In the Zone: Man City 4-0 Real Madrid performance analysis
Manchester City can look forward to their second UEFA Champions League final appearance next month after eliminating holders Real Madrid with a magnificent performance on Wednesday night.
Pep Guardiola’s men achieved it with a display of staggering intensity as they smothered Madrid with their counterpressing and profited from their clever use of their wide attackers, as the UEFA Technical Observers’ Panel explain in this article brought to you by Fedex.
1-0: Bernardo Silva (24)
City had already amassed seven attempts by the time Bernardo struck his sixth goal of the season to reward his side for their blistering start. City’s patient passing eventually created a gap for Bernardo to drift into, behind the Madrid back line, and he was beautifully found by a Kevin De Bruyne pass before beating Thibaut Courtois with a clever disguised finish.
2-0: Bernardo Silva (37)
Two minutes after Toni Kroos had rattled the woodwork from long range, Bernardo struck again at the other end. Jack Grealish carried the ball inside from the left and – with that ability to get his head up and create chances – he fed İlkay Gündoğan as the German broke into the box. Though Gündoğan’s shot was blocked, the ball bounced up for Bernardo to execute a precise headed finish over the recovering defenders.
“In these type of games Bernardo is always there,” said Guardiola afterwards of a player whose last nine goals in the competition have all come in the knockout rounds.
3-0: Manuel Akanji (76)
With a wide free-kick from a deeper area on the left, De Bruyne swung the ball towards the near post where Akanji connected with a glancing header, the ball deflecting in off Éder Miltão. For Akanji, it was his first goal in City colours.
4-0: Julián Álvarez (90+1)
The Argentinian had been on the field for only a few minutes when he applied the finishing touch to a swift move following a regain in the Madrid half. Álvarez dispossessed Vinícius Júnior and a quick passing combination ended with a lovely slid pass by Phil Foden and a controlled finish which ensured this was Madrid’s joint-heaviest defeat in the competition since 1989.
Highlights: Man City 4-0 Real Madrid
Player of the Match: Bernardo Silva
UEFA’s match observer said of the Portuguese midfielder: “He scored two important goals and showed great creativity but also worked tirelessly for the team to press and recover the ball from wide and then central midfield.” In terms of creativity, among Guardiola’s players he was second only to Grealish for take-ons with six (50% success rate) and also for passes in the attacking third with 36 (with a 90.6% success rate).
City’s starting formation was 1-4-3-3 as shown in the graphic above. As has become the norm this season when they are in possession and building play, their shape would shift regularly to a 1-3-2-5, with John Stones (5) advancing into midfield alongside Rodri (16).
This was key to City dominating the ball in these phases of play as while Madrid pressed with their front three plus Luka Modrić, City had a 5v4 overload with Kyle Walker, Rúben Dias and Akanji, plus Stones and Rodri (and Ederson at times) and they found the extra player well.
The visitors’ starting line-up included Éder Militão (3) absent from the first leg because of a suspension but now back in central defence in place of Antonio Rüdiger.
Madrid kept their usual 1-4-3-3 shape and, according to the match observer, when constructing play the centre-backs and goalkeeper would look to Kroos (8), the deepest midfielder, to bounce the ball back and switch the direction of play yet – as the features section will elaborate – they struggled to advance past the halfway line, particularly in the first period.
After half-time, it looked as though Kroos was encouraged to drop lower either to the left of his centre-backs or in between them and create a 3v2 against Man City’s press and they connected better for a brief period, without advancing very often into the final third.
Man City wide men go 1v1
In the Zone: Man City wide men go 1v1
The first feature highlighted by the UEFA Technical Observers’ Panel was City’s use of width – specifically the way they kept their wingers wide on the touchline and used fast switches of play to get the ball to them and release them against the Real full-backs. “They play with full width, they threaten with runs behind, and keep probing until gaps or overloads appear,” explained the match observer.
In the first two clips we see that probing as they look first to Bernardo on the right before going right across the pitch to Grealish on the other side. The role of Stones in the second clip in particular is instructive in showing how he advances into midfield when City create and their shape shifts to the above-mentioned 1-3-2-5.
The third clip shows the patient passing sequence which led to City opening the scoring as they pull the Madrid defenders out of position and Bernardo is able to drift behind them into space to collect the pass from De Bruyne
The final clip features the second goal and it highlights the role of Grealish as he comes in from the left and feeds Gündoğan for a shot in the lead-up to Bernardo heading in. As the observer explained: “Their inverted wingers will vary between retention and drawing the pressure, or attacking 1v1 and will often attack the inside looking to combine with teammates.”
City keep the pressure on
In the Zone: City keep the pressure on
The second video focuses on City’s counter-pressing to win the ball back immediately after losing it. In a first-half display marked by incredible intensity, they were virtually camped inside the Madrid half which meant their players were in good positions to counter-press quickly on turnovers and the consequence was that Madrid struggled to play out of the pressure. To underline the point by the half-hour mark, Madrid had made just one pass in their attacking third – and City 105. (Carlo Ancelotti’s side would end the game with 52 passes in the final third – their lowest figure in their 12 matches in this European campaign.)
In the first clip we see City closing down the Madrid players as they try to play out. Modrić has his passing lanes shut down and then, as the action pauses, Eduardo Camavinga has five opposition players around him, obstructing any progress. At this point Rodri steps in and recovers the ball. For the record, this was one of 11 recoveries from Rodri – a total second only to Internazionale’s Hakan Çalhanoğlu this week – while Kyle Walker (nine), Gündoğan and Bernardo (seven each) ranked among the top six too.
The second clip further underlines the way City barely allowed Madrid to breathe as we see Karim Benzema surrounded by six blue shirts following another attempt by Madrid to play out of the pressure and this time Bernardo comes away with the ball.
Overall City managed 56 recoveries. Only in their 3-0 quarter-final home win over Bayern have they produced more in this season’s competition (63).
City’s high press
In the Zone: City’s high press
City’s high press is the focus of the third video which begins by showing how Guardiola’s men are willing to go 3v3 at the back in order to push players forward to enable committed pressure higher up the pitch. In the first clip we see Modrić hounded by opposition players and eventually running the ball out of play.
Clip two and three show Vinícius Júnior struggling similarly. Indeed the third clip features the build-up to the final goal in which the same player turns centrally and finds himself trapped by a pack of five City players. Álvarez comes out with the ball and three passes and nine seconds later the same player has put the ball past Courtois
Josep Guardiola, Man City coach: “With my staff we were clear about the way we should play today and the way we press and the way we attack and today we did that very well.
“I had the feeling these last days that we had the mix of calm and tension to play this type of game. After 10-15 minutes I had the feeling that all the pain we had during one season, one year, from what happened last season [the semi-final loss to Madrid] was there today.
“They played with a desire. We spoke just before going on to the pitch: ‘Do you want to play against Inter or not, yes or no? If you play 90 minutes thinking, ‘I want to play against Inter’, you will beat Real Madrid.’ And they played in that spirit we needed. You smelled that the team was ready to compete at the level we competed at today.”
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach: “We played against opponents who deserved to win – they played with more intensity, more quality in the first half and got the advantage.
“We could manage better the ball – we lost a lot of balls in the first half. They press high in front and we were not able to move the ball as usual. I expected the start of the game was [going to] be really intense but I didn’t expect that we couldn’t manage the ball well.”
Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti at full-timeAFP via Getty Images