In any domestic league campaign around the world it can take up to five or six matches for things to settle down, traditionally the start to the season is so highly charged and adrenaline is flowing and as such it is difficult to get a true read on the strengths and weaknesses of clubs. With that in mind both Manchester City and Everton could take encouragement from their opening weekend victories against Brighton and Stoke respectively but this match would prove to be a significantly stiffer test for both sides.
To add another twist to the match the two coaches, Pep Guardiola for City and Ronald Koeman for Everton, know one another extremely well having played together for the dream team at Barcelona under Johann Cruyff. As the match unfolded the tactical chess match between these two became as enthralling as the action on the pitch.
There was yet another layer added to the narrative with Wayne Rooney returning to Manchester for the first time since he left City’s fierce rivals Manchester United. The match ended 1-1 with both sides also reduced to ten men as a result of somewhat questionable refereeing decisions. Above the score and the two red cards however the deeper narrative of the match covers the somewhat hesitant start to the season from Manchester City and their new look three at the back system for this coming season.
The Manchester City side lined up in a variant of the 3-5-2 system with Fernandinho sitting deepest in the midfield and Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva playing as the more advanced central midfield players. Guardiola continued with the use of Leroy Sane in a left wing back role despite the young German attacker looking uncomfortable in the opening match against Brighton.
Once more we saw Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus line up ostensibly as a pair although more often we would see one of the two attempting to drop deep or split out wide.
Koeman has also started this season lining up with a three man defensive line although in practice they are a more defensively orientated unit than the City back three. Mason Holgate has impressed as a right wing back and Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye form a strong double pivot in the centre of the midfield. Dominic Calvert-Lewin led the front line whilst Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies looked to support him in central areas.
Both sides target opposition weak points
In the first half of this match it was clear that both coaches had studied their opponents extensively. There was a definite attacking strategy from both sides that was designed to attack specific weak points in their opponents tactical structures.
Manchester City were intent on finding their attacking midfielders in space behind the midfield line of Everton. In a similar manner to the 3-4-3 system utilised by Antonio Conte at Chelsea the Everton midfielders Gueye and Schneiderlin found it difficult to cover the width of the pitch whilst also preventing City from finding passing lanes in to central areas.
The defensive line for Everton is very deep in this example as they set a narrow block deep in their own half. Gueye and Schneiderlin are narrow but unable to prevent the passing lane through the middle to find a man in space. Indeed in the first half in particular City were able to find and exploit this space time and time again. The problem arose with the lack of quality of final ball when the ball was played in to the final third.
Once again in this example you can see the spaces that are present between the lines of defence and midfield for Everton. Gueye has moved out to close down Fernandinho and the Brazilian midfielder does an excellent job of selling the pass in field to David Silva before actually playing through in to the space in the advanced area for Kevin De Bruyne.
Once again when this pass is played through to the De Bruyne in the advanced area the Belgian international still struggles to progress the ball any further forward.
In this final example City do at least manage to play the ball in behind the Everton defensive unit, unfortunately Sergio Aguero does not have the pace to break free of Phil Jagielka and the English defender is able to comfortably challenge and win possession back. Once more the key is the space in the central areas where we would see Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva constantly rotating in and out whilst looking to get on the ball and exploit the spaces.
Everton on the other hand looked to play a more direct attacking style and would try to exploit the pace and strength of Calvert-Lewin when isolated against Otamendi on the left side of the City back three. The ball was played in to that channel time and time again as Everton looked to overload and break through in to the City penalty area.
As you can see from this pass map created by @11tegen11 using Opta data there was a clear bias in the Everton attack to their right hand side, the left side of the City defence. The attack in the first half was supported by Rooney and Davies centrally and Holgate coming up the right hand side.
Here you can see the weak point being exploited, as Rooney takes possession centrally we see Calvert-Lewin darting back to remain onside, in truth after slowing these images down it now looks as though the striker was in an off side position when the ball was played. The clipped ball down the right hand side was a successful avenue for Everton for the majority of the game.
Is Aguero the right striker for this system?
Kyle Walker was sent off for a second bookable offence on the stroke of half time, that brought about a change from Guardiola as he sacrificed Gabriel Jesus to bring on Raheem Sterling. With Sterling slotting in initially on the right hand side as a wing back this left Sergio Aguero as the lone striker.
I have made the point previously that we may see Aguero developing in to more of a deeper player as he gets older and in this system for Guardiola having front players that are comfortable when linking play is near essential. That however is not the strength of Aguero’s game as he instead prefers to position himself on the shoulder of a defensive player looking for the run inside the defensive line.
Here we have an example, with the ball in the left hand half space and with the Everton midfield pivot again stretched wide there is an excellent opportunity to play the ball in to the final third to create an advanced platform that you could play on.
Instead Aguero is positioned on the far side of the pitch off the shoulder of Phil Jagielka, That means that the shorter pass is played in to the central area where the player taking possession can be easily closed down.
Aguero’s positioning here could be understood if he was effecting the defensive line but instead they are well set on the ball near side and look in a strong defensive position.
Both teams switch systems in the second half
Ronald Koeman was the first to make a chance in the second half as he looked to shore up the central areas by switching to a system that resembled a 4-diamond-2. We saw the introduction of Davy Klaassen, who would play as the most advanced midfielder, and Gylfi Sigurdsson who would play on the left,
Here you can see the Everton midfield structure in the defensive phase. Gueye has moved with David Silva to challenge the Spaniard as he looks to take possession. You can also see that Schneiderlin is defensively positioned to cover the potential through ball to Kevin De Bruyne that had been so dangerous from City.
Interestingly Guardiola then moved to match up with the Everton system by bringing on Bernardo Silva to play on the right of midfield and pushing Raheem Sterling in to the advanced midfield position.
Kevin De Bruyne was moved to the controlling midfielder role at the base of the diamond where he was able to dictate the pace of the game under less pressure. The presence of Sterling at the tip of the diamond also provided a real threat going forward with his pace and ability to carry the ball when in possession.
Here you see the diamond in action going forward, the spacing in the final third with this structure is much better in terms of creating passing angles to progress the ball forwards in to the penalty area.
In this system City were extremely strong going in to the latter stages of the match and once they had found the equaliser from Raheem Sterling they looked the more likely side to go on and win the match.
A 1-1 draw seems like a fair result on reflection with both sides having excellent spells of pressure at various stages of the match.
Everton looked to carry a real threat with the direct running of Calvert-Lewin opening up spaces for the intelligent movement of Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies in the final third.
As you can see the expected goals chart as provided by @11tegen11 using opta data shows the closeness of the match that City are ahead on expected goals by 1.12 to 0.71 shows that City’s chances should potentially have given them the edge, indeed in the first half David Silva hit the post with a low shot and in the second half Danilo had an excellent low shot saved by Pickford.
There is definite potential in the starting system for Everton going forward although it may be that Pep Guardiola needs to rethink some of the roles given to players if he continues with the move towards three at the back.