We head to Eastlands on Monday night for the first of 5 games in 17 days for a testing showdown with old foes Manchester City. Our opponents have been impressive this campaign with massive investment in their squad over the last couple of years naturally leading to an upturn in their fortunes. In contrast, we are having a challenging campaign and our resources are even more stretched with the loss of Arteta through suspension and possibly our other creative talent Steven Pienaar who is struggling to shake of an injury. We do have a fantastic recent record in this fixture though which should give us the confidence of getting a result…..
City Intel and Strategy
Like most Italian managers Mancini has built from the back and arguably has more strength in depth defensively than any other coach in Europe. This will be a battle of two sides playing 4-5-1 systems. City play with 3 central midfielders, De Jong is banned so Zabeleta could sit as anchor with Barry slightly more advanced to the left and Yaya Toure the furthest forward of the 3. These 3 provide the platform for the more creative wide players, definitely David Silva and either Milner or Balotelli to assist Tevez up front. City play a ‘ghost 9’ formation with Tevez as the title role. This strategy puts the emphasis on the ghost nine dropping deep and creating the space he has vacated for others to expose in behind. Therefore I would expect Moyes to set out with us defending deep, leaving no space in behind our back 4.
Diagram A shows that although starting at left back, Kolorov (13) will play almost as a winger with the defensive midfielders providing cover behind him for his marauding runs down our right side. I would expect the defensively astute Coleman and Neville to cope with this threat though.
Diagram A – City last time out at home v Bolton/Everton last time out away v Chelsea
Growing Influence of David Silva
Despite struggling initially to make an impact, David Silva has emerged as City’s key creative influence since his elegant game changing cameo against Blackpool. The Spaniard will start out on the right side of midfield but will drift across the area between Everton’s defensive and midfield lines. Diagram B below shows Silva’s passing heatmaps in his last 2 outings. Notice how he drifts across the pitch, left, right and centre. We will really need to track his movement and if Heitinga was fit I am sure he would have been deployed as a man marker as he was with Van Der Vaart at Spurs earlier this season. One final point on Silva is that he will line up on the right side but not hold his position, so with Baines on form this could be our best chance of penetrating City’s mean defence.
Diagram B – David Silva average passing heatmaps
I would expect us to play 2 deep anchor men in midfield sat in front of the two centre backs. Diagram A above shows the distance between Distin and Fellaini in our last away day and contrast this with the same distance between Kompany & De Jong in City’s last home game. Notice the massive gap our players have between them. If we are going to get anything on Monday our anchor and centre backs will need to be much closer like City’s to deny the space between midfield and defensive lines.
In the corresponding fixture last year Everton enjoyed a great victory over their rivals. Moyes strategy, which I expect him to adopt on Monday is to sit deep and soak up pressure. Diagram C shows City’s passing in the encounter last season. Notice how the bulk of their passing is down the flanks. This was down to Everton’s dominance and pressing when City tried to advance with the ball centrally in our final third. Our anchor’s closed down well and showed City out to the flanks with a confidence that City with Tevez aren’t anywhere near as threatening aerially with the ball coming into the box from wide. This resulted in Diagram D, with City unsuccessfully pinging in 20 crosses.
Diagram C – City passing chalkboard Diagram D – City unsuccessful crosses
I expect City to make all the running offensively and we will need to be extremely focused defensively to get a result here. If we control the space between our defence and midfield and in behind we have every chance of coming away with a result, particularly given that Mancini’s cautious approach and reluctance to abandon his strategy to go for the 3 points. I’m going for a 0-0 draw.