1st Half Tactics
Rovers started with a basic 4-4-2 formation: two banks of 4 and two central strikers. Man City started with an attacking 4-5-1 with the wide men pushed right up. The opening salvo saw Man City dominate possession and threaten our goal swiftly. Silva was without doubt their best player, hitting the post. Now when you view the highlights, they open on the aforementioned incident and from a Rovers perspective what we see isn’t great. The two players you see in the bottom right of your screen are the two players who should be busting a gut to get back and support the defence. It’s almost a full 10 seconds from the start of the move to when the ball is crossed in by City. The distance between 30-40 meters is easily made up in that time and is the main reason we struggled in the opening minutes. The City midfield, especially Silva, were very active and mobile, interchanging across the midfield. Because initially Rovers’ midfield weren’t getting back in position quick enough, it meant players like Jones had to cover out wide as we see in the highlights.
After about 10 to 15 minutes Rovers started to come back into the game more. This for me was down to getting those two banks of four — i.e., the defence and the midfield — back into position quickly and keeping that shape. The next change Rovers made was to split the front men and ask them to run the channels more, Roberts or Benjani were asked from the bench to drop in, one deep and one on the halfway line to give the midfield some support in defence. At this stage Rovers started to come back strong. The diagonal ball to the channel-running striker was being used frequently with success, forcing Kolarov and Zabaleta, who had initially been heavily involved in attack, to sit back a bit more. Kolarov’s runs forward became fewer, meaning Silva was forced to stay mainly on the left, as Kolarov’s runs forward meant he had licence to drift inside.
Rovers started to play a more expansive game in possession from this point and started to threaten the City goal. Rovers started to play well at this point and Samba’s chance in the highlights shows Rovers looking to suck City across to one side before making the quick switch to the other flank, something that had been lacking in recent games, most notably Birmingham at home. But from a tactical perspective the pleasing thing to see is the manner of the switch. A pass out of trouble into space for a deep runner is a great way to switch the ball as your midfield can push forward taking theirs with them, creating space and time for a better ball to be played by the runner. The other advantage of this is that you get, and already have, bodies forward, especially if you’re looking to cross the ball for the header to come across the goal. This method helps cover our lack of pace in the middle but at the same time improves our forward threat. Rovers finished the half playing well and looking the most likely to score.
2nd Half Tactics
No substitutions were made at half-time by either team and the second half began as the first ended with Rovers in the main sticking to being compact and rigid in defence and opening up in possession. One aspect that was nice from Rovers’ play was that we started to get behind the City defence on a couple of occasions, mainly behind the full backs. Again this is another aspect some have highlighted as being lacking in Rovers’ play at times. Given the opportunity it created, you can see why we need to build this back into our play. On 63 minutes Rovers substituted Dunn and brought on Rochina, switching from a standard 4-4-2 to a diamond with Jones sitting and Rochina in front of him in the hole. Man City started to come back into the game at this point with Silva yet again creating a long-range shooting opportunity. But although City started to get more of the ball and get into our final third because we were getting our wide men and midfielders back, we were able to pick everyone up and defend the penalty box.
Kalinic came on for Benjani on 71 minutes, with City bringing on Dzeko, who joined Balotelli up front. Now as a little experiment we have produced a short animation of the City goal that gives a good perspective. The main concern from this from a Rovers viewpoint is the midfield. As we saw in the opening salvo, without us getting back into position City were able to create and threaten our goal. As you can see from both the highlights and the animation, our midfield has time to get back in and prevent the goal. At this stage City brought on Vieira, switching to a defensive 4-5-1, sitting back and looked to ride the game out. Rovers did the right thing in bringing on another striker and eventually pushing Samba forward, but to no avail. Boyata was brought on in the 90th minute by City looking to run the clock down and waste some time.
http://www.insidesoccer.com/is-web/myanimation?id=254231 (Requires registering an account)