In the biggest remaining match of the season Pep Guardiola decided to become uber cautious knowing his team’s defensive frailties against a speedy counter attacking team and played with 3 center backs, 2 defensive midfielders and 2 wing backs. This 3-4-1-2 formation on attack or 5-2-1-2 formation on defense was only the second time City had played this way all season long.
With 5 defenders, the 2 wing backs – Walker and Cancelo have to push up as attacking wingers but also must contain the opposing wingers on defense. Kyle Walker was totally ill suited for this role. He is not a natural winger. A winger needs to be crafty and skillful to take on opposing defenders, cross the ball or attack the box. Walker has none of these skills other than to bomb up and down the wing. And Walker has a mistake in him every match, he’s always been a defensive liability, I can think of so many instances where his mistakes have cost City a goal and he made a school boy error yesterday when did not run back to cover his man allowing Cornet to score.
But mostly Pep’s 3-4-1-2 did not allow Kevin Debruyne to play in his natural position which is tucked inside of the right wing and right back forming a ever shifting triangle where most of KDB’s crosses and passes into the box come from. KDB was played as a number 9 behind the 2 forwards – this role technically should suit him but the Lyon defenders swarmed him and gave him very little space high up the pitch, thus KDB had to move around trying to find space which never really worked.
In the second half Pep went back to the City favored lineup of 4-3-3 bringing in Mahrez and removing Fernandinho the extra CB. The game immediately started going in City’s favor. Mahrez and Sterling were pushed out wide – their natural positions from which they could attack the box and City started controlling possession pushing Lyon back into the defensive third as City usually does to opposing teams, a goal came from this.
But ironically Pep played into Rudi Garcia’s trap – which Pep wanted to avoid – by switching to 4 defenders. Any ball over the top or through City’s high line defense has been City’s weakness this season which often leads to goals and Lyon’s goals 2 and 3 came from passes that split City’s high line defense.
Seems to me Pep thought City could still prevail by being defensively cautious against a speedy team like Lyon. But having the luxury to analyze the match after its finished I wish Pep had played our natural formation of 4-3-3 and tried to out score Lyon with the stacked offensive players City have.