Direction of attacks is a fancy way of saying which sides of the pitch did a team attack down - left, right or center. Every teams attacking plays were counted and sorted into those three buckets. From there, the attacks are sorted into a percentage and what we are left with is the percentage of attacks split into three buckets - left, right or center.
I have counted these attack directions for every Man City game home and away, for and against and it delivered some interesting results.
Direction Of Attacks - Home
Man City are in blue, Opposition in yellow. Left=left et cetera
The first thing that caught my eye was just how balanced Man City's attacking play is at The Etihad. Man City slightly favour attacking down the right, but the difference is miniscule. Center of the field is the most congested, thus we will always see the lowest percentage off attacks come from that zone of the pitch.
As for the opposition, they had a lower percentage of their attacks down the center of the pitch, a virtually equal (to Man City) amount of attacks from their own left side, but the opposition, when at The Etihad, favoured attacking from the right side.
Why the imbalance over 19 games? Why did 19 different away sides consistently favour attacking down their right at Man City's Left Back position? Did the opposition teams spot a weakness in Man City's setup?
Opposition Direction Of Attack At The Etihad
What I have done here in attempt to answer the question posed above is show you every teams Direction Of Attacks as a rolling average.
Remember, we are looking for reasons why the opposition attacked down there right side at our left back position.
It seems that after 5 games or so, opposition teams went away from focusing on our strong right back area and began to focus ever more frequently on Clichy and out left side. For nearly 10 games the opposition were very close or above launching 40% of their attacks at Man City's left back area.
The reasons why teams did that is pretty obvious: Clichy was often left exposed by Mancini's tendancy to play either Nasri or Silva in the left wing area. Both players like to cut inside, to buzz around the box but if possession was lost those players would not b in a position to track back down the left flank leaving Clichy, who was probably way up the pitch, as the only player to defend opposition attacks. Gareth Barry was probably the midfield player charged with covering those attacks and we know he isn't the quickest.
A secondary reason may have been that teams wanted to avoid running into the Zabaletta/Kompany axis on the right side of out defense for that is a far stronger pair than Clichy/Nastasic.
Direction Of Attacks - Away
For Man City's away games we see City with a slightly bigger focus on attacking down the left flank. For Man City's opponents it's all about attacking down the right flank toward our left back area, the oppositions focus on this Man City weakness is even more pronounced here.
Opposition Direction Of Attack
We yet again see the same results here as we did at The Etihad. City's away opponents, all 19 of them, had a similar tactical setup: Attack Man City's Left Flank.
We see that City's opponents consistently sent around 40% of their attacks down at City's left flank. As discussed earlier in this article there may be many reasons for opponents attacking preferences but one thing I didn't touch on was Mancini and his staffs reaction to all this.
Man City have a large technical staff who presumably look at all kinds of match patterns, including and beyond something as basic as this. If something like this was flagged up by the MCFC staff and passed toward the tactical staff then I can only assumed it was ignored or, more likely, it wasn't deemed to be affecting team performances in terms of chances or goals against.
I have no way in which to prove where City's opponents shots were coming from, but my is it an odd quirk that the Man City's left flank area was the favoured method of opponents attacks as the season progressed. Knowing how high Clichy plays and knowing how the left sided attacking midfielder drifts in, I don't think it was a tremendously good idea to allow the opponents to focus their attacks on this side of the pitch
Man City's own direction of attacks were very balanced between the left and right flanks. That balance was consistent throughout the season with very little variation from game to game or from home to away. The area of interest is what Man City's opponents did to us.
We know Man City, at times, had a slightly flawed defensive setup on the left flank (Clichy high, Nasri/Silva tucked inside) we know also that City's right back area is a position of strength. But maybe the right side/left side issue is bigger than just the flanks. What if we splt the pitch down the middle and list which players either play on a certain flank or who are responsible for coming over and covering that flank (midfielders)? Will the right side be stronger than the left side?
- Players that operate on the right side or center right side: Kompany, Zabaletta, Milner, Yaya Toure. That is a strong group indeed.
- Players that operate on the left side or center left side: Nastasic, Clichy, Barry and Nasri/Silva. This is a significantly weaker group in my opinion, both in terms of athleticism and defensive ability.
For me the right hand side group is far stronger group in terms of defensive responsibility. Milner is a two way winger, Yaya has great pace and can cover when he tries and Zabaletta/Kompany is probably the best right sided defensive pair in the league.
If you are an opposition scout or the opposition manager and you know just two things about Man City - 1) They are weaker personnel wise on their left side 2) the left sided attacking players tend to drift inside which exposes Clichy and Barry to swift counters - then why would you not set your team up to attack this side of the pitch?
The answer is: any manager worth his salt would set up to attack these apparent weaknesses or slight tactical flaws.
Overall, City have a quite balanced attack (favour the left slightly in away games) but nearly all opposition teams seem to have picked up on the same issue and exploited it, namely attack Man City's left flank where they are weaker and thus avoid attacking Man City's stronger right flank where less damage would be caused.
Maybe I have over simplified things or maybe I am focusing on something of no great importance. But logic tells us Man City's left side is slightly weaker both tactically and in terms of personnel and the data shows us that the opposition teams have focused on this left flank also.
My only regret is that I cannot show you if the oppositions focus on our left flank was worth it, and if their focus created more shots, chances and goals.