Losing the Englishman is certainly a big blow for City as he has been a vital cog in building the attack out of the back in addition to being a defensive rock. Luckily, Vincent Kompany is back to full fitness and combining him in a center-back pairing with Nicolas Otamendi is certainly a strong option. But the squad’s defensive depth will once again be challenged and will almost certainly require contributions from Eliaquim Mangala and perhaps even Tosin Adarabioyo.
Pep Guardiola has shown that he will stick to his strategies regardless of the personnel available, sometimes using a squad change to introduce a new wrinkle to his gameplan (see Fabian Delph at left-back). We got a glimpse of how City will adjust with Mangala in the team against Leicester and there were some changes, though they were not drastic.
The French defender is obviously less comfortable on the ball and has yet to show the defensive awareness Stones has provided all season. This will change how City play in attack and defense. Mangala did not and will not make the pass to bypass multiple opponents and step forward to carry the ball into the midfield. This is not necessarily a bad thing but as this game showed, it will place more responsibility on the midfield to drop deep to dictate possession.
Guardiola also showed a clear intention of providing Mangala with defensive cover and did not want to get into a situation where he would have to defend 1-on-1 in space. This manifested itself with a more traditional backline, where Delph’s movement deep into the midfield was muted, maintaining a more conservative position as the left-back (Mangala was the left sided center-back). Fernandinho and Kyle Walker also showed more hesitation in making aggressive runs, especially when City got a two-goal lead.
All that being said, Mangala played very well in this game. He was able to maintain possession with a variety of short passes and show composure on the ball when under pressure. I can only recall one bad play he made in City’s defensive third but he was an integral part of holding Leicester to two shots overall, neither of which were on target.
Manchester City played phenomenally as a team, maintaining 75% possession and creating chances with ease throughout the game. City took advantage of a Leicester side that was pushed high up the field but did not apply much pressure. Jamie Vardy, who usually is aggressive on pressuring the backline, seemed to have the responsibility of shadowing Fernandinho. This prevented Fernandinho from making influential passes upfield, but there was still a lot of space in the midfield for the Blues to build their attacks right down the center of the pitch.
Leicester made a concerted effort to attack City and commit numbers at the appropriate time, often allowing Guardiola’s team to create big chances on the counter attack. The second City goal came directly after the only real chance Leicester had all game. With the ball bouncing around in the City box, Leicester pushed forward for the equalizing goal but ultimately rang a shot off the post. City recovered and created a quick attack that resulted in an incredible goal from Kevin De Bruyne.
David Silva and De Bruyne once again bossed the midfield and controlled the game, getting the ball to wingers Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling in dangerous areas. City created a number of chances off of link-ups where Gabriel Jesus would drop into midfield. Leicester’s backline tightly tracked this movement but Jesus was able to consistently lay passes off on his first touch to Silva or De Bruyne to find a teammate running into space behind the tracking defender.
City’s ability to operate in small spaces served them well in building their attack down the center of the pitch. On the first goal, Raheem Sterling came in from his right wing position to central midfield to help develop an amazing team goal from a collection of quick passes between the English attacker, Silva, and De Bruyne before a tap-in by Gabriel Jesus.
Manchester City continue to run through England with ease and you could make the argument they are the best team in Europe right now. The John Stones injury will certainly be a challenge but this team is so talented and is firing on all cylinders right now. I imagine that City will react to this injury in the same way they did to the Mendy injury: adjust to the available personnel and continue to crush teams.