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Man City and their title concerns without a number 9

Manchester City

Buddy, you must have read and heard a lot about Manchester City and their chances of winning a title this season without a number 9.

If you're a City fan, you must have been intrigued to read and learn about the "how" aspect of Pep Guardiola's plans to go into a game and play the whole 90 minutes on the clock.

You must have asked yourself:

  • How can he get the team forward while they are in the attacking phase of the game?
  • How can he find the right balance on the side? (Difficult Question)
  • How can he get the best out of the players he has at his disposal? Yet another big question
  • How does he find ways to score?
  • How can this be sustained for yet another year?

Yeah, questions after questions. Apparently, you may even have a few more than I do.

In all fairness, it is actually very difficult to find a way through without a number 9. You think about the benefits of number 9. You have:

  1. Holding up the ball
  2. Creating play
  3. Taking a couple of defenders with you, thus, creating space for the others to get into scoring positions
  4. Goals and assists and lots more that you and I know about.

Now let's look at the advantages of "not" having a number 9:

  1. Multiple runners
  2. Creativity
  3. Threats all across the field
  4. Multiple goalscorers - no focus point.

Well, those are just the 4 that came to my mind. However, if you look at point 4, you have the advantage of making your opposition defenders scramble around at times and look for their man in the danger zone.

At the Etihad, Pep has a lot of quality in his squad. They always talk about the B side that Pep could put out as well for a Premier League comeback. There is so much quality on the bench as well.

Most importantly, they've got a top-notch coach in the dressing room and on the training ground that has the footballing experience and knowledge to find a way, a style, a brand to play football. There is no doubt about that.

However, when it comes to the opposition, they will be in a position to mark their man well and put a lot of bodies in between the sets of those in the sky blue jersey of Manchester City.

For example, at Southampton, they had a low block with 5 or 6 men, sometimes even 7 people, in front of the ball looking to cut out spaces in between them to limit the silky movement of Manchester City in and across the 18 yard box. They got away with a last ditch goal from Raheem Sterling as he was deemed offside by VAR in the 90th minute of the game.

There are 2 reasons why we see Pep Guardiola and Manchester City still finding regular success in the past as well as this season.

  1. Quality
  2. Multiple runners

Let's dive into them. Shall we?

  1. Quality - I just don't think that you could doubt the quality of players that Manchester City have within their ranks. It is just phenomenal. There are players that will just take you down and tear you apart on their day.

    For example, Ferran Torres, the guy, was a winger during his time at Valencia. However, the boy has talent and the boy is special. He's got a lot of calibre and he wanders around green pastures, but when Man City have the ball on the wings, he gets himself into the penalty box and scores. He's got a few wonders in those boots though.

    Another example: German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan stood up for his team when Pep was having problems in the heart of his midfield.His creators, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne, were all sidelined, yet the German found a way to create play and ease the ball past the keeper into the back of the net with comfort and finesse.

    At the end of the day, it's the quality that gets Manchester City up at the top of their game plan.

  2. Multiple Runners - You look at the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, Ferran Torres, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, John Stones, etc. These are guys who find themselves in the penalty box time and time again.

    The ways in which they are able to find spaces in between the lines, move the ball and be on the same wavelength is what distinguishes Manchester City and the others. It is just pure silk and a dream to watch them be on the ball and find a way past the opponents.

    Yeah Buddy, they didn't find a way past the Saints. They nearly did! But they couldn't get over the line.

Here's the difference between the 2 games played between Southampton at home and away to Chelsea.

Against Southampton

Pep Guardiola had it lined up really well when he started with Cancelo, Walker, Silva, Gundogan, Jesus, Sterling and Grealish. These were men that would add an extra body to an attack when it mattered the most!

Men like Cancelo, Walker, Silva and Gundogan kept finding a way into the box on multiple occasions as they looked to stretch Southampton's defence with pace and skill when they had the ball at their feet.

