Tester Team ME Win % PPG AGF AGA GD PL W D L
Tikitakamaster Manchester CACSA 24.3 92% 2.8 3.5 0.9 100 38 35 3 0


Hi guys, welcome back to my tactics. This time I emulated Pep Guardiola's 3-4-2-1 box midfield tactic, a tactic he used in last 2022-23 season that ended with a great Treble win.

Tactical analysis: Guardiola's City evolution during season 2022-23

For years to come the 2022-2023 Manchester City season will be not only remembered for the treble winning but also as one of the finest iterations of Guardiola's football we've ever seen. For a long period during this season, the club campaign was full of tactical problems that threatened to be a disaster. That pushed Pep Guardiola to his limit and his tactics evolved several times throughout the season in a consistent attempt to find solutions to tactical problems.

It all started so well with the arrival of Erling Haaland who was already a top goal scorer at Borussia Dortmund and his impact on Manchester City was great not just in terms of goal but also because he made Pep change the tactical approach called by Guardiola himself "space is our striker" that City has been using since season 2020 when Pep understood that he could not count anymore on Sergio Aguero's availability. Manchester City had been playing with different variations of the false 9 tactic (at times a double false nine with De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, but for most part one false nine with Sterling or Gabriel Jesus), this meant that Manchester City tended to build up the play with two inverted full-backs, one defensive (usually Walker in the right) and one controlling (Zinchenko or mostly Cancelo) and a false nine dropping deep into the midfield, thus always creating a numerical superiority in the midfield overwhelming the opposition. But this totally changed with Haaland because finally they had a traditional forward who was prone to staying higher up the pitch. That means that instead of a five midfield they had just a midfield four because Haaland did not drop deep like Gabriel Jesus or Sterling. Pep decided to move cancel and walker into the midfield, building up in a 2 (the two central backs)- 3 shape (the two inverted full-backs and the only defensive midfielder) and this formation worked for a while because Haaland was devastating and the opposition did not know how to mark him, when Haaland dropped deep if the defenders followed him, they left space open between the lines for the two eights Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, if they tried to compact space in the midfield to block them, then they left Haaland free with a lot of space in front of him and with his pace he was a difficult man to catch.

All the opposition defenders tended to converge around Haaland and Manchester City two wingers benefited of this because they could sneak in at the back post to finish or the free eights could make quick dashes beyond Haaland. For the first 13 matches, everything seemed to work well but some flaws were already evident because they conceded a lot and because the players still did not completely adapt to Haaland, many times when he dashed higher up the pitch, his teammates retained possession rather than passing the ball to him and since November 2022 to February 2023 all Manchester City problems came out.

