Why Switching To A 3-5-2 Could Be The Key To Success For Manchester City

Why Switching To A 3-5-2 Could Be The Key To Success For Manchester City
Aug 5, 2017

Featured Manchester City

Manchester City’s pre-season preparations concluded with two stunning wins, the first a 4-1 victory over Real Madrid and the second a 3-0 triumph over Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. However, these results weren’t the greatest surprise of their preparatory campaign.

In both matches, Pep Guardiola fielded a formation that included three central defenders. The decision initially appeared bizarre, as centre-back is arguably City’s weakest position, but as time progressed, the formation seems to make an increasing amount of sense for the Citizens.

While Guardiola has primarily used a 4-3-3 formation throughout his career, a switch to the newly-popular 3-5-2 formation could be beneficial for City in defence, midfield, and attack, potentially making a vital difference in the Premier League this season.

Last season, Manchester City’s concern was undoubtedly defence, as Guardiola’s team lost important matches due to their inability to keep clean sheets. This problem was in no small part due to Claudio Bravo’s shortcomings as a goalkeeping signing, which has been addressed by the signing of Ederson, but City’s centre-backs hardly escape blame either.

Guardiola’s system is demanding of centre-backs on the ball, and John Stones seemed the player to suffer the most. Nicolás Otamendi was a world class defender in his final season at Valencia before struggling with inconsistencies at City, often making rash decisions and stepping out of defence too aggressively, followed by an equally rash challenge.

City’s best defender, Vincent Kompany, has faced fitness challenges in recent years, leaving Stones and Otamendi to anchor the defence alongside City’s fringe players. The proposed 3-5-2 formation would bring the best out of both players.

Stones is excellent at carrying the ball into midfield and spraying passes, and in the centre of a back three, his defensive errors would have ample cover, as David Luiz had at Chelsea last season. Guardiola would likely relish the potential solidity added to midfield by the former Everton defender in this system.

Otamendi makes hot-headed decisions, but he is decisive, and that type of defending is rewarded in a formation where players must be extremely aware of counter-attacks. Granted, he would accumulate yellow cards, but his pace and ability to cover for the mistakes of other defenders would be rewarded in a system that revolves around the platform created by the three defenders.

Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, signed from Tottenham and Monaco, respectively, are arguably the perfect wingbacks for a 3-5-2 formation. Walker played frequently at wingback for Tottenham Hotspur, while Mendy is a physical beast who can cross the ball extremely well.

Guardiola signed two fullbacks capable of owning a wing with their exuberance, and the result would be more creativity and dominance in the centre of the park. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, arguably Manchester City’s best players, both play in very similar roles, and together as central midfielders in a 4-3-3, they don’t offer much in way of defensive contribution.

In a 3-5-2, though, they would have one anchor midfielder (Fernandinho or İlkay Gündoğan) and three centre-backs behind them, and they could tear opposition teams apart from central midfield. This problem would also solve City’s midfield depth and allow Fernandinho and Gündoğan to have that slight addition of attacking opportunity that both relish.

With Fernandinho and Gündoğan rotating the anchoring midfield role and De Bruyne, David Silva, and Bernardo Silva available in front of them for two positions, City would have the most creative midfield in England.

Finally, up front, City would be given a variety of options to experiment with. Sergio Agüero or Gabriel Jesus could pair Leroy Sané or Raheem Sterling, combining width, pace, and goal scoring, or Agüero and Jesus could be used in a partnership.

Guardiola, who doesn’t often adapt enough to opposition tactics, could be freed by this opportunity, potentially playing a winger and a striker against sides that are weak at defending the channels, or two strikers against teams who are weak centrally. Bernardo Silva or De Bruyne could even pair a striker and drop deep, adding solidity to midfield. City’s plethora of attacking midfielders would be best utilized based on tactical need. However, there is no doubt that Guardiola’s men will score plenty of goals regardless of who plays on any given night.

Thus, while Manchester City will challenge for the Premier League title irrespective of formation, deploying a 3-5-2 formation could strike a balance in defence, midfield, and attack that City have not seen in Guardiola’s time at the Etihad.

Improving key players, positioning expensive assets in ideal roles, and giving City more options in attack to adapt to the opposition, the 3-5-2 formation used to beat Real Madrid and Tottenham during pre-season could make a vital difference in the Citizens’ quest for their third Premier League title this decade.

  1. “Wonderful analysis, and breakdown”
    …thanks!!

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