Tactical analysis West Ham United Manchester City 0-5 Premier League

West Ham United – Manchester City: Guardiola’s Team Is Ready, But Is The Rest Of The League Too? (0-5)

In a statement victory over West Ham United, City declared they are ready to put together another 95 points-plus Premier League season. Time and time again, City went behind West Ham’s defense, easily racking up chances as a result. First and foremost, they proved that the biggest question will be who can stop them this season. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias

Boring opinion incoming: Liverpool are probably not going to compete for the Premier League title this season. 

Manchester City had better underlying shot metrics than Liverpool last season – defensively, but most pronounced on the offensive end. Liverpool’s efficient finishing is unlikely to carry over into this season, meaning they will have to improve in terms of shot creation if they want to produce the same amount of goals.

Beyond last season’s stats, there are other reasons too. Having won the Champions League, Liverpool have to play some extra fixtures. The dreadful event called the FIFA Club World Cup, held in Qatar, and the European Super Cup against Chelsea this mid week. 

Finally, this summer City added Rodri and Cancelo for a combined 135 million euros, directly addressing two positions in the team that were not insanely stacked already. If you want to feel dizzy; look up how much City has spent on fullbacks the past three years.

Any serious injury for either Mané, Salah or Firmino would mean a serious problem for Liverpool. At Manchester City, when Leroy Sané is declared injured for six or seven months, it means their record signing Riyad Mahrez might improve on the fourteen league starts he got to make last season. 

Sure, an early Champions League exit from Liverpool – meaning some crucial extra days of rest when the going gets though – or an unexpected rift between City players and manager could always take place and alter the course of the season. But given the current information, a comfortable City title seems quite likely. 

City’s first opponent en route to the three-peat was West Ham United, who actually had a very decent transfer window, albeit mostly on the offensive end. Adding Sébastien Haller from Frankfurt feels like a coup, while Villarreal’s Pablo Fornals was one of LaLiga’s most coveted attacking midfielders last season. 

West Ham’s formation of choice is still 4-2-3-1, as Manuel Pellegrini – one of three managers to win a Premier League title with City – fielded only one summer signing in his starting eleven: striker Haller. The attacking trio of Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson was supported by a double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. of Declan Rice and Jack Wilshere. 

Guardiola went for his customary 4-3-3 shape, with all the names one could expect, Rodri immediately starting as the holding midfielder. Considering all the money spent on fullbacks, it is still odd that Oleksandr Zinchenko is their starting left back. A midfielder by heart, he was roasted by Mo Salah in the Community Shield; his defensive weakness in one-versus-one situations is one of City’s few genuine weaknesses that can be exploited. 

West Ham have more possession then City

Just like Klopp, Guardiola has the reputation of letting his teams ferociously hunt for the ball, at all times. This is true in the exact moment the ball is lost; this is called counterpressing. After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack.

However, just like Liverpool, City is not on a constant ball-hunt. Rather, they will set up a zonal medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. more often than not, if the opponent has established possession, calmly waiting to see what the opponent’s center-backs might think of in possession, only blocking off certain passes with their attackers and midfielders, yet not pressing as a unit. 

City’s 4-4-2 medium block against West Ham United’s 4-2-3-1 shape

City’s 4-4-2 medium block against West Ham United’s 4-2-3-1 shape. 

As a result, and aided by some very sloppy City passing – Rodri, Walker, Sterling – West Ham actually had more possession in the opening fifteen minutes. They alternated between attempting to play through the thirds with calm passing and playing a direct style, bypassing midfield. 

In this phase, Haller looked excellent as target man, holding up the ball well and playing a pass or two into space for West Ham’s attacking trio to run into. He would drop off a bit in the second half, as West Ham played deeper and saw far less of the ball, but it still counts as an impressive debut. 

Whenever West Ham bypassed City’s first presser with a dribble, a second player would come over to help and make a foul if needed. This is a crucial, but still quite under the radar aspect of Guardiola’s City: they foul regularly, without being carded because the fouls occur so far away from goal. 

City become City and score the opener 

Guardiola has spoken at length about how a team should always build up with three defenders against two strikers, and with two defenders against one striker.  Since West Ham played a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 system against City, they mainly started to play out from the back with three central defenders. 

City would mainly build up with Walker as the third center-back plus Rodri just ahead. Incidentally, Zinchenko would join in midfield, opening up a passing lane to Sterling. When the ball was played out wide, City adopted a more traditional way of playing with four at the back, as the fullbacks stayed at the touchline, meaning there was more space for Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to collect the ball centrally.  

The fact that City are able to execute all these different ways of building up in the blink of an eye and in rapid succession of one another is what makes their buildup unpredictable and very hard to defend. 

Walker positioned as the third center-back, Zinchenko plays as traditional fullback

24th minute. Walker positioned as the third center-back, Zinchenko plays as traditional fullback. 

The image above is a depiction of the buildup leading to City’s opener. After some coordinated pressing by Lanzini, Zinchenko was freed up and able to dribble in diagonally, to the center. He found Mahrez with a left-back-to-right-winger pass, after which Walker would perform a monstrous overlap. When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping.

Mahrez picked him out, vintage City low cutback cross, tap in Gabriel Jesus, City leading. After scoring the opener, City still did not really come alive, only taking three more shots until half-time. De Bruyne pulled off a good shot after some nice interplay and Jesus had a chance to score after comical defending by Diop. Yet the first half for City was more about control than it had been about an offensive bombardment. 

Balls over the top way to go

Most elite teams are quite good at counterattacking, even if they don’t get the chance to do it as often as other teams. City showed exactly that in the fiftieth minute, after a turnover in attacking midfield by Anderson was immediately exploited by De Bruyne. Since Declan Rice had been pulled out of position, De Bruyne could dribble twenty yards and play a simple pass to Sterling, who opened his scoring account for the season. 

After the break, Manchester City started utilizing runs in behind West Ham’s defense a lot more than they had done in the first half. A minute after the second goal, they scored a fantastic third goal using one such run by Sterling. 

However, the goal was disallowed, as Sterling’s armpit – apparently you can use that part of the body to score in the game of football – was offside, per fancy offside software. 

The best chance of the game for West Ham came in the 72nd minute. They had a lot of trouble penetrating City’s two banks of four, if they even reached the opposing half, that is. A semi-counterattack led to a cross by right back Ryan Fredericks. It was first worked by Chicharito, the substitute, and then by Lanzini. Both could not put it past Ederson.

City’s third goal followed minutes later, as they failed to pressure Mahrez in their right halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. Bad decision. Mahrez set up Sterling for his second goal and City’s third, utilizing another run in behind.

A terrible turnover from a throw-in led to a penalty, scored by another substitute in Agüero to make it four, while Sterling completed his hat trick in injury time, capitalizing off another West Ham turnover.

When you play City you either have to press really well or have to defend really well. West Ham did neither and deserved to lose here, even though a five-goal difference was probably a bit too much considering the run of play. 


Any form of competitive balance in Europe’s top leagues has been heavily distorted. We all know how the leagues in Germany, Italy and France will probably end up. Spain has a good name in this regard because of the teams from Madrid, yet it often gets forgotten that Barcelona won seven out of the last ten league titles. The Premier League is about to join those leagues if it goes on like this. 

Even if they are backed by an entire state, City have not only outspent the rest of England, but also outthought them. In the long run, games like these against West Ham – so one-sided that they are hard to watch – cannot be good for the league’s long-term attractiveness, or for the sport as a whole. 

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.

Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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