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Swansea City 0-4 Manchester City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

City’s record-breaking destruction at Swansea was Pep’s team at its absolute best.

Swansea City v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Now that’s more like it! Call me spoiled but I am slightly relieved that Manchester City dominated Swansea City as thoroughly as they did. Setting a record for the most consecutive wins in league history should be enough, I know, but I like the comfort in watching City annihilate teams. Swansea was a perfect candidate to get Pep Guardiola’s team back on track, considering they had only scored nine goals all season, and the 4-0 victory on the road maintained an 11-point lead at the top of the table.

Swansea entered this match at the bottom of the Premier League table and manager Paul Clement certainly had his hands full in slowing City down. In his defense, I’m not sure there was any gameplan he could have put together that would have stopped the Blues on Wednesday night.

Pep Guardiola orchestrated a gameplan that more effectively broke down an ultra defensive lineup than we saw in recent matches. For the first 20 minutes, it actually appeared as City would once again struggle to handle a far inferior team, with Swansea creating several quality counter-attacking opportunities and with former City forward Wilfried Bony handling himself well on long balls played onto his head. But it was all part of the master plan that played out over 90 minutes.

In games against teams like Swansea, the script tends to always the same: an early goal opens the flood gates leading to a lopsided result while first half struggles give the opponent confidence and allow them to find comfort in their defensive structure. Pep Guardiola is obviously aware of this and has been working on the challenge of getting that all important early goal in light of City’s recent “struggles” (it’s definitely a relative term).

Against Swansea, Pep was able to do this by manipulating Swansea’s expectations of City’s attack. He did this by repeatedly building the attack the same way for the opening 10-15 minutes, focusing on center-backs Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaqium Mangala passing to advanced full-backs/wingers as a means to move the ball forward. City forced the ball down the wings and ignored the center of the pitch until Swansea bit on the trap and began to stretch their defense horizontally to cut out this option, but they left space between the lines. This is exactly what Pep wanted to happen and City responded accordingly.

Otamendi would move towards the right wing with the ball in preparation for a pass before changing course down the center of the pitch when Swansea rotated to cut off the sideline. Interestingly, the passing options available to Otamendi were sparse as City would often have their attacking midfield and forward lines blended into one condensed attacking unit, matching Swansea’s defensive numbers. This forced the Argentinian defender to make a pass into the feet of an attacker through multiple levels of Swansea’s defense, which is obviously a high risk/high reward play.

I tend to believe that Pep purposely designed this opportunity as a way to either quickly drive through the heart of Swansea’s defense for a quick strike, or as an invitation for Swansea to step out of their own half. If this pass from Otamendi failed, Swansea had open field in front of them to initiate a counter. Both of these things happened and City took advantage of both of them. The Blues looked very dangerous when they were able to slice through right to Swansea’s backline and Swansea started to advance with numbers, creating a more open game than expected.

Swansea City v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

City coupled this buildup with a slight adjustment in their attacking mindset, at times sacrificing some of their trademark one-touch passing for more opportunities to run at defenders. Swansea, along with every other team in England, are obviously familiar with City’s ability to torch teams with Guardiola’s brand of football and they used their reputation to create openings in the defense.

City avoided one-two opportunities that Swansea was anticipating by letting their talented attackers to run at defenders who did not seem comfortable marking in space. The entire City attack was efficient in doing so, but Sergio Agüero and Bernardo Silva were particularly dangerous in exploiting seams in the defense.

On top of these tactical tweaks, City topped it all off with an insane press (coming out of a 2-3-5 setup while in possession with Fabian Delph and Danilo stepping up next to Fernandinho) upon turning the ball over that wore Swansea down and made them increasingly uncomfortable when transitioning out of their defensive third.

All of these things came together to the tune of four goals and a return to football destruction. The first goal by David Silva in the 27th minute was the key, coming together from a combination of the three factors discussed above, because it took the pressure off City to achieve the expected result and allowed them to be the patient team on the field.

Now that they were behind, Swansea were forced to abandon an conservative plan in order to have any chance to get a result, letting City playing their game. City’s setup in a 2-3-5 provided a fluidity within the attacking midfield lines with horizontal/vertical rotations that prevented the defense from locking in on a zone or man-to-man approach.

This game could have been more challenging given it was sandwiched in between big matches against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, so it would have been very easy to overlook Swansea. So good job by City in handling business and moving on to the next one, because you get the same amount of points from beating Swansea as you do when you beat United.

We have a few days to get hyped for this weekend’s match against Tottenham, the team I would argue is the second best in England despite their recent struggles in the league. The Mangala-Otamendi center-back combination has been solid lately but has not seen a challenge like it will see from the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.

City obviously don’t need to prove anything more than they already have but it will most definitely be fun to see how Pep attacks Tottenham. Get ready for Saturday.