Oleksandr Zinchenko: The Supernatural
Prior to kick off, Manchester City versus Real Madrid was portrayed as the collective versus the individuals. A comparison that was cemented after the final whistle.
In a thrilling 4–3 encounter, the individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior kept Real Madrid in the tie after Manchester City’s pressing suffocated the Spanish side. It could have been worse had Manchester City finished their chances in possession and on the transitions.
“Yeah, we miss it (chances) but we created. We were there all the time. We were there. We were there.”
Pep Guardiola seemed relatively satisfied with the performance, but the one aspect he stressed on more than anything was how City created “chances, and chances and chances”.
Some of these chances were a result of City’s excellence on the transition, others were created from the high pressing, but it was City’s left hand side that caused the most problems for Real Madrid in the possession phase. Namely, Oleksandr Zinchenko.
By now, the roles of Zinchenko and Joao Cancelo in terms of supporting City’s build up and shielding against counter-attacks is no news. Zinchenko would usually move inside to support Rodri in progressing the ball up the field as he did in this game when City weren’t pressed high up the pitch by Real Madrid — when that happened Bernardo Silva dropped to support Rodri.
But that wasn’t the only thing the Ukrainian did. His runs inside the pitch and positioning in-between Real Madrid’s lines either provided a free passing option or freed one of Kevin De Bruyne or Phil Foden. Here, Zinchenko’s run was one second late of De Bruyne noticing it. Had the run been made earlier, De Bruyne could have found Zinchenko’s penetrative run.
Like here when he made a move inside the pitch….
….and Aymeric Laporte found him with a chipped pass in-between the lines, only for Zinchenko’s reception of the ball to slow down the attack.
Zinchenko (yellow) was very keen on making these inside runs, that at times he was inside, and it was De Bruyne (light blue) by the touchline.
Here’s an example that shows the effectiveness of these inside runs from Zinchenko. At first, Zinchenko was in an orthodox left back position, playing the ball back to Laporte…..
…..just before moving inside to position himself in between the lines as Laporte played the ball wide to Foden.
Then once Foden received the ball, the positioning of Zinchenko comes in play. David Alaba (white) who in the previous screengrab was ready to move out towards De Bruyne, couldn’t here due to the positioning of Zinchenko, who might exploit the gap if Alaba moved out. This freed De Bruyne for a second, enough for Foden to find him with a pass….
…..as De Bruyne was receiving the ball, Alaba moved up to press leaving Dani Carvajal to cover his space and pick up Zinchenko. The harrying of Alaba forced De Bruyne to return the ball into Foden…
….who played a quick pass into the Belgian…
…before making an underlapping run. That combination between Foden and De Bruyne left Alaba chasing shadows and more importantly, it forced Carvajal away from Zinchenko who since moving inside has only taken minimal steps sideways but kept his positioning in between Real Madrid’s lines. The result was that De Bruyne found the free Zinchenko…..
….but the latter’s pass into Bernardo Silva wasn’t precise enough. Had this pass been through, Bernardo was in a threatening position to score City’s third.
Another example can be seen in the second half. After a passing combination between Zinchenko, Foden and De Bruyne…..
…..Zinchenko darts into the space inside the field as De Bruyne plays the ball into his path…
to put the Ukrainian in a dangerous position, from which he can create. Zinchenko managed to find Laporte with a precise pass…
….but Laporte’s finishing meant that City couldn’t return their two goal lead.
The involvement wasn’t only in terms of missed chances, Zinchenko’s role was crucial in two of City’s four goals. In the build up to the second goal, Zinchenko moved inside the pitch to assist Rodri in terms of circulating the ball to the other side….
…..then once the ball was there, Zinchenko waited for the perfect moment to make his penetrative run….
……causing major disruption in Real Madrid’s marking. When Zinchenko made that run, Toni Kroos was no longer able to mark nearby De Bruyne as he had to pick up Zinchenko. That put Carvajal in a pickle, as with Rodri on the ball he needed to shift his focus for a second from Foden towards De Bruyne…..
……and that second, gave Foden a head start in the race. So that when Laporte played the pass over the top….
…..Carvajal was nowhere near Foden, and Eder Militao had to move out to face the English midfielder. The important thing to note here is the space De Bruyne has and the distance between himself and Kroos, with Carvajal running back to fill in for Militao.
That space was enough for De Bruyne to put in the cross that resulted in City’s second of the night. All stemming from Zinchenko’s run pinning Kroos in midfield.
City’s fourth also featured a Zinchenko run, albeit this time with the ball. Bursting into the space ahead of him….
…..before dribbling inside the pitch past Kroos….
….who floored Zinchenko, but Bernardo Silva swept up the lost ball and struck it into the top corner.
After the Watford game Guardiola praised Zinchenko’s reliability and his efforts in terms of playing in an unnatural position for the past four years.
Against Real Madrid, the position might have been unnatural for Zinchenko, but his role in possession was more than natural.