A tactical take on the great escape – tactics
Wednesday, 16th May 2012 23:00 by Neil Dejyothin
For the final time this season Neil Dejyothin casts a tactical eye across the weekend action, and turns thoughts to where the team can be strengthened this summer.
What worked well?
The park the bus mentality was a little bit crazy in terms of seeing us revert into that shell after literally ten seconds, but you have to admire the players for keeping disciplined and sticking to their jobs throughout.
They were much more compact than against Chelsea, this time with Djibril Cissé and Bobby Zamora dropping behind their midfield too, which really made it very hard for City to penetrate no matter what they tried.
I was a bit surprised that they never really worked out that they could have had more success with long range strikes, which is what Manchester United realised in the end and eventually scored through Paul Scholes and hit the post through Michael Carrick. It's here you see City still lack that nous needed at the next level, so they've some way to go yet before that can compete properly say in the Champions League.
They got the ball wide to Pablo Zabeleta and Gael Clichy well and they kept firing in crosses, but that played to our strengths and the likes of Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill are always going to be favourites against the height of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero. It looked like they were going to go for a percentage and just hope one of them fell, but we had so many bodies back that it was difficult for them.
We maintained excellent shape throughout, both with eleven and ten players and never got dragged out of position, particularly when they tried to stretch play. Clichy provided a lot of width down the left but Rangers were clearly happy to let him have it and even force City to pass it there by leaving him completely unmarked. It was the correct tactic to leave him free and only engage until the ball went out wide to him. We doubled up everywhere really well and to the letter too.
The amount of players in those congested areas around our penalty box meant that for all the intricate play their dangerous players tried, they just eventually came unstuck by way of numbers we had back and behind the ball. Make no mistake, we defended very well in open play and dealt with the majority of their corners too, which is a plus considering just how many we conceded to them.
Then of course, we hit them brilliantly on the counter attack and managed to score two excellent goals. The first was just what we wanted, Cissé ready and waiting to pounce on any sign of a mistake and it was a great finish, but that Jamie Mackie goal will live with me forever.
Armand Traore did a marvellous job breaking away down the wing and I spoke about City's vulnerability from wide positions with players flanking on the counter attack in my last piece, and as soon as Traore managed to get in control of himself we always had a chance. It was a cracking cross but a really, really, courageous header from Mackie and a sublime goal. I'm not sure I will ever experience a better goal in the circumstances, it was unbelievable.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was excellent defensively and particularly early on. He tracked several dangerous runs from midfielders into the penalty box and deserves a lot of credit for that. I felt the game would be too close to home for him and while I think he was a bit withdrawn when going forward, he still played a part in Cissé's goal and did a job.
After we went down to ten men after the ridiculous antics of Joey Barton, the players showed tremendous character to hold City until injury time. I always felt comfortable, because it focused them better and we were far better when not in possession than in possession, because sadly we were a danger to ourselves whenever we were on the ball, such was our inability to shift from ultra defensive to something more adventurous, not counting the two goals we scored of course.
And you can't argue that when we went toe-to-toe with them we did it at exactly the right moments and we can only be thrilled with them for giving it a real good go.
Against City Rangers were happy to tuck in deep and narrow, leaving both City full backs free in wide areas. City more often than not fell into the trap of passing to those two unmarked players who then crossed into the box where Ferdinand and Hill were always likely to win headers against Tevez and Aguero who were both ineffective for much of the game. Bobby Zamora dropped deep to further crowd the midfield area and restrict the space City's talented players had to operate in. Compare this to the wide open spaces QPR afforded Chelsea in dangerous areas and the difference is stark. At Stamford Bridge Cisse and Mackie often defended on the outside first in a positional sense, rather than the inside, whereas against City we defended their wide players inside first, showing them on the outside. Lessons were learnt.
What didn't work?
I know it was a really admirable peformance in terms of backs-to-the-wall, but we didn't play very well in other areas and we need to address that in the future.
As discussed were absolutely fine defensively, but we were so defensive that it was very difficult for us to break out of that mentality and for all the good work we did the three goals we conceded were terribly soft and made that hard work redundant in the end.
Goals aside, I actually thought we were terrible when in possession of the ball, simply because a lot of the players struggled to even control their bodies, get proper technical execution and just hacked, thrashed and lashed out at the ball in an attempt to get it away.