Cancelo for example, even if he is very good at inverting, he still tends to push right up into the half space or to push wide as a full-back and this forced other players to move in a different way than expected and decrease the progression, and creating problems also in the opposite flan where Walker could struggle and lose the ball if pressed in the midfield by the opponent, but if Guardiola let Walker play higher, he had too much space to cover behind him despite his pace and with Cancelo pushing higher too on the left, the two center-backs were overwhelmed by the opposition wingers running into the spaces. Guardiola decided to compact the center and defend as narrow as possible with a midfield four or midfield five to make it difficult for the opponent to find men between the lines and Rodri was perfect in holding the ball but the opponent teams then defended so narrow to close all the spaces in the center and did not care a lot of leaving wide spaces uncovered because the Citizens two wingers had to drop deep outside of this midfield block if they wanted to receive the ball and the opponent full-backs could close them down. Guardiola then tried to keep the full-backs up to help the wingers, but this left Rodri too isolated and vulnerable. This is where things began to go sideways for the citizens, Walker as a controlling inverter was causing issues in the buildup and the presence of Haaland was a complication as for the first time in years City had a genuine aerial Target that they could look to hit but it also meant it was tempting when the Midfield progression was not quite clicking to instantly go long and bypass the entire Midfield which was struggling to penetrate at times so City's usual smooth passing game began to suffer in the post-world cup period with the Midfield being less involved and even De Bruyne not being at his best these developments led to a decline in goal scoring but Walker would go on to pick up an injury fairly early in the season giving Guardiola the chance to experiment to find a solution, this solution was Stones would start at right back early in the season inverting effortlessly and helping to control the play a clear upgrade on walkers on the bore ability however with cancel inverting the problem remained of gaping defensive holes and stones's Recovery Pace was nowhere near that of walkers but Stones would soon join Walker on the injury list meaning that pep had to find a different solution that would involve experimenting against Liverpool allowing for more solidity or other matches where they maintained a back four shifting akanji to right back and only inverting with Cancelo which for a while seemed like the solution and this satisfied Pep's need to build with two types of inverted fallbacks in the lineup a controller in Cancelo and a defensive one in Akanji and this would once again give them that three two shape for solidity however Cancelo still had the propensity to push higher or wider at inopportune moments isolating rodri or to make more adventurous passes that were prone to turnovers he experimented with Bernardo Silva as a left-back who could then function as the controller and invert into the Midfield whilst keeping Akanji deep and despite winning both matches where this happened the Tactical system bordered on disaster city was struggling badly and the title looked on the brink of slipping away with barely a fight something. Ake at center-back and on the occasions where City had played either a back three or had Akanji as a tucked in right back Ake’s ability as a left-footed left-sided center-back had been key in allowing them to thrive in the build up outside of the narrow blocks as he naturally had the passing angle so pep decided to trust Ake to start as his defensive inverted fullback on the left-hand side and now at least knew that the first line's shape and the risk of being caught out on the counter was dealt with for the most part so now he needed a controlling inverter who would sit deep alongside rodri and retain the ball rather than venture too far forward. Rico Lewis had sporadically appeared in the Premier league and Champions League earlier in the season but now when he was called on during the Man City not only did he answer the call and effectively displacing Canselo who was not too happy to being dropped for an 18 year old and Pep Guardiola sent him off to Bayern Munich. Lewis’s eagerness and intelligence when inverting was impressive seamlessly taking over the Canselo role and never over complicating things and instead being safe in possession of the ball but at the same time taking responsibility whenever required driving into the heart of the Midfield and seeking teammates out higher up the pitch. Manchester City suddenly had control of their Midfield back allowing them to find their influential players between the lines more and getting them involved and Harlan was continually evolving his game dropping deep Grealish down the left-hand side was flourishing as Aki's positioning outside their narrow blocks meant that he could consistently find Grealish down the line easily and now Grealish could afford to stay higher up the pitch and drive at his man but despite Lewis's game-changing traits there were still concerns for Pep the first being Lewis's physical ability against certain opponents who weren't shy about welcoming the youngster to the league when he was on the ball and off of the ball when he was defending as a right-back there may have been more uncertainty about being ready to face off against Elite Wingers with some phenomenal opposition waiting to take him on at left wing When Stones recovered from injury, he stepped in and though he has always been impressive on the ball, his ability during this prolonged spell at pivot came as a shock to many. Pe knew he had found a system that was almost perfect to see out the rest of the season now as Stones brought the additional defensive solidity that Rico Lewis didn't while maintaining the ball dominance as they inverted right back that Walker couldn't well at least it was almost the perfect system there was one more tweak needed to enact the city surge that has become a staple of the final third of the season the business end of the season meant that the defenses would be coming up against big players and though Stones had excelled in the league and Champions League the caliber of Wingers he would have to face off would begin to elevate of course Stones had good defensive ability but Walker was considered the strongest defender by many opponents. Guardiola needed to find a system to have Stones as excellent control in the Midfield while making the most of Walker's defensive ability to do so he lived to a strategy from his past. On February 3rd, 2019, when City faced off against Arsenal, City ran out 3-1 winners and in that match Laporte started a left-back and Kyle Walker was a right-back and Fernandinho was the right center-back out of possession it was a genuine four but in possession Fernandinho pushed from center-back into the Midfield to allow the overload On January 6th, 2023, in a one-null win against Chelsea pep revitalized the system testing it out but with rodri beginning as the left center-back who then pushed up into the Midfield when in possession the problem that happened with this, Rodri is perhaps the best defensive midfielder at current especially at controlling the Midfield so by starting him deep he was not immediately available to receive the ball in high pressure situations but instead would have to then take the time to shuffle into the midfield only when the ball was under control possession, but Pep took inspiration from these setups with Walker at right back and stones at right center back moving into the Midfield as needed whilst Walker would tuck in and this system was formidable it allowed the back three meaning that defensively the pitch was well covered but on the ball Stone’s elite controlling ability was available taking some of the pressure off of Rodr and the bonus of a left-footed center-back and left center-back helped to allow possession when he moved wider. The new setup finally solved all the problems in the midfield and Haaland continued to score, the wingers Grealish and Silva now could exploit their 1vs1 skills, besides Ruben Dias’s return helped the defensive phase combined with Walker and Ake’s defensive skills, elevating the Citizens to something very close to perfection, with this 3-2-4-1 City won the Treble.

The 3-4-2-1 box midfield variation

The 3-2-4-1 analyzed above could easily switch to a more defensive 3-4-2-1, this was possible just letting Kevin de Bruyne and Gundogan dropping deeper, closer to Rodri and Stones, controlling more the midfield creating a formation extremely difficult to break in the central area of the pitch.

How to replicate it on Football Manager 2024

Last year, for Football Manager 2023 I created both tactics but tested only the more offensive 3-2-4-1. Therefore, for Football Manager 2024, I created again the 3-4-2-1 box midfield tactic and tested it in one season with Manchester City, scoring 134 goals and conceding only 34 in the English Premier League (Haaland scored 57 goals himself) with a XG of more than 3 goals x game, dominating possession and destroying the opponents. I won all trophies that I could win, from Community Shield to Fa Cup, from Carabao Cup to English Premier League, from UEFA Supercup to Uefa Champions League with a great final match won 4-1 against PSG.

I hope this tactic works for you too

Thanks everyone

Test Results

Manchester CACSA

1 year ago
1 week ago
24.3 92% 2.8 3.5 0.9 100 38 35 3 0

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