Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City: Tactical Analysis of UCL Thriller

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2012

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his sides winning goal during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 18, 2012 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

My mind is blown.

If you're a regular reader, you'll know I tend to identify formations, tendencies and the effect of managerial changes.

However, if you watched this game, you'll also know that the tactical aspect of football pretty much flew out the window during the second half of this game.

Let's give it a whirl.



Here's how both Real Madrid and Manchester City both initially lined up, and these formations were intact for at least 45 minutes.


Away tactics

It seemed as if Manchester City were shell-shocked for the first 30 minutes of this game. When was the last time you saw a team exert such dominance on the reigning English Premier League champions?

The Citizens aren't used to chasing the ball around, and they haven't had to do so since facing Bayern Munich around a year ago. The defensive midfield of Javi García and Gareth Barry was far from mobile and had to stay incredibly deep or risk getting turned.

Roberto Mancini was probably expecting to come up against Mesut Ozil "in the hole" here and wanted to minimise the space between the lines, but it worked just as well on Jose Mourinho's 4-3-3.

City quickly fell into a rut and only snapped out of it when prized bull Yaya Toure surged out of his own half with the ball to make two good opportunities for his teammates.

The Blues were pretty happy to let Los Blancos ramp up the pressure, only to break swiftly with Toure. Madrid's sustained pressure would often get the better of Pepe's positional discipline, leaving them two vs. two at the back and Raphael Varane cleaning up the mess.


Direct City

This was a different side to City, a side I haven't seen under Mancini throughout his tenure as manager at the Etihad stadium.

Each of their most dangerous attacks occurred from five passes or less. Defence to Toure, Toure runs, Toure passes. He slid Edin Dzeko in for the first goal in this exact fashion, and the speed in which City would move vertically was astonishing.

Madrid attempted to squeeze the play by utilising a ridiculously high defensive line and three mobile, solid midfielders in Michael Essien, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso.

As soon as City tried to play out of defence neatly, they were pounced upon. Even David Silva and Samir Nasri had poor games, failing to move the ball even five yards before they lost it again.

With pressure mounting, the only option was to look for Toure early. Mancini anticipated this, breaking his normal trend of playing the Ivorian in an initially-reduced role and positioning him behind Carlos Tevez from the start.

Madrid chose a game plan, City chose to counter it. They went at it hammer and tong until one yielded.


Problematic right side

It seems strange to even analyse this part of the game, as it's a glaringly obvious and common occurrence.

Cristiano Ronaldo was dominant on the left-hand side, and leaving Maicon one vs. one with him all night was odd. Rather than play Barry, I'd have opted for James Milner to cover the right-back and help show Ronaldo onto his left foot.

Instead, Maicon had a nightmare, conceded 10 shots and was substituted for the more diligent Pablo Zabaleta.

Even with the reliable Argentine on the pitch, City suffered.

Marcelo scored just minutes after this entrance, and Zabaleta was also the one who showed Ronaldo inside onto his right foot in stoppage time to fire in the winner.

By this time, City had switched to 3-5-2, but Zabaleta wasn't exactly positionally sound. He was level with the three centre-backs for most of the final stages, allowing the Portuguese winger time and space on the corner of the penalty area.



Mourinho has his team back. They were mightily impressive, if not overzealous, and deserved to win this game despite City's admirable tenacity.

The late-game changes were almost too much to comprehend.

City switched to something approaching a 3-5-2 late on (although it wasn't too organised), and Madrid appeared to be playing an almost-linear midfield line from Xabi Alonso, through Luka Modric and into Ozil by the final whistle

We can hardly wait for the rematch at the Etihad.


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