Manchester City added elements to their attack against Norwich, but they are nothing new

The American Cityzen
6 min readAug 23, 2021

Pep Guardiola’s side looked unstoppable against Norwich this past Saturday in their dominant 5–0 win at the Etihad. They emphasized two components to their attack that have not been prevalent since the 2017/18 season and 2018/19, in which they won back-to-back Premier League titles and totaled 198 points in two seasons. Specifically, those two components are diagonal long balls and wingers (in this case, Gabriel Jesus) getting in behind the defense to drive the ball across goal.

Gabriel Jesus’ “new” job

When the starting lineup against Norwich was released, most City supporters, including myself, figured that Gabriel Jesus would be leading the line as the striker while Ferran Torres played in one of the two wide positions. However, within the first minutes of the match, it was clear that Jesus occupied his national team position playing wide right while Ferran Torres played as the number 9.

In the 2017/18 season and 2018/19 season, it was clear that City had a patented goal that led to so many chances and goals for them during those two seasons. It generally started by either Leroy Sane on the left or Raheem Sterling on the right beating their fullback to the byline and firing it into the box to create a dangerous situation. Below is one example of Leroy Sane beating former City legend Pablo Zabaleta and firing it across goal for a Sterling tap-in.

This type of goal has become a rarity in the past couple of years. Leroy Sane left to Bayern Munich and Raheem Sterling has played almost exclusively on the left wing in the past couple of years. It is not to say that these types of goals do not happen at all anymore, but it is much less common than in prior years. However, Pep Guardiola decided that it was time to add this move back to the attacking arsenal by having Jesus make numerous runs in behind from the right wing and fire the ball across the box. The strategy ultimately succeeded, as that same move created three of the five goals for Manchester City. Interestingly enough, none of the balls supplied to Jesus before he put the across the box were from the typical supply line of a higher central midfielder tapping the ball in behind. Rather, all three goals came from longer passes. The first goal came from Rodri by delivering a beautiful looping ball right to the chest of Jesus, who controlled it and hit it across the goal, only to cause an own goal.

The second and third goals caused by this move were nearly identical to each other. Kyle Walker slide in beautiful through balls into Jesus running in behind again where he squared them both across the box. The second goal trickled through to Jack Grealish, hitting his leg and eventually finding its way into the net. The third goal turned into an easy tap-in for Raheem Sterling.

These three goals aren’t exactly a coincidence, as this move was attempted many other times during the match. This type of attack could be another evolution in City’s attack, as it brings more diversity. Most of the past two seasons, the wing play has been inverted, where Riyad Mahrez is on the right and Sterling is on the left, and the wingers cut inside onto their dominant foot, play small triangles with their teammates on that side, and try to squeeze through a passing lane. Even with Phil Foden as a left-footer on the left wing, he likes to play more inside left. However, during this match, there was a diversity of attack between the right and left. On the left, you saw City’s style the past couple of years, which involved interchanging and triangles of passing between the winger, midfielder and fullback on that side. On the right, however, was a return to the times of years past where there was a winger playing on the side of his dominant foot constantly looking to get to the byline and send the ball across goal. Basically, on the left, City were killing Norwich’s defense with a thousand cuts, while on the right, they took a battering ram to it. This diversity of attack is especially helpful against most sides, as the main strategy teams use to beat a Pep Guardiola squad is to pack in the midfield and not allow any space. By keeping a diverse attack like this, it allows City to open up some space in the midfield and keep the opposing team on the back foot (something that was lacking against Spurs in Week 1). It would not be surprising in the least bit to see Manchester City resort to tactics like this again, whether it be Jesus, Sterling or Torres on the right wing, or Phil Foden playing a wider role on the left wing.

The long diagonal balls are back

Most people know Pep Guardiola as the man who coaches “tiki taka” football, meaning a million short passes all around the pitch. However, the more interesting tactical shift in the match against Norwich was the strategy beginning late in the first half and carrying over into the second half of Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker launching long, diagonal balls to the left wing. Between the 36th minute and 66th minute, Dias and Walker completed 7 long switches from the right side to Jack Grealish deep on the left side, mostly looking like the ones below.

Aymeric Laporte also completed a switch from the left side of defense out to Gabriel Jesus on the right. It is first noteworthy to point out how much Ruben Dias has improved as a passer. Nearly all of his long ball switches were accurate and found Grealish perfectly. Last year, Dias was good on the ball, but did not pass as expansively as he did during the match against Norwich. Second, the fact that almost all of the switches during the game happened in a short block of time can tell the viewer that Pep Guardiola made it an emphasis right before halftime, and probably during halftime as well.

City used to provide many of these long, diagonal balls in years past from Laporte on the left out to Sterling on the right, or Otamendi/Walker on the right to Sane on the left. These balls were a main fixture during the two-year run in helping stretch defenses and find gaps for City to exploit. While City hadn’t completely abandoned that strategy in recent years, it has not been nearly as prevalent. It is also clear that this strategy was pretty successful in the match creating space for City in the second half, as they scored goals in the 64th and 71st minute after not having scored in almost 50 minutes.

The re-emergence of more long diagonal balls to the wing may be specifically against Norwich and how they setup, or it could be a signal of a more diverse attack strategy from Pep Guardiola when defenses cut off passing lanes in the midfield. City had a lot of trouble trying to pass through a packed Spurs midfield and it led to them being vulnerable to counter-attacks. It is possible that more diagonal balls will be called upon this year to stretch opponents and create more space for City’s players to operate in.

It remains to be seen whether Pep Guardiola will utilize long balls and strong-footed wingers running in behind for a major part of the season. What is evident, however, is that Pep has a lot of tools in his belt, and his team is fit to utilize them however he sees fit.

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The American Cityzen

I’m a City supporter providing analysis and thoughts on all things City