Manchester City’s tactics in their 2-0 win at Newcastle were highly familiar to anyone who watched the team last season
There was a sense of history repeating itself about Manchester City’s first half performance at St James’ Park. City’s first goal of their 2013-14 title-winning campaign was Edin Dzeko setting up a David Silva strike against Newcastle, and exactly the same thing happened this time around. It summarises the fact City’s transfer campaign has been about evolution rather than revolution, and Manuel Pellegrini will continue with the tactics he deployed last season.
In keeping with the rather rusty performances of title contenders on the opening weekend, City weren’t at their best, and Newcastle had plenty of decent chances and some dangerous moments throughout the game. The difference, however, was the cohesion in the final third. Newcastle used a front trio of Rémy Cabella, Emmanuel Rivière and Yoan Gouffran; each showed moments of individual quality, but clever combination play was understandably rare considering they’d never previously played together. City’s players, on the other hand, are well drilled in this system.
Pellegrini’s side were particularly dangerous down the left. Dzeko had an excellent game, combining neatly with his strike partner Stevan Jovetic, who set up two decent chances in either half for the Bosnian striker with clever chips. But, like last season, it was Dzeko’s movement towards the left, and his combinations with Silva, which opened up Newcastle.
Silva doesn’t receive as much praise as Yaya Touré, Vincent Kompany or Sergio Agüero, but the playmaker’s intelligence brings out the best from his team-mates. His best two qualities were in evidence throughout the first half: his ability to drift inside into central positions between the lines, and his tendency to play one-touch passes on the half-turn, turning up the tempo of City’s passing.
Silva’s movement encourages others to vary their positions, and Pellegrini is a master of cultivating a structured but fluid side which covers space excellently – when one player moves inside, another makes a run to the flank; when one player comes deep, another sprints forward. A positional switch between Dzeko and Silva was obvious within the first 10 minutes, and they combined for the goal similarly courtesy of Dzeko’s superb backheel when running to the left and Silva’s calm finish when moving inside. Provider turned finisher, and vice-versa.
From a deeper position, Aleksandar Kolarov provided his usual threat on the overlap. Having taken the number 11 shirt over the summer – something of an attacking statement for a left-back – he contributed the majority of City’s attacking full-back play, with Gaël Clichy in an unfamiliar right-back role. Newcastle’s wingers, Cabella and Gouffran, alternated flanks but neither were capable of matching Kolarov’s sudden bursts of pace. Agüero’s late goal as a substitute, meanwhile, was a reminder that there’s plenty more to come from City.