.

IS AYMERIC LAPORTE THE KEY?

A calming presence at the back as well as an excellent defender, Aymeric Laporte might prove key to these tricky encounters for City.

The Frenchman was missing for both matches against Wolves, defeats that contribute to a tally of eight in the league when he has been absent since joining the club. By contrast, City have only lost six Premier League matches with Laporte in the side.

His winning percentage is a remarkable 84.7, compared to 61.3 for the team when he is out. City earn 2.6 points per game with Laporte and 2.0 without him.

Laporte scored an equaliser at Wolves in 2018-19, although City could not go on to win on that occasion in the first of a series of well-matched meetings between the sides.

Guardiola has won just 20 per cent - one of five - games against Nuno, his lowest such record against any one coach.

Yet City are not the only elite team to struggle against Wolves, who have taken 28 points over 24 clashes with the 'top six' since returning, a haul only bettered by Liverpool and City themselves. Guardiola's side have been warned.

Related items

  • MLS: Roldan helps Sounders past Galaxy, Higuain struggles on debut MLS: Roldan helps Sounders past Galaxy, Higuain struggles on debut

    The Seattle Sounders claimed an impressive win over LA Galaxy in MLS, while Gonzalo Higuain endured a tough debut on Sunday.

    Cristian Roldan inspired Seattle to a 3-1 win over the Galaxy in California.

    Roldan opened the scoring in the 12th minute, completing a fine team move by getting on the end of a Jordan Morris cross.

    Morris doubled the lead seven minutes before half-time, finishing after a lovely pass from Nicolas Lodeiro.

    Roldan produced a clinical finish from a Joao Paulo pass to make it 3-0 just after the hour-mark, with Seattle winning despite Sebastian Lletget's late goal for the LA Galaxy.

    It marked Roldan's third multi-goal game in MLS, and two have come against the Galaxy.

    Seattle are top of the Western Conference, equal on points with the Portland Timbers, who recorded a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.

    After joining Inter Miami following his Juventus release, Higuain had a tough debut in a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

    Higuain hit the outside of the post with a bicycle kick and later put a penalty over the crossbar.

    Anthony Fontana, Ilsinho and Brenden Aaronson scored for Philadelphia, who are second in the Eastern Conference.

    Higuain, meanwhile, has failed to convert his past four penalties in all competitions.

    Eastern Conference leaders Columbus Crew fell to a 3-1 loss to Toronto.

    The New York Red Bulls thrashed the Montreal Impact 4-1, the New England Revolution beat DC United 2-0 and Chicago Fire overcame Atlanta United 2-0.

    Minnesota United played out a goalless draw with Real Salt Lake, while Dallas' clash with Orlando City also finished 0-0.

    The San Jose Earthquakes ended a nine-game winless run by beating Los Angeles FC 2-1.

  • Higuain misses penalty in tough Inter Miami debut Higuain misses penalty in tough Inter Miami debut

    Gonzalo Higuain endured a difficult debut as Inter Miami were beaten by Philadelphia Union in MLS on Sunday.

    Higuain, signed after leaving Serie A champions Juventus, missed a penalty as his side suffered a 3-0 loss at Subaru Park.

    The former Real Madrid forward almost made a dream start to his career in the United States, hitting the outside of the post with a bicycle kick in the 20th minute.

    With his team trailing 2-0, Higuain had a chance to get Inter Miami back into the game in the 77th minute, but he blazed a penalty over the crossbar.

    Higuain has failed to score with his past four penalty attempts in all competitions, as per Opta.

    Anthony Fontana, Ilsinho and Brenden Aaronson were on the scoresheet for Philadelphia as struggling Inter Miami were left in second bottom in the Eastern Conference.

  • Koulibaly tipped to stay at Napoli as nervous Gattuso waits for transfer window to close Koulibaly tipped to stay at Napoli as nervous Gattuso waits for transfer window to close

    Napoli director Cristiano Giuntoli believes star defender Kalidou Koulibaly will remain at the Serie A club, despite links to Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

    Koulibaly had been strongly linked with Premier League giants City but Pep Guardiola's side agreed a deal to sign Benfica centre-back Ruben Dias on Sunday.

    Ligue 1 champions PSG are also reportedly interested following Thiago Silva's departure, while the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool have been linked previously.

    Asked about Koulibaly prior to Sunday's 6-0 demolition of Genoa, Giuntoli told Sky Sport Italia: "The team was completed in January with Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme, who can play in a few different roles. With Amir Rrahmani, [Victor] Osimhen and [Andrea] Petagna, we are complete, so will now try to release players who won't have much time on the pitch.

    "I think Koulibaly is staying, we are very happy and so is he. I believe that he is staying."

    Koulibaly helped keep a clean sheet as high-flying Napoli preserved their perfect start to the season against Genoa.

    Napoli are yet to concede in two Serie A fixtures this season, while scoring eight goals to top the standings.

    Gennaro Gattuso was also quizzed on Koulibaly following Giuntoli's comments and the Napoli head coach told Sky Sport Italia post-match: "I hope he remains with us, selfishly speaking, because he gives us so much both in technical terms and as a character.

    "The world has changed because of the pandemic and I realise all clubs need to balance the books. I hope the call won't arrive, but I'll be nervous about it until transfer deadline day."

    Senegal international Koulibaly has called Napoli home since arriving from Genk in 2014.

    The 29-year-old was instrumental as Napoli claimed the Coppa Italia title last season – the club's first piece of silverware since 2014.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.