Southampton’s press and the hypnosis of Pep Guardiola

Four times Pep Guardiola mentioned Manchester City’s poor build up in the post match press conference following the draw against Southampton.

A question about fans? Poor build up mentioned.

A question about Raheem Sterling’s performance through the middle? Poor build up mentioned.

A question about the lack of a center forward? Poor build up mentioned.

The last question was about the lack of imagination on the ball in terms of the final third and Pep answered quickly. “No. This isn’t the reason why. The reason why (was that) our build up wasn’t good.”

Pep was right, the build up wasn’t good and that was the main problem for Manchester City on Saturday. Southampton had all week to prepare and after the game Ralph Hasenhüttl told Pep that Southampton prepared everything. That was clear throughout the ninety minutes and City’s build up problem was more about Southampton’s pressing scheme and their performance off the ball.

Initially, City started with their common 2–3 build up shape with Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo moving inside next to Fernandinho.

Southampton’s shape without the ball started as a 4–2–2–2, and it was how their pressing scheme operated that caused problem for City’s build up. In the first phase of the build up, Adam Armstrong and Che Adams positioned themselves narrowly in-front of Fernandinho while opening up their body to be able to make a run towards their dedicated center back. This positioning took out Fernandinho as an initial passing option and if Ederson decided to play the ball into him, both strikers were close to press.

The next part of this pressing scheme consisted of marking Manchester City’s narrow full backs. Mohamed Elyounoussi and Nathan Redmond marked Walker and Cancelo respectively by being narrow during City’s build up phase. As for Fernandinho, there was another player joining the pressing party on the Brazilian and that’s either James Ward-Prowse or Oriol Romeu.

An early example elaborates on the above. Here, Armstrong and Adams are positioned narrowly in-front of Fernandinho to remove the option of passing into him while having an open body orientation to press Ruben Dias or Nathan Ake. At the bottom right of the picture, Elyounoussi is putting Walker in his cover shadow.

Ederson then plays the ball into Dias who is pressed by Armstrong. The Portuguese defender wants to progress the ball to the next line, but Elyounoussi’s positioning onto Walker forces Dias into a more difficult pass…..

……that goes right in-between Walker and Fernandinho for Ward-Prowse, who had already started his run, to pick the ball up.

Against City’s two number 8s in Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva it was risky to use Ward-Prowse or Romeu in the pressing scheme to further press Fernandinho, but Southampton had it covered.

After the passing lane into the Brazilian was closed….

…..City tended to go wide to the center backs who couldn’t fine the narrow full backs because of the positioning of Redmond and Elyounoussi. Meaning that City had to go wider….

….with the wide forward dropping (Gabriel Jesus here) to receive the ball.

Despite Romeu’s forward march to support the pressing, Gundogan was covered by Jan Bednarek and with all of Jesus’ passing options blocked, the result was that Kyle Walker-Peters managed to intercept the ball and Southampton regained possession.

City were forced to play into their narrow full backs because the passing lane into Fernandinho was closed. Once that happened….

….it was a trigger for Romeu or Ward-Prowse to press Fernandinho alongside the other forward (Armstrong here), that’s because Walker can’t turn around because he has Redmond breathing down his neck.

The pressurized environment Fernandinho was playing under forced him into quicker passes without taking his time to scan the area. His pass here into Gundogan was accurate but Jack Stephens’ advanced position and Elyounoussi’s initial narrow position to mark Cancelo meant that Southampton managed to intercept the pass.

In the second half the pressing commenced. Here, Adams and Armstrong are closing down the passing option into Fernandinho….

…..then when the ball is played into Ake, Armstrong moves out to press while Elyounoussi is positioned narrowly to mark Cancelo. A couple of yards behind is Ward-Prowse who’s waiting for the pressing trigger to pounce on Fernandinho. That trigger is Ake’s pass into Cancelo…..

….Ward-Prowse is already making the run to press Fernandinho as he knows that’s the only progressive pass for Cancelo who’s heavily pressed by Elyounoussi. The Norwegian managed to intercept the pass though, without the need of Ward-Prowse.

As for City’s number 8s, they were still covered. Again, similarly to the first half when City’s narrow full backs were covered…..

…..and the dropping wide forward was covered….

….one of Southampton’s center back moved up to mark City’s number 8. In this instance it’s Bednarek.

Another example here shows how well the pressing and the marking worked together. This horizontal pass from Cancelo towards Ake or Gundogan — who was now playing as the pivot instead of Fernandinho — is the trigger for Ward-Prowse to pounce and he starts the run even before Cancelo plays the pass.

Ake manages to catch the ball but Ward Prowse is there to press and Ake’s quickest passing option is Bernardo Silva, who is marked by — you guessed it — the advancing Bednarek. The Southampton defender managed to intercept the pass from in-front of Bernardo Silva, regaining possession for the Saints and stopping another City attack.

Southampton should have finished this game with a cherry on top, a winning goal, but they didn’t managed to utilize the space they had once they regained possession. Their most dangerous chance though which ended in a denied penalty claim, also came from the press.

Walker hesitated on the ball as he could see Romeu marching towards Fernandinho and the cross field ball into Cancelo wasn’t available because of the close positioning of Elyounoussi.

On the other hand, Redmond didn’t hesitate and closed down on the English right back….

……before playing Armstrong who dribbled past Dias but didn’t manage a shot on target because of the presence of Walker.

In the second half of the first half and in the last 10 minutes of the second half, Hasenhüttl switched his side’s shape without the ball to a deeper 5–4–1 by dropping Romeu into the defensive line.

At those times the legs were tired from the pressing and Southampton had to retreat, but the back five allowed their center backs to mark the City players that were trying to play in between the lines….

…While still having protection in the central areas.

The occurrence of this switch in both halves meant that it might have been planned before hand, and that’s what Hasenhüttl confirmed after the game.

“The plan was to bring on Salisu or Romeu and then play with three center-backs. We know that we can play this shape (4–2–2–2) perfectly but you can’t do it for ninety minutes, they can kill you, so we changed and had Oriol (Romeu) defending deeper as a centre-back. This was a risky solution.”

A risky solution, but one that worked and left Pep hypnotized with the build up at the post match press conference.

English Football. United