Pablo Zabaleta’s late winner gave Manchester City a narrow victory over Stoke, confirming their place in The FA Cup Fifth Round and a home tie against Leeds United.
The Premier League champions left it late to prise open Tony Pulis’s stubborn side. It appeared the hosts’ dogged defensive display had secured a replay until the Argentine’s decisive 85th-minute winner.
Substitute Sergio Aguero’s cross was inadvertently deflected into the path of the onrushing Zabaleta by City forward Edin Dzeko. The full-back didn’t stop to break stride before clinically finishing with the outside of his boot.
Earlier, Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross had seen his close-range strike correctly ruled out for offside. It was Stoke's best effort in a game that was dominated in large parts by Roberto Mancini’s men.
The FA’s Peter Glynn takes a look at City’s attacking approach and the instrumental role of David Silva.
This proved to be a long, drawn out afternoon for Manchester City.
Just as it appeared Tony Pulis’s Stoke had nullified the visitors’ wealth of attacking riches, a late strike from full-back Zabaleta assured the Premier League champions of their place in The FA Cup Fifth Round draw.
Much of the post-match analysis labelled this tie underwhelming. And although Manchester City’s monopoly of possession led to relatively few clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, there was still much to admire in the attacking advances of Mancini’s frontline.
Ahead of the tie, the Italian had expressed surprise at reports that City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain may dictate he adopts a fluid 4-3-3 system as the visitors' chosen formation next term.
Whether there is truth in the statement or not, such stories infer the current design of City’s side is in some way awkward; unpleasing on the eye. The evidence here was anything but.
There are many who wish to reduce tactical discussion to numbers and lines. Here, it took only a matter of minutes before City’s starting arrangement were roaming and interchanging positions during attacking phases.
Numerous formations were noted throughout the afternoon, a compliment to the visitors’ ability to change system during proceedings; an issue that developing young players should be challenged to understand.
The source of much of City’s attacks began at the balletic feet of David Silva. The Spaniard was imperious throughout. In the opening exchanges, Silva moved close to, rather than away from, full-back Aleksandar Kolarov when the Serbian was in possession.
Anxious not to allow Silva the space and time to receive and turn, Stoke’s Ryan Shotton moved close, inviting Kolarov to locate the runs of Dzeko and the effervescent Carlos Tevez in the left-hand channel.
Silva’s talents would not be restrained to the left-hand touchline. After ten minutes the former Valencia attacker was drifting inside taking up positions in the pockets of space between Stoke’s defence and midfield. It was from this position that he began to show almost telepathic understanding with Tevez.
Exchanging quick and accurate short passes the pair began to create a blur of sky blue movement on the peripheries of the hosts’ penalty area. Unsurprisingly, it was the pair who fashioned the game’s first chance. Sensing a poked pass from Silva, Tevez wriggled away down City’s right to flash a low drive at Thomas Sorensen’s near post.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players develop their attacking combinations:
However for all their probing this proved to be an afternoon where almost all of the allotted time passed without breakthrough. With two diminutive attackers already on the frontline, cynics may have felt summoning Aguero to action after an hour would bring similarity, rather than an alternative.
Instead this City side subscribes to a belief in overloading the attack with crafty and clever players who have the understanding and technique to prise open the most stubborn of defensive arrangements.
There was patience and perseverance in City’s attacking methods. Through precise build-up play the visitors were adamant they would pick their way through the opposition, entering into the penalty-area with intricate combination play. Alternative methods weren’t subscribed to.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players attack in congested areas:
City’s alternative comes in the form of Dzeko. The Bosnian provides a mobile, yet robust, target, which supplements the scampering of City’s diminutive attacking trio.
Dzeko, like both Silva and Aguero, was involved in City’s decisive breakthrough. With Stoke committing men forward, Silva was afforded the freedom to skip through the widening midfield spaces before prodding a pass into the path of Aguero whose cross was inadvertently deflected into the path of the onrushing Zabaleta by Dzeko. City’s full-back didn’t stop to break stride before clinically finishing with the outside of his boot.
If there has ever been evidence of the importance of developing young players with excellent movement skills it comes in the form of the effortless glides, darts and pirouettes demonstrated by Silva.
With deftness and composure, it can seem City’s attacker can navigate his way from any form opposition pressure. When a red and white shirt was lucky enough to enter his own personal arena he would slow down to steady his opponent, before accelerating away with a quick dance of his feet.
Here’s a practice from The FA’s Future Game philosophy which helps young players develop their fundamental movement skills:
Ultimately, Mancini’s side will have to prove more cutting in the final third if they are to adorn this campaign with silverware. However, with Silva increasingly authoritative as the attacking conductor and dynamism, if not always goals, demonstrated by Mancini’s other attacking sources, it would be unwise to forget about them just yet.
Advice for grassroots coaches:
- Developing young players fundamental movement skills should be a core aim of any coach working with players between the ages of 5-11. Building in opportunities for a variety of movements – twists, turns, sprints – in every practice will help young players to improve their dynamism.
- Manchester City demonstrated a flexibility in their positional arrangements, adapting their formation to the circumstances of the game. As coaches do your players have the tactical understanding to change system during a game?
To read the full match report from Saturday's match click here
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
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