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Clinical finishing, pace on the break & possession domination - What SAFC can expect from Man City

This week's Scout Report looks ahead to Sunday's game against high-flyers Manchester City, and they're in fine shape. How do they set up, and can we possibly exploit their 'weaknesses' as we look to upset the odds and take all three points?

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Replay Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (2-1, 13/08/2016)

A lot has happened since Paddy McNair's late own goal gave Pep Guardiola a debut win in August. A run of nine straight wins followed that victory; all seemed great for City and it looked like they might romp to the title. But they then went six without a win, losing to Spurs, Barcelona and Manchester United in the process.

City's season has tended to play out in streaks. Following this run, they went six unbeaten, before failing to win any of their next three. They've lost just seven games all season; five in the league, but it's been enough to see Chelsea establish an 11 point gap over them in third.

They're certainly playing with momentum though. They've lost just once since the New Year, drawing twice and winning eight games. City are playing with confidence, reminiscent of the team that we saw at the start of the season. A superb comeback against Monaco has given them the advantage in the Champions League round of 16, while Wednesday's 5-1 destruction of Huddersfield has seen City reach the quarter final of the FA Cup. They're well placed to make a run for multiple honours and make Guardiola's debut season in Manchester a successful one.


Tactics

Pep Guardiola quickly came to realise that he couldn't change English football. Instead, he's admitted that he's "trying to adapt to English football." City have had some great performances under Pep. But they've also had some rotten ones as he looks to get to grips with the Premier League.

He's experimented; playing narrow full backs, playing full backs in central defence, playing full backs in midfield, playing wingers up front. You get the idea. So it's no wonder that City have been inconsistent.

More recently, however, City have gone back to basics - in terms of Guardiola's philosophies, at least. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-3, City build from both the front and the back, through high pressing and careful ball retention.

Manchester City FC v AS Monaco - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Up top, the energetic trio of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero (formerly Gabriel Jesus) press the opposition's defence high, which in turn allows City's midfield to advance further up the pitch. In a somewhat unfamiliar role, Aguero is being asked to press from side-to-side along the defensive line, while Sane and Sterling occupy the wide areas just below him. This forces the opposition to play long and, more often than not, surrender the ball to City. Unless they attempt to play through City, that is, who have Fernandinho waiting to intercept any passes. His role is a largely simple one, the water carrier if you like - win the ball and pass to either David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne, who now have the time and space to counter attack.

City look to build from the back when they have the ball. Willy Caballero and Claudio Bravo rank first and second in terms of goalkeeper distribution success, to further emphasise that point. The centre backs tend to split, allowing a midfielder - often Fernandinho or Silva - to drop deep and dictate the play. Both full backs tend to play high up the pitch in order to push the opposition back. As City do advance, there's a great deal of positional interchanging in an attempt to drag opposition players out of their positions. There's a particular emphasis placed on quick one-two passes - the speed of Aguero, Sane and Sterling allows them to come towards the ball and spin behind their defenders, creating space for the likes of Silva and De Bruyne to pass into.

It sounds relatively simple in theory, but when City are in full flow it's highly effective and incredibly difficult to stop.


Strengths

As has come to be expected from a Pep Guardiola side, City dominate the ball and look to dictate the tempo through relentless, short passing. 60.6% possession and 84.8% pass success represents the best in the league, while only Liverpool have made more accurate short passes than City.

It's what you do with the ball that's important, however. And City make good use of it. They attempt 16.1 shots per game, with 5.4 of these hitting the target. In simpler terms, one in three of their shots hit the target.

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

City attempt to work the ball into the box through a combination of their incisive passing and a high number of dribbles per game (13.1). The technical ability and sheer pace of the likes of Sane and Sterling poses a huge threat to defences. As a result, 46 of City's 51 goals have been scored in the penalty area, while their total of 29 shots in the six-yard box is the most in the league.

At the other end of the pitch, they allow just 7.8 shots per game - a best in the league total. And despite not being particularly strong in terms of aerial duels won, they've conceded just four headed goals.


Weaknesses

One of the major criticisms levelled at City has been their defence, and in particular, the goalkeeping position. They have the second worst defensive record in the top seven, while Claudio Bravo has made just 31 saves in 19 games with a 55% save percentage. The fact that City allow the least shots yet have conceded 29 goals speaks volumes as to how poor he has been. Willy Caballero fares much better with 66% and represents a better option for them at this time.

In terms of their defensive work, City make just 16.4 tackles and 12.6 interceptions per game, although this number is admittedly skewed by the fact that they average 60% possession per game. Perhaps more telling is that they are dribbled past 11.4 times per game - the third highest in the league - while they block just 1.8 crosses per game, which represents the league's worst. Their defence can certainly be vulnerable at times.

They're also far from the strongest team aerially. City have scored just four headed goals, while they win just 16.7 aerials per game - a number that ranks towards the lower end of the scale. And for a team so careful with the ball, City are dispossessed a surprisingly high number of times. 12.2 times per game in fact, the fifth worst in the league.


Key Player - Sergio Aguero

Despite seemingly falling out of favour with Guardiola after the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, the Brazilian's injury has re-opened the door for Sergio Aguero at Manchester City. And he's certainly taken advantage of it, with four goals and two assists in his last two appearances.

City's third all-time leading scorer (and leading Premier League scorer) has bagged an impressive 11 goals from 14 starts (plus five substitute appearances) in the league this season, with 19 in 30 across all competitions at a superb rate of one goal every 98 minutes.

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Replay Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Argentinian has been involved in six goals in his last four Premier League appearances against Sunderland (four goals, two assists), while has scored in each of his last three games at the Stadium of Light (four goals) in all competitions. Sunderland's defence face a tough day against Kun.


Match Facts

  • City have won their last six games against Sunderland;
  • There have been over 2.5 goals in seven of the last eight meetings between the sides;
  • City have scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight meetings with Sunderland
  • Of the Premier League teams that City have played 25 times or more, they have the best win percentage against Sunderland, with 68%;
  • Jermain Defoe has scored eight goals against Manchester City - only versus Wigan Athletic has he scored more (10)

Likely Line-Up

Manchester City - Football tactics and formations