How to beat Manchester City

"Unbeaten this season stand Manchester City, will they replicate the 'Invincibles' from the 03/04 season? Park the Bus? High press? Counter attack? Find out the best way to beat Manchester City here..."
Published by
11th Jan 2018

Manchester City are one of the hottest clubs in Europe right now and are destined for a trophy laiden season if their form continues. It is certainly easier said than done, but just how can you stop this Manchester City side under Pep Guardiola?

We take a look at what has been working well for City this season and how their opponents have tried, and often failed, to take points from the Premier League leaders both across England and in Europe.

It’s no secret, Manchester City are well on their way to winning the Premier League. They are yet to be beaten in the domestic competition and have only drawn twice, resulting in the rest of the Premier League’s elite to play catch up. They have come out on top against the other big clubs, most notably a 5-0 victory over Liverpool at the start of the season, leaving them all in their wake as they head towards the title.

Many could argue that Pep Guardiola is simply a big spender, spending his way to success with a readymade squad capable of beating the best. Whether or not this is the case, Pep now has a squad ripe with ever-improving and exciting players that are already wreaking havoc against the Premier League elite. One can only imagine what their side would be able to achieve after a few seasons under Guardiola’s stewardship with fans anticipating something of a domination both domestically and in Europe. Buy your Manchester City tickets now.

City find experience in their offence with David Silva and Sergio Aguero who have broken records left, right and centre since their respective arrivals earlier in the decade. What remains are a group of young attackers with nothing but pace, skill and energy. This is epitomised by the form and quality possessed by the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus. Furthermore, the exceptional talents are personified by a midfield maestro in Kevin de Bruyne who is having the season of his life at the Etihad under Guardiola.

Success has also followed in Europe in the shape of the UEFA Champions League. Manchester City have been victorious in all but one of their group stage ties in the Champions League, defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk being the only blemish on what has otherwise been a flawless campaign thus far. City are already being touted as favourites for the competition ahead of last year’s victors Real Madrid and other big names like PSG, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. This is a testament to how far the club have progressed.

The current trajectory for Manchester City in the Champions League makes them appear classes above their domestic rivals Manchester United as well as all the other big English teams still currently pursuing their Champions League campaigns. Although Manchester City are no further ahead than the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, they have a presence about them that implies they will be progress further in the competition than the rest. Time will tell.

Once again, City are showing the same signs of success in the Carabao Cup, thus far reaching the semi finals and heading to Bristol with a one goal advantage. They’re only two games away from lifting their first trophy of the season, which could be the first of many. Pundits and fans alike are waiting with anticipation to see if they fall at the final hurdle. Stats and points on a table are impressive, but trophies are what cement seasons in history and what Guardiola will be judged on.

So, it seems all is lost for any side that are chasing Manchester City right now. The only opposition to beat the Cityzens this season hail from the Ukraine and even then it was a narrow victory. So, just how can anyone beat Manchester City right now? Is it by getting on the scoresheet first? Is it by parking the bus? Playing on the counter attack? Or sheer brutal force and winning dirty? All have which have been applied by opponents this season with some coming off better than others.

The answer is there isn’t a right or wrong approach. Manchester City have overcome a vast array of styles of play throughout this season, however they have struggled on a few occasions. It’s on these moments that one can take inspiration for the hopes of beating the Manchester City juggernaut that continues to plough on. Against the more established sides in the Premier League and Champions League they have fared better. Beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-1, Liverpool 5-0, Arsenal 3-1 and Napoli 4-2. However, against the lesser sides City have wobbled. This is evident in the results against Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 (victory on penalties), Huddersfield Town 2-1, a draw with Crystal Palace and most recently a narrow defeat against Bristol City in the Carabao Cup semi-final.

One could argue that the way to beat Manchester City is to mirror their style of play. Although they seem solid in every position on the pitch, their weakest point is their defence. They guard this by packing out their midfield with players that play outwards rather than regressively. This creates the illusion that once you’re at their half way line, there is no way forward. However this isn’t the case. The defence is impressive, but not unstoppable. Bristol proved that once through the midfield, they can be shaken quite easily with Mangala’s inability to play from his feet under pressure and Stones’ rashness leading to fouls and mistakes.

In copying their style of play, one too would create the illusion of an impenetrable defence through a solid midfield and high press. There need to be already established tactics in your side however. What makes their style of play work is the ability of their wingers. Players such as Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Leroy Sane have torn apart the toughest of defences. Their pace and cunningness is fortified by the anchor of the entire team in the centre, Kevin De Bruyne. They receive plenty of opportunity to create chances with the safety net of De Bruyne. Playing 3-5-2 would force your midfield to meet theirs, they would have more difficulty pushing the ball forward. Their wingers would be met by yours, and would have to get back to support their defence more also.

There are some weaknesses to meeting them in the middle though. If they break, you’re then left with quite a sparse defence which isn’t ideal when the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus high up the field with the pace of Sterling and Sane out wide. Also if your midfield aren’t quite as creative as theirs then you may find yourself falling at the halfway line and exposed in possession.

Many teams have ‘parked the bus’ to stop City from playing their expansive style of play, opting of an extra midfielder or defender to nullify the City threat - Take Manchester United as an example. Although they minimise the amount of damage in this way, they still didn’t win at home against Manchester City which has been argued as unacceptable from a club with such a huge stature. Newcastle United have also fallen into this category, losing 1-0 to the Cityzens again minimising the damage caused to them in terms of goal difference but still, losing the game.

Something that isn’t a rarity for Manchester City is conceding first. Where their true greatness lies is their ability to come back from losing games to winning them when final whistle blows. Over 70% of their fixtures where they’ve conceded first have resulted in victories. Out of Europe’s top five leagues, Manchester City have scored more goals in the last fifteen minutes of matches. This demonstrates Pep’s sides determination to succeed, which may have settled into an unstoppable confidence between players and never say die attitude.

Tactically, there may not be a way to beat Manchester City and outfox Guardiola. Instead it may be a question of discipline and self-belief. It’s evident that the teams who have contested Manchester City are underdogs that have stood up to Guardiola and matched them on the pitch. Bristol City once again are a prime example of this. Manchester City had two thirds of the possession, over twice as many shots and corners. Statistically the fixture should’ve been a thrashing. This wasn’t the case. Bristol weren’t beaten by Manchester City’s one-two’s, they broke as soon as their chances presented themselves and played forward for the majority of the time. They wanted to beat Manchester City, the fans wanted to beat Manchester City.

Right now, if anything will stop City it is ambition. It’s pulling apart Pep Guardiola’s philosophy of unbreakable self belief between the players that will beat them, It’s the placement of doubt in the minds of the City players heading into the last fifteen minutes of games that’ll beat Manchester City. Whether it can be stopped remains to be seen.