Nedum Onuoha and Shaun Wright-Phillips suffered from this the most, but there were others too and it was galling to see the players just kicking the ball aimlessly down the pitch to Joe Hart or into the channels so early on.
That is a really dangerous game to play and it's hard for any side to hold out for so long when doing that. Just before the game went to 2-2 however, we actually passed and moved it for the first time and looked like we could easily hold the ball and see the game out down by their corner flag, but we switched off from that and paid the price.
The other area, or the one area defensively that we took risks with was the intricate passes just inside the penalty box. City had a habit of getting David Silva, Tevez, Nasri and Agüero into those positions with their backs to goal, and the feeders always found their feet with relative ease, allowing them to twist and turn and try little lay offs.
It's important in those situations that the man in front, who is pressing the ball, shuts down that channel so they can't just pass straight through. That's my only real complaint defensively, though on this occasion that danger didn't actually manifest into a goal
The first goal we conceded was also littered with basic mistakes. Bobby Zamora made the mistake of fouling someone when he didn't need to higher up the pitch and that caused everybody to switch off momentarily and for the style of City attack to alter just a little, making it different from the norm and how we were set up and defending in open play. Suddenly they moved the ball down the pitch and across and before we'd re-adjusted ourselves we had players (possibly Taiwo) not tracking Zabeleta and then Paddy Kenny probably could have done a bit better with the initial shot as well. But there we saw the value of a Man City full back driving into the danger area himself, rather than throwing a cross in as they had done for the previous half hour.
The second was a disappointing one to concede from a corner, but you suspect had Edin Dzeko been on the pitch earlier we may have had more problems from the crosses we let them fire in from the wings. Yaya Toure's loss was also a bonus in this respect, because he showed back at Loftus Road that he's got the height and power to get on the end of things.
And the third was entirely the bench's fault for celebrating Stoke's draw with Bolton and completely distracting the players. I was disappointed about that, and don't really blame the players. It was an innocent reaction from our side but costly and I don't think we should be sentimental to anybody and always try to do our job properly. It cost another side the title and we wouldn't want something like that to ever happen to us, even if it was an astonishing and incredible end to what was a stunningly dramatic game.
And next season?
Wow, what a question. The answer is quite a lot. If we look at the way we've played since Mark Hughes got here, there are still only a couple of performances that I came away satisfied with our overall display both in a defensive and attacking sense.
It's important to be honest about this, because some of the wonderful wins had a lot of fortune about them too and we relied often on unusual scenarios outside of normal open play to win some of those matches.
We've not created enough in open play for my liking and that needs to be resolved if we are to push on. Many of our goals came from set pieces, free kicks or mistakes and we need to do a little bit more in open play to add to that.
Similarly in defence, we're still too soft from set plays ourselves and momentary lapses of concentration. A lot of the goals we've conceded this season haven't been too clever and further work is required to solve those issues.
I still think the defence needs a lot of work as our ball retention and recycling of possession is often quite poor for a Premier League side and it all stems from the back, as does how you attack and open teams up.
There needs to be a little less emphasis on one or two players that are key to the system. In some parts of the season, Joey Barton's poor form was causing the whole team to structure of the side to collapse, such was the amount funnelling through him, whereas in Adel Taarabt, we have another player who really holds all the keys to our success. If he's playing well and can produce those individual moments, then suddenly we look like a team that can do damage and if not, we look one that is short of ideas.
That all comes with work on the training pitch and developing a style of play. That's what Mark Hughes now has the time to sit down this summer and address. Find a system, find a formation and find the players to do it.
I think we need another top class centre back, at least one wide man and another central midfielder, and we're set, and I expect that we ought to fare much better next time, especially if at least one or two of those have experience. It's key to solving some of our issues when playing away from home as the temperament and mentality is still too naive and just needs a little help to continue progressing it to something more positive.
I might sound a bit negative after writing all that, I'm not, I don't think we're too far away at all, but I do want to see it done with a solid strategy in mind.
Thank you though for what was quite an amazing season, full of unbelievable highs and lows that only Rangers can conjure up. There's no other club quite like us and I love them for it.
Tweet @loftforwords, @neildejyothin
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