The second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals kicks off this week with two big games: Chelsea vs Real Madrid and Manchester City vs PSG. Real Madrid come to South West London having drawn 1-1 at home against Chelsea, Man City with a change in Guardiola’s tactics at half-time of the first leg saw Man City score two goals from set-piece situations to take back a 2-1 lead to Manchester for the second leg.
This tactical analysis will look to give an insight into some of the tactics both managers, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, respectively, could look to use in this Champions League semi-final second leg.
The noticeable absentees in Man City’s first leg starting XI were Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling were all left on the bench out of the starting line-up, whilst it’s easy to tell whether these players will make the starting XI, it’s more likely that the former three won’t be in the starting XI.
It will be a toss-up between Zinchenko and Cancelo, but as Guardiola might look for more control in the centre of the pitch like the first leg, he may opt for Cancelo. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Guardiola go with a false 9 like the first leg too, and frankly, it could be any of Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, Foden or even Gundogan in this role, or potentially a number of these players could fill this role at any point during the game.
As for PSG, Keylor Navas will be the goalkeeper, the defenders were Marquinhos and Kimpembe, the full-backs are Bakker and Florenzi, Marco Verratti and Paredes, the midfielders, and the attackers will be Neymar, Mbappé, Di Maria and Drexler.
How Guardiola limits the danger of Mbappé and Neymar?
PSG always start the games always with their usual 4-4-1-1 shape, Mbappé is the forward, he is enough of a threat to remain high by himself due to his pace, and this gives PSG players the freedom to be behind the ball without losing the counter-attacking threat. Neymar always plays in the gap between Mbappé and the rest of PSG players, so that Neymar is the first passing option for the rest of PSG players in transitions.
Once PSG players retrieve the ball from the opponent, they always look for Neymar as an option to pass, while Mbappé moves in the space behind the defenders, waiting for a pass from Neymar or the midfielders so that he can form a danger to the opponent’s goal, as we can see in the image below, when Alessandro Florenzi recovered the ball in the right flank, Mbappé moved in the space behind the defenders while Neymar prepared to receive the pass from Florenzi.
As we can also see in the above picture, Pep Guardiola is fully aware of the danger of Neymar and Mbappé, so he always prevented Neymar from receiving the ball or giving space for Mbappé to move in, Manchester City players always create 2v1 or 3v2 situations against both Neymar and Mbappé. It also appears above, where John Stones and Ruben Diaz moved with Mbappé as 2v1 to close the space against him, and three players with Neymar and Di Maria to create a 3v2 situation so that neither of the duo can easily receive the ball.
Neymar isn’t just a ball-carrier on counter-attacks though, and is particularly effective if he can ghost forward on these attacks and link play by finding space between the lines. PSG’s line-up will be littered with quick, confident ball progressors who can drive forward on the counter themselves. If Neymar isn’t immediately found, look for him drifting into the ten space to link these counter-attacks, often with Mbappé moving wide himself. In doing so, PSG can create preferable angles to provide through passes behind a high defensive line that’s in transition.
Mbappé, after his impressive scoring appearances in both the 16 Round tie against Barcelona and the quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich, he scored two goals against Bayern Munich and four goals against Barcelona, so Guardiola had to prevent him from receiving the balls in dangerous areas, as the instructions were always not to give him time and space when he received the ball, as shown in the picture below, Mbappé received the ball at the edge of the box under pressure from three Manchester players.
Guardiola had known how dangerous Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Angel di Maria could be on the counter-attack, which is why midfielders were usually positioned quite deep, to provide more security to the City centre-backs and full-backs.
Mbappé and Neymar tried to get rid of the pressure of the PSG players on them by converging more than each other so that they were options to pass between them, but they clashed with the intensity of Man City players which overloaded the areas where the duo were on the pitch, as shown in the picture below, Neymar received the ball and then approached more than Mbappé But the City players created a pressure diamond around them and were able to get the ball easily.
This is also shown in the match statistics, where in the (xG) report for the first leg the only big chance for PSG in the match was the goal shot via Marquinhos which the xG of it was 51%, while neither Mbappé nor Neymar had any dangerous chances at City’s goal, which shows Guardiola’s success in reducing their danger in the first leg. Will he continue this success in the home match at Etihad Stadium??
Manchester City pressing-style and their offensive solutions
City’s pressure is staying vertically compact and concentrated on forcing the opponents wide and trapping them there, we can see City’s 4-4-2 shape in this image, Gundogan is always positioned higher than Rodri, and for example, in the last match against PSG, he was higher to be able to press Paredes if needed. Walker is also quite high up the pitch, as he was probably the only player in the City XI who could keep up with the Mbappé if he managed to turn and spin past him.
Manchester City players always search for attacking depth in open plays, as De Bruyne and Silva tended to drop as a “false-9”, and inverting the wingers, encouraging them to run behind the lines into the half-spaces, in the first leg game, the behaviors to attack spaces behind the defence (central channels and half-spaces) to create goal-scoring opportunities. Against a man-oriented backline, Guardiola’s men used this tactic to create spaces and exploiting them.
In the picture below we see that, where the City players were stationed in all areas of the pitch, both Phil Foden and Rayed Mahrez in the flanks, while Bernardo Silva and Gundogan were in the half-spaces and De Bruyne in the central channels.
Manchester City players focused a lot of their attacks down their right flank, trying to take advantage of Bakker who was considered a weaker opponent than Florenzi on the opposite side. Gundogan, De Bruyne and Cancelo would all stay on the left to attract PSG players over to that side, before Rodri or one of the other players would switch the ball to Mahrez, who stayed wide on the right to receive in space.
Once Mahrez received the ball, Foden and Di Bruyne run into the box, while the rest of the Manchester City players overloaded the right flank to be other passing options for Mahrez, as we can see in the below image.
This season was not the best start for City, but we all know it is a very difficult season given the short time of preparation and the injury list. Pep has been trying to adapt, implementing new ways to demolish the opponents. In the first leg, despite starting the game quite well, PSG were disappointing in the second half. Their build-up play was poor, which allowed City to regain possession time and again in their half, while PSG were also unable to manage the game at an emotional level.
Gueye was sent off for an unnecessary tackle on Gundogan, while Paredes received a booking for kicking the ball away in frustration after a decision went against PSG. While they do have the quality to mount a comeback in Manchester, it will be extremely difficult to score twice against the Premier League champions-elect, and City firmly have one foot in their first-ever Champions League final.