But, Ralph Hussenhutl and his men were up to the task as they've got quick men on and off the ball and most importantly, they played with a low block.

Guardiola has himself admitted in an interview with Sky Sports that his side do struggle against teams with a low block. That is when the city presses forward, gets a lot of bodies in front, and leaves a few personnel at the back.

When you look at the game against Leeds at the end of last season, with the Yorkshire club down to 10 men in the first half, City and Pep could sniff victory, but a dazzling run of defence from Stuart Dallas tore City apart and gave them a 2-1 win over the Citizens.

Adama Traore knows a lot about how he wreaked havoc against Pep's side at Molineux and at the Etihad as well in recent seasons.

On the 5th of July 2020, Southampton claimed a 1-0 win over Guardiola's side as they took the lead in the 16th minute through Che Adams and then did the exact same thing 2 weeks ago at the Etihad, apart from scoring a goal.

Against Chelsea

Pep's plan really worked out well. Right from the 1st minute, he sent his boys out there to press Thomas Tuchel and his men. A high press led Chelsea to have a plan B or even a C, but it was those "willing runners" that came back and defended the likes of Kante, Azpilicueta, Alonso and Timo Werner.

Yeah, you could argue that Gabriel Jesus' goal deflected on to the net, but the way the game panned out, made it certain that Manchester City had character, zeal and added hunger to win this game.

You could sit there, read and say that Chelsea are a much better side defensively that Southampton are.

You could also question us and yourself and ask, "How did Man City get rolling against the Blues?"

Well, there are a few answers to the questions mentioned above, but we found the answer that played a key-factor for Pep Guardiola's plans to be successful: Chelsea are not a "low-block" side. They look to build, play and work their way out of danger.

We're not saying that Southampton don't work their way out. They definitely do. They've got their own way out and we totally respect that.

However, the difference is that Man City were able to find that little bit of green grass in front of them to deliver quality deliveries into the box in the air or on the floor.

Yes, you can rightfully argue that Chelsea were without Thiago Silva as he had a slight strain on his thigh and Pep used that to his advantage as he got his boys pressing high up the field, asking them to close the pathway for Chelsea to build.

Irrespective of how the goal came for the Citizens, they deserved it based on the hunger they showed in that game.

Reece James was also missed out there in the right-hand side of Chelsea's defence as the English right-back is much more flexible than Azpilicueta and close down on Jack Grealish and his tricky feet. City could have had more goals to their name, but they were not extremely clinical. At the same time, Mendy was forced to pull out a few saves.

City's defensive pair, Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias, put on a show in both boxes as they were eager to contribute immensely to the cause. Laporte could have scored a goal, but a world-class challenge from Ruben Dias kept Chelsea at bay.

We've mentioned all that just to reignite the point that this City side can "possibly" go all the way and compete to win the Premier League title as well as the Champions League title that the club's hierarchy yearn for.

It is undoubtedly going to be extremely difficult as the season goes on as it can also cause doubts within the side during a game as to who runs in at what given position in the field on and off the 18 yard box, but they are well trained and coached by Pep Guardiola, so there are minor chances of that happening.

The demand from Pep for his Man City players will be high. He'll be out there setting a higher ceiling than last season as he always does.

  • Are they in there to compete? -

    For sure they are!

  • Can they win trophies without a central striker? -

    They have the opportunity to win at least 2 trophies this season.

  • Can they win the Premier League? -

    It's a tough call this time around. A lot of teams have invested in their squads over the summer and improved themselves. So it's just going to get that little tougher for them to find a way past opponents that will intend to keep a low block against them.

  • Can City win the Champions League this time? -

    Damn Buddy, that's a tough one. Honestly speaking, it will probably get easier for them up till the round of 16 and possibly the quarter-finals as well. After that, the sides that they will have to face will be much tougher and much more compact in defence, which inevitably, will make it difficult for Pep to find a system that would break down the opposition without a central striker.

We Assume that it's going to be yet another year gone with the Citizens waiting to taste Champions League glory.