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Manchester City 4-0 Bournemouth: Tactical Analysis

The team that cannot be stopped again was not stopped in a dominant performance.

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

The Manchester City Train of Destruction made another victim on Saturday with a 4-0 thrashing of AFC Bournemouth at home. City have become to football what peak Mike Tyson was to boxing, when he would just walk out into the center of the ring and knock his opponent out in the first round.

Pep Guardiola’s team are capable of doing the same thing against any team and there is always a sense that whenever City get the first goal, your fate is sealed. This team operates like a machine and there is no circumstances that affect the way they play.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe set his team up in a ultra-defensive formation, primarily falling into a 5-4-1 shape. Bournemouth played a relatively high line and did not feature much of a press. The midfield line was held very tight to the backline in an attempt to bracket City playmakers Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. The whole team would adjust to their positioning and bracket them at all times.

Bournemouth’s 4-man midfield played narrow, forcing City to play the ball out wide to full-backs Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker while cutting off passing lanes to the hosts’ attacking midfielders. This made Pep Guardiola adjust his buildup strategy to compensate to the lack of space between the two lines of defense.

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Guardiola did this by blurring the lines between his attacking midfield and forward lines in addition to bulking up the numbers in defensive midfield. Bournemouth were clearly focused on man-marking De Bruyne and Silva with multiple defenders and would drop deeper and deeper as the ball was carried forward by the City backline.

Pep moved both of his playmakers up into the three-man forward line and spaced these five players wide across the pitch. This allowed for any of the five attackers to flare into midfield to linkup and pull defenders with them. The defensive midfield was fortified by having center-back Nicolas Otamendi upfield to sit next to Fernandinho as well as tucking a full-back, usually Kyle Walker, in tight.

The remaining wide full-back was responsible for providing an outlet on the edge of the pitch to receive or provide cross-field switches of play. Vincent Kompany stayed as the deeper City player as a security blanket against counter attacks and as a last resort passing option.

With Bournemouth playing a high line, City were able to attempt some balls over the top of the defense and with five attackers operating among the backline, it was challenging to track where the run would originate. Pep Guardiola teams are generally not known for lobbing balls into the final third from the back, but using this tactic ever so often was effective in keeping the Cherries defense honest and prevented them from locking in on one particular strategy.

City found success throughout the game in using Bournemouth’s tight formation to cause confusion. The Blues have no problem breaking down a team that can park the bus as long as they can cause disorganization within it.

The team’s second goal scored by Raheem Sterling was a direct effect of this, in which Sterling, Sergio Agüero and De Bruyne were operating in close proximity to each other within the Bournemouth backline. A pass played into Agüero who dropped slightly in between the midfield and defensive lines was chipped on to what Bournemouth defenders assumed was an offside De Bruyne. But they forgot to account for Sterling who came running in, unmarked and onside, for a one-on-one opportunity with keeper Asmir Begovic that he finished nicely.

Bournemouth are accustomed to possessing when they don’t play superhuman teams like City and they looked to break the press at the appropriate opportunity. Despite their current standing in the table, Eddie Howe emphasizes a style of play that is aggressive and attacking, and we saw signs of that against City on Saturday. They looked less willing to strike on the counter but deferred to a patient buildup out of the back. Howe is definitely aware of City’s strength on countering the counter and knew his team’s best shot was to gain possession, find a way to keep the ball and try to take advantage of City’s (sometimes) lack of patience on defense.

Pep handled this well and his defense set up to disrupt the Bournemouth offense expertly. The Cherries looked to attack down the wing and then run defenders into space left behind the City full-backs. The goal was to pull a City center-back out to compensate, leaving further space in the box for crosses. Guardiola was clearly aware that Bournemouth’s best chance at scoring would be throwing as many crosses into the box as possible and hoping for the best.

To account for this, Pep asked both Kompany and Otamendi, two center-backs who are great in the air, to stay narrow in defense and had Fernandinho drop into the backline when a full-back was pulled to defend out wide. With Silva and De Bruyne then forming a defensive midfield pairing, City had numbers back and the proper personnel to spark another attack.

The major flaw in Eddie Howe’s plan was not as much in tactics but in execution. The “park the bus and attack sparingly” strategy is usually the best chance inferior teams have, but it must be executed to absolute perfection for it to work out. Manchester City’s press is too aggressive and well-organized that if you make any single mistake against it, they will bury you.

The Blues’ first goal was a clear example of this, with Bournemouth trying to play among their backline and keeper while City closed down on them. Begovic received the ball and tried to chip it out wide to right-back Adam Smith. Because Begovic isn’t exactly Ederson, the pass was way off target, Fabian Delph was able to press forward and recover possession for a recycled attack near the box. Bournemouth had men back behind the ball still, but the defense was scrambling to re-find their shape. Before they could organize, the ball was chipped over the top from Fernandinho to Aguero for an easy header.

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Once City have the first goal, that’s usually the knockout punch when you know it’s over. With the lead in hand, City can be patient in possession and probe the defense for openings, flashing in and out of the attacking third until the right opportunity presents itself. A defense looking at a deficit is always less patient than one in a draw and Bournemouth abandoned their defensive principles as the game wore on, leading to an onslaught of City chances.

It was really good to see Sergio Agüero have a game like this (90 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist) after the recent reports of him being unsettled at City. I think it’s fair to say that no fan of the team wants to see him go and hopefully this game squashes any of this supposed discomfort. I was also really happy for Danilo to get some time and his first goal in a City shirt. He hasn’t played much under Pep but the guy seems to have a great attitude and always gives tremendous effort. He’s been solid when he has played recently and having him for full-back depth is a great thing.

Manchester City have three relatively easy opponents coming up against Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Watford in the next week and a half, and will look to maintain their incredible run of form.