Monday’s win will help Manchester City stay buoyant as they look forward to a New Year’s Eve trip to Anfield. However, City’s effort against the Premier League’s lowest ranked team was not without significant challenge.
Mike Phelan’s Tigers mounted a string of challenges late in the first half and then emerged from the break ready to steal three points from the Manchester crew. Here are three things we learned on the infamous Boxing Day:
1 - City’s talent needs to execute early
Even with multiple chances in the first ten minutes and 70% of possession in the first half, Guardiola’s attackers were neutralized. Teams have been playing excellent defense against City and, without a doubt, the trainers will be assessing how to strike more efficiently in upcoming games.
Although Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva did their best to create openings, Hull remained vigilant and jammed City as the first half wore on.
On a number of occasions, City got stuck on the wing with multiple players in the box. They weren’t allowed significant openings to get a valid shot at goal. Dynamic players like Sterling were held off the ball and rotation among the front four or five Sky Blue attackers were, for the most part, contained without causing major anxiety for Hull.
2 - As a whole, the team is getting stronger
City’s defense looked better. It’s obvious that Pep Guardiola has instituted a more conservative approach in front of Claudio Bravo’s goal. Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov were tested by Dieumerci Mbokani and Robert Snodgrass but were able to frustrate Hull’s advances in the end.
As the second half progressed, the two teams appeared to be locked in a stalemate. To the sincere pleasure of City fans, the Sky Blues crescendoed to the end.
Raheem Sterling created a spark by winning a penalty kick, De Bruyne directed his teammates to set up Kelechi Iheanacho, and then City pressed hard against Hull to minimize the Tiger’s chance of fighting back.
It was a pleasure to see such resilience but it will help the cause if City can create a dynamic of advantage in the score line at the outset of future fixtures. It’s obvious that their confidence climbs dramatically once they’ve sunk a goal or two.
3 - Balance will be the key
If the team can move through the midfield in a manner that keeps opposing defenses open and vulnerable, if they can get behind defenses with greater ease and agility — all while maintaining their current defensive approach —, they will make a statement this season.
The team does not need to make significant shifts. They merely need to find the balance that will allow them to take advantage of possession without losing defensive focus.
It is obvious that the back four will remain vital to the development of offensive play but they can’t leave the door open for opponents’ hungry attackers.
At times, City looks well connected in build-up and in collective defending. The difference will be how well they can truly dominate at both ends in order to develop the Manchester manifestation of Pep Ball.
Liverpool will be a formidable opponent. They will require the best of City in what will surely be an all out 90-minute effort. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds will press hard. They will also be seeking to open the game early with multiple goals. It will work to the Sky Blue’s advantage that Liverpool often hits a lull in the second half of games.
Of course, taking the next step in their ultimate development as a team will be very difficult to do while facing an excellent team after such a short interval between games. If City can deliver and do so in style, it will mark a major boost in this campaign.