CITY 2.0- MESMERIC AND MONSTROUS IN EQUAL MEASURE
John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ruben Dias- drenched in the rain, quite literally putting their bodies on the line and dying for the cause, engaging in a group hug was both indescribably wholesome and intimidating. For starters, Dias in particular looks like he eats nails for breakfast and to see him partake in a warm embrace is the same unexpected fuzzy feeling you get when Ron Swanson grins. And if you’re one of those that don’t sing ‘Wonderwall’ before and after games for a reason, you should be frightened at City’s newfound adoration for taking pride in defending.
😍 Zinchenko x Stones x Dias. pic.twitter.com/ghKvZUniMw
— Man City Report (@cityreport_) May 4, 2021
Over Pep Guardiola’s reign, despite their undeniable supremacy, when the tough gets going, they have shown that they can be comics in defence if they’re conjurers in attack. Case in point, the iconic 4-3 tennis match of a Champions League quarter-final against Spurs. On a night where the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling went supernova, defensive stalwarts like Aymeric Laporte went missing. And so did their hopes of ending their quarter-final curse in European football’s jewel in the crown.
54 duels won. 22 tackles. 8 blocks. 0 shots on target faced. Walker, Stones, Dias and Zinchenko had the games of their lives.
This season, Manchester City should have ended their partnership with Puma the way they’ve found a new balance. And against PSG, they were masterful, measured and monstrous as and when the Doctor ordered it.
And thats’s been City ever since they discovered this resoluteness. It may be a result of the 4-4-2 deep block that makes them impenetrable but tactics aside, Pep’s soldiers can batter you with the ball and bully you off it.
Ederson pinging the ball to set Zinchenko on his way is the kind of stuff we’ve come to associate the Brazilian ‘keeper with. But then there’s Dias blocking a cross with his head, in the midst of hail on the floor and you’re taken aback by how committed to the cause he is. Phil Foden’s dynamite assist for Riyad Mahrez’s second never ceases to amaze. But you can also say the same about both Stones and Zinchenko sliding, almost in choreographed fashion to block Neymar’s shot.
The finesse was always undeniable from the artists in Sky Blue, the grit wasn’t. High fives after blocks and tackles were never a thing at the Etihad where Guardiola’s team would rather suffocate the opposition by playing keep-ball and depart the pitch without breaking a sweat. The Parisians were chasing shadows like the fallen soldiers do, week in, week out while also failing to break down a team that can, simply put- play with 11 men behind the ball as well.
A team that attacks and defends in numbers. The late Johan Cruyff would be smiling at seeing what his model student, Josep has built at City.
The signs of Total football have always been prevalent under Guardiola teams and the Citizens seemed to have taken this ideal to the hilt and perfected it this campaign. We’re all aware of Joao Cancelo’s forays between full-back and central midfield but how about Bernardo Silva against last season’s Champions League finalists? The Portuguese international must have, without a doubt operated in 6 positions.
If he wasn’t initiating the City press as a false 9, he was interchanging with Mahrez on the right flank while KDB or Foden occupied the space meant for the centre forward. If he wasn’t driving City forward from that inside right-hand channel, he was doubling down on Di Maria alongside Zinchenko as a secondary left-back. I could keep going but I could talk about Bernardo for years anyway.
For the most part, there’s no room for “specialists”. Phil Foden has the world at his feet, playing in an unnatural role as a left-winger all season. And against France’s finest, he was untouchable once again.
Riyad Mahrez will take the plaudits for his brace and is undoubtedly the most decisive winger on the planet but even a sublime footballer of his ilk had to get stuck into the dogwork against Neymar. If Kyle Walker wasn’t enough of a nuisance for PSG’s big boss, the silky Algerian tracking back and constantly winning 1v1s defensively would have made Njr want to be on the next flight to Paris.
You may find it taxing to highlight Mahrez’s industry on a night where the Algerian was toying with Diallo and Kimpembe but it all comes back to the power of balance.
And then there’s the approach. Mauricio Pochettino’s men didn’t look they came to Manchester to merely participate and came flying out of the blocks. City weathered the storm of Paris’ barrage of balls into the box, defended resolutely and never chose to panic.
The tackles weren’t flying in all over the place. The soon-to-be crowned Premier League champions kept their shape, pressed and defenders in numbers, maintained body shapes that never left them exposed and in summation, never lost their heads. You can’t say the same for Di Maria and PSG. Oh well.
Their solidity was rewarded because when they did foray forward, Mahrez stuck the ball between Navas’ legs to give the Citizens the lead. The number of spells where Guardiola’s men played champagne football and popped the ball around like they were playing against novices was borderline disrespectful. But when PSG looked like they meant business, City knew exactly how to recycle the ball and when to be murderous on the break and when to slow things down.
The Algerian king’s 2nd goal is the definition of a goal on the break. But then there were times when the sky blue half of Manchester won the ball high up the pitch but decided to restart the attack to avoid leaving themselves exposed. The performance exuded maturity. Game management in the truest sense of the term.
This City team aren’t just a bunch of superstars thrown together like the original Galacticos in the early 2000s. They don’t have a Neymar or an Mbappe who is the heart and soul of that team. If De Bruyne is the starman in the side, he dies for the cause. And he doesn’t have to be a 10/10 all the time because his long-lost brother in Zinchenko can put on a clinic like he did against Paris or a Dias could win the Champions League Man of the Match.
It doesn’t always have to be sexy. It doesn’t always have to be gritty. It needs to be a bit of both.