Talking Tactics

Can Stones step up to stop Man City's late woes?

By Adrian Clarke 3 Dec 2023
John Stones Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke says returning centre-back can help fill hole left by Rodri and stem recent problems in conceding late goals

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 15.

Manchester City

It feels like a good time for high-flying Aston Villa to face the champions, Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola has seen his side drop points from leading positions in three consecutive matches for the first time in his tenure at the club.

By their high standards City have been unusually ragged without the ball, conceding 1.63 goals per game during an eight-match period where they have failed to win on five occasions.

Buoyed by a club-record 13 successive home victories in the league, Unai Emery’s men will be relishing the prospect of causing an upset at Villa Park on Wednesday evening.

Faltering late on

Beating Man City is never easy but if opponents can stay in the contest until the final half hour, they do give themselves a chance.

Guardiola’s men used to consistently overpower teams late on, but since the start of last season that pattern has changed. Ultimately it did not matter as they claimed the title, but in 2022/23 City conceded 17 goals in the final 30 minutes, more than the 16 they let in in the opening hour of matches.

Their goal difference was even -2 in the last quarter of an hour of fixtures last season.

This trend has continued in 2023/24 with four more City goals conceded in the last third of matches, than during the opening 60 minutes.

Whether this is down to fatigue, a lack of concentration, or something else, they have been a side that gets weaker rather that stronger in the second half.

How City fade in last half-hours of 2023/24 
Period Shots faced xG conceded Goals conceded
1-60min 60 6.9 6
61min-Full-time 48 5.7 10
Why are City having problems?

Guardiola’s back four and midfield have looked laboured towards the end of matches in recent weeks. Positionally, various members have lost concentration at key moments, with longer passes causing them particular issues.

AFC Bournemouth, Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers all scored from situations that stemmed from one long pass under no pressure, turning the City defence.

From this 40-yard Thomas Partey pass to Takehiro Tomiyasu, Arsenal manufactured a chance for Gabriel Martinelli to score the winner.

Arsenal v Man City

In that scenario from the second phase, City’s back line were a little too deep to block the shot - and that has also been a running theme during the final half-hour of matches.

Goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold (below), Nicolas Jackson and Jayden Bogle all came late on in matches, with defenders sat too deep to close down an opponent's shot properly. 

Man City v Liverpool

City also dropped off against Tottenham Hotspur in the closing stages last weekend, allowing Dejan Kulusevski the opportunity to catch Nathen Ake on his heels to head home Brennan Johnson's excellent cross.

If these unwelcome habits resurface at Villa Park, Emery’s side will look to take advantage.

The Rodri factor

Jack Grealish is suspended for this return to his former club and Jeremy Doku is also an injury doubt, but it is Rodri’s absence which is likely to be felt hardest by the visitors.

City lost all three of the matches he was suspended for earlier on this season, following a red card against Nottingham Forest. Since the Spaniard arrived at the Etihad Stadium their win ratio has been markedly higher when Rodri has been in the starting XI, dropping by a massive 17.1 per cent when he has been missing.

The prospects of opponents beating Manchester City also leaps in dramatic fashion from 12.66 per cent to 37.5 per cent.

Man City with & without Rodri
With   Without
150 Matches 16
73.3% Win ratio 56.2%
12.7% Loss ratio 37.5%
2.3 Points/match 1.8
Pep’s midfield options

Guardiola opted to move Bernardo Silva back into a holding midfielder’s role in that 1-0 loss at Arsenal, a tactical switch that did not pay off.

Silva has been one of the stars of the season so far operating in higher up in City’s box midfield, so this time around there may be reticence to repeat that rejig.

In a 3-2-4-1 Rico Lewis could come into the side alongside Manuel Akanji in a new midfield axis, or this may be seen as the right time to reintroduce fit-again John Stones.

Using Akanji and Stones, two natural centre backs as a midfield pair would be unusual, but it has potential to offer their out-of-form defence an extra layer of protection.

Facing a Villa side that has scored 23 goals in six home matches (and never less than three in a game) it would be a sensible time to show pragmatism.

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