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Southampton 0 - 1 Manchester City : Premier League, Tactical Analysis

City reached 100 points and added an exclamation point to their claim of greatest Premier League team of all time.

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

100 points! Manchester City became the first team in the history of English top flight soccer to reach 100 points in one season! It is a milestone that is so impressive its almost too hard to believe yet is incredibly satisfying at the same time. My feelings about this being the final game of the season are very conflicting. On one hand, I am appreciative and grateful that I happen to be a fan of this team that has not only experienced so much success, but has done so in the most entertaining, beautiful way that many fans have ever witnessed. Alternatively, I’m sad that I won’t get to watch City step on the field for a few months. This team has been such a joy to watch that its hard not to crave more. That’s not an option obviously so we have one last game to enjoy and analyze before we switch our brains into full-time offseason celebration/transfer talk mode.

Coming into this game, there were really no bad outcomes that could have happened with the sole exception of serious injury. Everything that happened is gravy on top of the wonderful season City had already put together. Granted, I think we all were hoping to get to the century mark and I think we all were hoping Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden would get the appearance they needed to get a championship medal (they did). Pep Guardiola always wants to win obviously but I’d imagine he had a similar mindset coming into this game against Southampton. City have had a feeling of experimental freedom around them since they clinched the title and Sunday’s match was no different.

City came out in a nominal 4-3-3 with Raheem Sterling playing centrally in the front three, primarily as a false nine. This decision was certainly appropriate based on Southampton’s setup, who played a five-man backline throughout. False nines are particularly effective against three center backs as it is often able to pull central defenders out from their positioning and confuses man-marking assignments. Sterling dropped deep frequently and it appeared as the average position of wingers Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva was further upfield than Raheem’s.

Midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan also occupied advanced positions, usually operating along the same line as Sterling. This gave City a very interesting look with almost three attacking midfielders and two wide wingers sitting above them. Where the attacking build up was focused was often indicated by the positioning of fullbacks Danilo and Fabian Delph. With both players tucked inside in the midfield, the attack was versatile but looked to take advantage of central space by moving defenders with quick lateral passing. Otherwise, there were long stretches where one fullback would stay wide while the other would push into the midfield, tilting the field towards the corner flag. This often happen down the left side where Leroy Sane was and had Bernardo maintain width on the opposite wing in order to be available for full-field crosses and cutback runs into the box.

City dominated the course of play with this set up but the quality chances were few and far between. Southampton deserves credit for their defensive awareness in addition to some well-executed attacks that resulted in a few balls being cleared off the line throughout the game. City’s attack added a completely new dimension when Pep brought on Gabriel Jesus for Fabian Delph early in the second half. It was an aggressive move as City now employed a three-man backline and did not have anyone really playing as wingbacks for defensive cover that you’d expect to see. Southampton was getting worn down by City’s pressure and Pep probably thought that he didn’t have anything to lose anyway, because, well, he didn’t. Jesus played right in front of Sterling and gave the team an option for central attacking runs, an attacking element they lacked earlier in the match. Southampton’s center backs now had to keep an eye out for central attackers moving vertically in both directions, sometimes simultaneously.

It seemed all but certain that City would get at least one goal but the game carried on late with no such scoring. Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz got their appearances and the Sky Blues were all pushing forward with urgency. They clearly wanted to get to 100 points as much as all of us did. Three points from this match seemed all but lost to be honest. Stoppage time was running out and no discernible buildup was present well into the 93rd minute. The Southampton fans were celebrating what would have been a great result to close their season out.

They should have known better.

Kevin De Bruyne was given entirely too much space and Gabriel Jesus caught the backline napping for just a second. From City’s own half of the field, De Bruyne played an inch perfect ball over the top to Jesus, running past Southampton outside center back. The Brazilian was able to settle and expertly chip keeper Alex McCarthy on what ended up being the final play of the game.

Chaos obviously ensued at this point. Jesus took his shirt off in a celebratory move reminiscent of 93:20 Sergio Aguero and the whole team rushed to the away fans section. The bench was in an uproar as well and I personally didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself either. Plain and simple, it was the perfect end to what was a perfect season (not literally, you know what I mean).

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

This team found a way to make this end of season run exciting despite the fact that the title had been clinched for weeks now. I guess we shouldn’t have expected it any other way after the magical season Manchester City has put together. Its really hard to put into words how to describe this team over the whole season. Trying to understand what is going on for each individual game is hard enough as it is, but the entirety of this masterpiece Premier League season is almost inexplicable. Clearly, it was some combination of incredible scouting, coaching, and talent, but there are complexities that accompany each one of those things that I’m not smart enough to understand, but aware enough to appreciate. The ridiculously great on-field product Manchester City provided this year was made all the better by the camaraderie seen between the players. Body language is a great indicator of team chemistry and this team showed that they just loved playing together. There was happiness with each goal and the dissent that you seen between some teammates was nonexistent, making the season even more rewarding and enjoyable to witness.

I truly do not know if we will ever see something like this again. I hope I’m wrong and City outdo themselves next season, but the odds are against it. Everything came together this season into the perfect blend and even with how closely we all may have followed this year, I still personally feel like I haven’t completely grasped the magnitude of what just happened. It’s going to a short offseason (it always seems to be) and I’m going to spend as much time as I can celebrating the greatness of this Manchester City squad, because it was one for the ages.