THE numbers for Manchester City’s flying forwards this season are simply amazing.
The Etihad club have banged in five, six and five goals in their last three league games.
There has been loads said about Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and, yes, they’ve been magic.
But City were banging in goals for fun last season — and won nothing.
The difference this season is that in those three games in which they have scored 16 they have conceded NONE.
So what has Pep Guardiola changed? If you look at the average player positions for City’s game against Brighton this season, which they won 2-0, you can see they are still defending with four at back.
This is despite having 73 per cent possession. With that number, you could expect them to be pouring forward.
That day they set up with a back three plus two wing-backs, Danilo (No 3) and Kyle Walker (No 2), pushing on. But look at how Fernandinho (No 25) sits deep, effectively making it a back four.
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Now look at City at Watford when they won 6-0.
They had a back four with full-backs who love getting forward. But you can see how Walker — who loves bombing on — was so disciplined and held his runs.
That meant City were still defending with a back four, even though they had 65 per cent possession, with Fernandinho again sitting in.
So, regardless of whether they start with three at the back or a flat back four, they are defending with four.
Compare this with last season’s match at Leicester when City lost 4-2 and you can see they are almost playing with TWO at the back.
No wonder they shipped four goals! Guardiola has clearly adjusted. He loves full-backs to get forward and Walker is brilliant at it.
⚽ Ian Wright’s Premier League Tips ⚽
Former striker Ian Wright selects his top tips for Saturday’s action.
“Romelu Lukaku has started exactly as you’d want a £75m signing to start.
“Not only has he scored a load of goals but he’s also silenced those questioning his link-up play and the first touch.
“He’s the only player in my mind when it comes to the first goalscorer market – and I fancy United to get loads againsrt Crystal Palace.”
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It’s not in Walker’s make up to sit deep — but Guardiola has instilled in him when to go and when not to.
I’ve written before how clubs who dominate possession have to be careful not to be caught on the counter. And Fernandinho is key to that.
City lost six times last season and in the two heaviest defeats when they shipped four each time (v Everton and Leicester) Fernandinho was missing.
It won’t surprise you to learn he has started every game this season. It underlines how crucial a quality holding midfielder is.
Manchester United have improved since Nemanja Matic joined. Romelu Lukaku is scoring plenty — but the Serb is the crucial cog in the wheel.
Casemiro does it for Real Madrid. N’Golo Kante for Chelsea, all top teams across Europe need that player.
But Fernandinho can’t do it all alone and that is what Guardiola appears to have grasped. It is down to balance and having the spaces covered at the back when you lose the ball.