Manchester City returned to the pitch after what felt like the longest international break of all time and showed little to no signs of rust. Pep Guardiola’s team crushed Everton by a score of 3-1 on the road, a final that does not come close to representing the divide between these two teams. The most interesting aspect of this match was Manchester City’s lineup, with Aymeric Laporte starting at left back (or the left center back in a back three), upping the season total on starting left backs to 5 (check my math on this).
Laporte’s presence on the left side introduced a wrinkle to City’s tactics that actually reminded me of how they lined up earlier in the year when the 3-5-2 was in vogue. City were structured in two primary ways against Everton, and operated on a spectrum between the two throughout. One side of the spectrum was more of a traditional 4-3-3 where Laporte took on standard responsibilities of a left back, though not quite as aggressive offensively as other options have been at the position. He did not make many overlapping runs down the line, likely because Pep has much better options on crossing the ball into the box. He did, however, step forward (sometimes pinching in) at times to support the attack, even making a crucial pass to help set up the first goal. When he did this, Kyle Walker did a great job of reading his positioning and making sure he was not caught to far up field.
The other side of the spectrum and the one that seemed to be the default was with Laporte playing as the outside center back in a three man backline. When he did so, Walker moved far up the field to provide width for the attack on the right while Raheem Sterling moved central. Leroy Sane, nominally the left winger, dropped deeper in these setups to provide wide support on the left. With this shifting, City slightly resembled the way they were at the very beginning of the year, with Raheem Sterling operating as a second striker.
City looked good in both formations though the backline did look shaky at times. The unfamiliarity with this specific lineup showed when Everton attacked down the right side at Laporte. Sane did not always track back and Laporte got pulled wide as a result. This shifted the entire backline and left a lot of space in the box for the opponent to exploit. Luckily, City’s opponents were not able to take advantage of these few instances of weakness.
Everton didn’t do much to deter the City attack either and their midfield was simply incapable of putting up any obstacle. David Silva put on an absolute masterclass and was far and away the best player on the field. With the Champions League matchup against Liverpool less than a week away now, this game was definitely reassuring. City looked focused and well-trained in their responsibilities after a long break. It will be interesting to see how Pep lines up against Liverpool. Trying Laporte on the left may have been an audition for Wednesday or simply a result of an unfit Fabian Delph. The rest of the lineup seems fairly set in stone and it’d be a surprise to see any changes, but left back is the position to watch, especially because that player will take on a large share of Mo Salah duties.