The Sky pundit Gary Neville was strongly critical of City's tactics during the emphatic defeat by Bayern Munich. Was he right?
Headline eg: Were Manchester City naive?
As well as criticising Joe Hart for conceding two cheap goals in Manchester City's 3-1 defeat at home to Bayern Munich last night, Gary Neville was also scathing about the mistakes made by City's manager Manuel Pellegrini: "I can't believe he is watching this without changing anything," the Sky pundit said during commentary. "If this was an English manager we would say he was naive." But how much of City's struggles were down to tactical naivety, and how much due to Bayern's brilliance?
As previously outlined (http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/sep/20/manuel-pellegrini-manchester-city), although Manchester City's system is frequently considered a 4-2-3-1, Sergio Agüero enjoys sprinting beyond Edin Dzeko and past the opposition's defensive line, and therefore his average position is usually in advance of his strike partner. The formation is closer to 4-4-2 than one might expect. Two upfront wouldn't have been a disaster had City turned this into a fast-paced, end-to-end "English" clash – they could have knocked the ball forward quickly and taken advantage of Bayern's lack of a spare man at the back, and their amazingly high defensive line. However, in a game where Pellegrini had acknowledged both would attempt to dominate possession, it was surprising to see him play so openly in the central midfield zone.
Tactically naive? Partly – although Pellegrini could argue he was trying to take the game to Bayern, rather than allowing them to dominate.
Both Pep Guardiola and Bayern have placed great emphasis on the forwards contributing without the ball: at Barcelona Guardiola demanded intense pressing from his front three, while Bayern's European Cup success was partly because of Mario Mandzukic's incredible work rate upfront. Thomas Müller continued that theme here. However, Dzeko and Agüero did extremely little without the ball in the first half, and it was amazing that the Argentine wasn't given instructions to pick up Philipp Lahm for the long periods Bayern had possession. This meant City were outnumbered in the centre of the pitch, and Bayern's possession dominance verged on the embarrassing. Things improved after half-time, with Agüero playing a more disciplined role – but why couldn't Pellegrini have shouted across instructions in the first half?
Tactically naive? Absolutely – in modern Champions League football, sides defend with all 10 outfield players, while City were only defending with eight.
Bayern's dominance had become clear after 20 minutes, and while City managed to reach half-time without conceding a second goal, the Bayern pressure was steadily increasing. At this point, Pellegrini surely needed to make a temporary switch in formation, getting extra numbers into his midfield zone. He could have moved Agüero deeper, or put him to the left, allowing Samir Nasri to become the third central midfielder – but neither approach was perfect. Agüero isn't naturally a midfielder, and would have spent the majority of the first period inside his own half – while moving him to the left would have robbed City of their major attacking threat, with his pace in behind the defence.
Tactically naive? Making such an early shift wouldn't have been ideal, but Pellegrini needed to hold back the tide – he was lucky to be only one goal behind at the break.
City's struggles in the first half were not merely because Bayern were retaining the ball so reliably, but also because they won it back extremely efficiently. The midfielder Toni Kroos, for example, made three successful first-half challenges – and all were extremely high up the pitch, inside Manchester City's own third of the pitch. It's unthinkable that City wouldn't have been aware of Bayern's pressing quality, and here the players must take responsibility for their inability to skip around the Bayern challenges. The midfield combination of Yaya Touré and Fernandinho, for example, is theoretically perfect for powerfully gliding past the first wave of pressure, but both seemed entirely off the pace, particularly in the first half.
Tactically naive? Here, City were disappointing but players must take the blame – and great credit should go to Bayern for their energy and discipline.
Even if Pellegrini was reluctant to alter his tactics midway through the first period, the interval was the perfect opportunity. Agüero played deeper and City pressed more, but Bayern continued to dominate and eventually established a three-goal lead. On 70 minutes, Pellegrini finally moved to a proper 4-2-3-1 system, with James Milner on the left and David Silva as the No10. Alvaro Negredo had already replaced Dzeko upfront. In the final 20 minutes, City completed 114 passes compared to Bayern's 85, with 32 in the final third compared to Bayern's 19. Negredo scored a consolation, Silva hit the bar, City had another couple of decent chances and Jérôme Boateng was dismissed for a desperate, cynical tackle. Six of City's nine shots came in this period. Bayern may have switched off, and the tiredness from their early pressing was particularly obvious, but the late surge supported the feeling that Pellegrini should have made substitutions earlier.
Tactically naive? Pellegrini suggested he didn't make changes because Silva could only play 20 minutes – but Milner could have been introduced sooner. It also outlines a lack of faith in Javi García, who could have been introduced with Touré moving higher.