Pressing and overthinking

It’s an hour before kick-off and you are just wondering what is Pep Guardiola doing. It’s a normal Premier League Saturday and everyone is trying to predict how will Manchester City play in possession, out of possession and during the transitions.

During these games, what the Spaniard has in mind may work and it may not. He may adjust it and he may not. You’ll only know after the final whistle.

Prior to kick-off on Saturday night against Chelsea all the fuss was about the absence of Fernandinho and Rodri from the starting eleven. Playing Ilkay Gundogan as the sole number 6 was the new “Pep overthinking”. Yet this wasn’t the main problem for Manchester City.

Multiple pressing schemes have been used against Chelsea to different degrees of success and Guardiola instead of sticking to any of those — one of them that he has used in the league game against Chelsea, decided to roll out a different pressing scheme. It backfired and that was the main problem for Manchester City.

Out of possession, Manchester City pressed Chelsea in a 4–3–3 shape. The front three pressed Chelsea’s three center backs, two of City’s three in midfield pressed Chelsea’s double pivot while Ilkay Gundogan was free to pick up any of Chelsea’s front three who might drop into his zone. That wasn’t it though, Manchester City’s fullbacks also had a role in the pressing.

If Chelsea built up the attack using their left side, Kyle Walker would move forward to press Ben Chilwell, maintaining the duties of City’s midfield three as is. However, if Chelsea built up the attack using their right side it was Oleksandr Zinchenko who moved forward to press Reece James as shown in the example here. In both instances, the Chelsea full back that is on the opposite side of the pitch was completely free.

That’s because Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling were tasked with pressing Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger…

…..which meant that they were positioned inside the pitch like Sterling here, even if the ball was on the opposite side. And With Walker moving up to press Chilwell….

….Zinchenko has to shift inside to support John Stones and Ruben Dias, leaving space out wide for James to attack. Furthermore, Sterling’s initial position high and inside the field to press Azpilicueta puts him miles away from James when the switch is on.

This pressing scheme was a recipe for disaster. Initially, it looks fine. Zinchenko is moving up to press James as Chelsea were building on the right side, Mahrez is inside the field to press Rudiger in case the ball was shifted to him, and Chilwell looks harmless as he is isolated on the far side….

….but once the ball is played long and Walker has to move inside to keep an eye on Mason Mount and maintain the 3 v 3, Chilwell has more space out wide. Especially because of Mahrez’s starting position in the press, high and inside the field.

The result is that after N’Golo Kante wins the second ball, Mount finds Kai Havertz and the German can play Chilwell into the space with both Walker and Mahrez extremely narrow inside the field.

A similar scenario occurred on the other side. A 5 v 5 in-front of Edouard Mendy makes him go wide to Chilwell…

….Walker moves up to press….

…..which forces Zinchenko to shift across to maintain the 3 v 3 against Chelsea’s front players….

…..creating space for James out wide to attack freely as Sterling’s initial duties of pressing Azpilicueta positions him too far from Chelsea’s right wing back. In this example Mount’s pass was three seconds late and the bull curved outside towards the wing area instead of curving inside in the space behind Zinchenko, a better executed pass would have put James in a goal scoring situation.

The narrowness of Mahrez and Walker due to their roles out of possession, being close to press Rudiger and marking Mount, when the ball was on the other side of the pitch meant that Chilwell was constantly free.

So when Chelsea bypassed the first line of the press using one way or another…

….Chilwell had acres of space out wide because Mahrez is initially positioned too high and inside, and Walker has to keep an eye on Mount who is drifting inside the pitch.

Eventually this led to the only goal in the game, as Chelsea were building up on their right side Zinchenko moved up towards James which meant that Walker had to tuck inside to mark Mount who was drifting inside the field. Meanwhile, Mahrez’s role was to press Rudiger in case the pass is played into the German defender which meant that Chilwell as usual was free.

So when Mendy had the opportunity to play the ball into Chilwell, Mahrez was too far because his initial role was to press Rudiger and Walker was completely focused on Mount because Zincheko was going to press James three seconds ago.

Which leaves Walker in this position while the ball is in the air. Not close to Chilwell and not close to Mount, just lost in between.

The quickness of the passes was too fast for Manchester City’s back line to shift across, resulting in Mount being completely free with Stones unable to move across in time. Chilwell then found Mount….

….and the rest is eternally written in Champions League history.

Manchester City’s pressing scheme made them vulnerable to the Chelsea wing-back on the opposite side of the ball. Rather than forcing the Chelsea players into errors, the pressing scheme backfired and it proved costly.

Pep got it wrong on the day, the pressing scheme backfired and Chelsea’s aggressive use of their wide center backs aided by coverage from Jorginho in addition to their prowess on offensive transitions killed Manchester City.

Did he overthink it? Yes. But he overthinks every game, that’s why he’s Pep Guardiola.

English Football. United