Manchester City 1-0 Stoke City – FA Cup Final Match Report

Carlos Tevez holds off Matthew Etherington in a drab FA Cup final at Wembley

Starting formations and lineups for the game. Click to enlarge.

Yaya Toure drove home to win Manchester City their first silverware for 35 years, 2 months and 16 days in what was unfortunately a dull game at Wembley. The Manchester side lined up in their customary formation: a 4-2-3-1 with Carlos Tevez playing ahead of Yaya Toure flanked by Mario Balotelli on the left and David Silva on the right. Nigel De Jong played deep in the double pivot alongside Gareth Barry, the latter of whom was allowed more of an attacking slant to his game. Stoke City went with their customary 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 cross, with livewire Jonathan Walters playing off the rangy Kenwyne Jones.

Game pattern as expected

As the game kicked off, it was immediately evident that both sides would be following their expected gameplans: Stoke, predictably, looked to hit direct balls to their front two, in particular Jones, and City looked to pass intricately through the centre when in possession and get into counterattacking positions otherwise. City looked to have the measure of their opponents in the early stages, and threatened through the deep drifts of Tevez and the movement of the wide players. City’s left side, although looking defensively vulnerable with the languid Mario Balotelli playing ahead of an offensively-minded Alexsandr Kolarov, looked dangerous on the offence as Balotelli drifted inside and Kolarov overlapped. Within five minutes Tevez had tested Thomas Sorensen after he lost the Stoke defence coming deep. Yaya Toure also had a vicious swerving shot from range drift just wide of Sorensen’s left post with the veteran Dane beaten.

Stoke settled, however, and began to bring the dangerous Jermaine Pennant into play. Stoke found it difficult to play through the centre, partly due to wayward passing (five of their outfield players had more unsuccessful passes than successful ones) and partly due to Nigel De Jong’s excellent tackling. Walters attempted to perform his usual job of playing ‘around’ Jones and hassle deep-lying midfielders when out of possession. The most obvious person to mark would be Gareth Barry, to prevent his methodical link play between defence and attack, but he simply moved upfield and out of the comfortable range of Walters. As a result, the Stoke front man resorted to marking De Jong. Unfortunately, Stoke rely on Walters, Glenn Whelan and their wingers to supply their creativity, and with both Etherington and Pennant struggling with injuries and Whelan struggling to match the superior quality of the City midfield, much of the burden fell to Walters to create. When out of possession he marked De Jong well, and whilst this went some way to restoring the disparity in numbers in midfield, it had the knock-on effect that when Stoke won the ball back he was within a few feet of the Dutch midfield hard man, and whenever he received the ball immediately had an opponent nearby to pressure him.

City’s front players interchange well

City’s front players were looking particularly fluid. Generally in City’s attacking phases, Tevez plays his usual ‘false nine’ role, dropping deep to drag defenders out of position, and Toure and Silva exploit these gaps. As per usual he replicated this role, but today the other three members of the attack were much more fluid than normal, swapping positions with ease. The versatility of Tevez is well documented, having played in the famously fluid front three of Manchester United alongside Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the inclusion of Balotelli and Silva gave City two players comfortable playing anywhere in attack. Coupled with the big and skilful (and, again, surprisingly versatile) Yaya Toure, this constant interchanges between the front four players as they moved around and into each other’s areas of the pitch gave City an added dimension to their attacking play.

Stoke defended deep and narrow, using their defensively aware wingers to track the opposition full-backs. Unfortunately, with their numerical advantage in midfield City could pass around them. Even if De Jong was marked out of the game, Tevez dropped deep between the ‘lines’, which Stoke left far too much room between. In Tevez and Silva, City have two players who like to find space between the defence and midfield in order to create, and with Stoke’s nominal defensive midfielder Delap trying to track three people at once (as well as being a relatively average footballer) there was time and space afforded to both. Though City looked threatening, solid individual defending, profligacy of their front players and good defensive discipline by the Stoke wide men all contributed to a lack of clear-cut goalscoring opportunities.

Stoke wingers defend well, but goal comes through the centre

Surprisingly, although the ambitious Kolarov was tracked well by Pennant, Micah Richards made no such attempt to get forward and wear down the not-totally-fit Matthew Etherington. The match was stolid and unexciting, with an increasingly frustrated City being fought to a standstill by a disciplined and tough Stoke. On 74 minutes, however, finally City opened up Stoke’s defence after a lovely Balotelli flick released Silva. The diminutive ex-Valencia playmaker moved it back to Balotelli and his deflected shot found Yaya Toure, who powered in an unstoppable shot.

This didn’t do too much to change the game, with a defensive-minded Stoke side shorn of Etherington and relying on a slightly injured Pennant for pace and width. John Carew was sent on to provide a truly imposing frontline for Stoke. Without Etherington, however, and Pennant struggling they were starved of supply from the wings. Delap was taken off, removing another aerial supply line, and Carew and Jones didn’t have enough runners from midfield to feed off the headers they won against Lescott and Kompany. With no energy left and no route of attack, a brave Stoke team could only try and make the most of a series of set-pieces towards the end of the match. Their efforts proved fruitless, and Manchester City won their first silverware for over 35 years.

Conclusion

A match like this wasn’t too interesting (tactically or otherwise) and as a result any specific analysis points wouldn’t be too in-depth. The broad pattern of the match was simple: Stoke afforded Manchester City too much space in between the ‘lines’, allowing David Silva and Carlos Tevez time and space to create. They also did too little to redress the gap in quality between them and their opponents, with Walters doing his job almost TOO well and making De Jong’s job easier. Throughout the match, Stoke’s individual defending and a fine performance from Thomas Sorensen repeatedly saved them in backs-to-the-wall defending, and although Kenwyne Jones held up his end of the bargain, winning headers and holding up the ball well, the rest of his team failed to support him in order to relieve pressure. As a result, he was often mobbed by three players and the City counterattack launched immediately. In the end, then, it was a simple failure to counteract the gulf in quality between the teams. It was obvious that Manchester City are a better side than Stoke, and in order to redress the balance some clever thinking was needed by Tony Pulis. It was not to be, however, and City simply outclassed Stoke for long periods of the match. Roberto Mancini, on the other hand, got his tactics exactly right, and allowed City the freedom they needed to outplay Stoke.

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