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How to avoid losing 8-0

|| Watford made these mistakes so that we don't have to! ||

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Mark Thompson

Sep 24 2019

9 mins read

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Manchester City, clearly peeved at being stripped of the title of ‘City’, came back with a bang to batter bottom-of-the-table dwellers Watford 8-0. That sounds bad, but it was 5-0 within 18 minutes. Let’s go through the goals to give the Hornets some tips on how they can avoid the same embarrassment on the reverse fixture in May!

1-0, David Silva (1’)

Not the best start.

It comes from something so simple as a cross and Manchester City players getting between Watford defenders. David Silva is the middle of the three City players.

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It’s easier to defend a forward in front of you than behind you in these situations, which is why Watford’s back-line don’t just all shift back two yards to man-mark City players. And yet, it feels like that’s what they should do. Neither the Watford right-back or right-sided centre-back get close enough to the man they’re aiming to mark, and the ball whizzes past Sergio Agüero and his marker to be turned in by Silva.

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2-0, Sergio Agüero (p) (7’)

Simple, really. This isn’t a situation worth giving a penalty away to pursue.

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Ben Foster, or Foster defenders, may point to a similar-ish situation a few minutes later when he did get to the ball before the forward, but it’s easy to argue that that’s not worth the risk involved either.

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You don’t always need to stay at home, but be aware enough to know when committing to storming out isn’t the best option, and don’t be afraid to back up back towards goal.

3-0, Riyad Mahrez(ish) (12’)

This goal was a direct free-kick that deflected in off Tom Cleverley’s face, so it’s not exactly something that a team can plan extensively for. That said, this weekend saw two free-kicks from around 19-20 yards turn into goals by being whipped powerfully towards the goalkeeper’s side.

City made this one difficult by crowding the box in front of Ben Foster, and then deflecting the shot off Cleverley’s kisser, while Liverpool had Mohamed Salah change the angle slightly for Trent Alexander-Arnold to give him room to whip it to the side of the wall (what I would like to call a Steph Houghton special, as England pulled off a couple of those in the lead up to the World Cup this spring, iirc).

Not a lot that can be said for this one in terms of the direct goal. However, Watford’s defence in transition was cut through several times in the first ten minutes, and Mahrez took and (kind of) scored the free-kick in the first place because he’d been able to run, at full speed, at the Watford back-line.

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The Watford defender just in front of Mahrez (who’s partially hidden behind Watford No.19, Will Hughes) could do a little better showing the Algerian onto his right foot, but dealing with this level of dribbler when he’s in full stride is incredibly difficult.

4-0, Bernardo Silva (15’)

Again, simple. If you’re going to defend at a corner player-to-player, as Watford clearly were:

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Then you need to stick with the player you’re marking throughout the whole of the first phase of the corner, at least:

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To be fair to Watford in general, they’re unfortunate to be 4-0 down. There have been very avoidable mistakes, but after going 1-0 up City have scored from a penalty, a deflected free-kick, and a corner. The first of those three rarely happens, the second are even rarer, and the third isn’t exactly what you’d call a frequent source of goals for a Guardiola team.

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5-0, Nicolás Otamendi (18’)

Watford switch off and City take a quick free-kick (the takers are unfortunately hidden behind the score bug, but you can see Agüero making a run at the top of the box, which neither Watford player near him is adequately watching).

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And, because it’s one of those days, City score. The square ball is hit first time by Agüero, who doesn’t even look up, and Otamendi just manages to slide and reach it.

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A training ground routine that was perfectly executed. (The latter of those two things is particularly notable after the loss against Norwich, where City were the complete opposite. For more on that match, see here).

6-0, Bernardo Silva (48’)

Ah, some respite. But Watford clearly came out for the second half a little nervy. In the 20 seconds before this goal, there were three or four individual duels that Watford players performed poorly in.

I think these kind of 50/50s or individual duels are things best viewed as trends — as singular moments, they may not mean much, but if a player or team wins/loses a string of them, it may say something. Here it seemed to point to free City players being ready to pounce on loose balls when Watford players weren’t, as well as a bit of a nervousness in challenges from the away side that never pairs well with one-on-one contests.

It ended up as a bit of a scramble, though, so there’s nothing in terms of mistakes that’s worth highlighting. However, I think it’s a good moment to talk about why bouncing balls are hard to deal with.

Will Hughes found himself under this ball, which had already bounced and was going upwards in this still image.

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The difficulty that comes with facing a situation like this (and why people yell ‘don’t let it bounce!’ at defenders) is twofold:

  • the spin and trajectory generally leave players as sitting ducks. They have to focus on the ball to meet it with a header, but can’t be checking their surroundings at the same time. As sitting ducks, defenders waiting for the ball are either vulnerable to physical harm, or of getting the ball pinched away from them by attackers who are approaching the situation from further away.
  • it’s difficult to generate power when heading these balls away (and because of the sitting duck nature, they need to be met with a header). Generally, the pace has all gone off the ball and there are no angles to work with. Given they’ve often had weird spin to create the situation, the trajectory can be awkward to judge.

In this particular situation, Hughes waits a little too long underneath it and heads it when it’s almost passing him on the way back down. Instead of going up and away, it goes down and straight to David Silva. (There’s an argument that he could head it back towards the defender to clear away or goalkeeper to catch, but with the twin problems I explain above, his poor execution at heading it away normally is probably the safer option).

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And then Bernardo Silva went on and scored etc, we’ve heard that story before, let’s spare Watford’s misery and move on, they’re probably sick of that little Portuguese guy by now and never want to hear about him ever again.

7-0, Bernardo Silva (60’)

Oh.

This was another perfectly executed ‘move off the training ground’ goal from City. Kevin de Bruyne made a run in the space between the centre-back and full-back (who, situationally, is midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré ).

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Doucouré’s body position is too square towards the ball. I know that he’s a midfielder and he’s currently losing 6-0 and it’s not a good day, but this is Manchester City and you should know that they play these passes for fun.

Once that pass is played and De Bruyne has room to whip a low, square ball across the six-yard box, you’re in trouble, and Watford were. Bernardo Silva fluffed the chance initially, but poked it in at a second go.

8-0, Kevin de Bruyne (85’)

A lot of these goals were perfect execution by Manchester City, facilitated by mistakes or improvable errors by Watford.

And then you just have De Bruyne.

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This reminds me of a basketball play, to be honest. The run from David Silva across to the left (as we view it) could draw the centre-back marking him over and create space for a curled finish to the top-right, or it could drag the Watford right-back over and create space for a shot similar to the one the Belgian actually took.

Coaches like Pep Guardiola learn from other sports all the time, and basketball is all about creating little pockets to shoot and rotating attacking players to confuse defences, two things that Guardiola teams love.

In the end, Silva’s run doesn’t really pull either defender enough to make space and it’s more about the full-back being sluggish matching De Bruyne cutting inside, and then an unfairly fantastic finish. Still, the point of the run is a genuine one. And if De Bruyne didn’t fancy the shot then the pass to Silva could result in a square ball from the Spaniard, or De Bruyne could float a cross towards the back post where Agüero was arriving.

City. They’re pretty good.

Thanks for reading folks, I hope it’s been interesting. I also hope that I got the point across that, although there’s a degree of luck in scoring some of these goals, there’s still little pieces of analysis that you can pick up on and make a broader point about.

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