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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Manchester City and the Art of the Tactical Foul

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Manchester City have been getting plaudits for their attacking style this season, despite

the recent defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League. While comparatives are always hard

in football, this City side is certainly one of the finest, and most attractive, seen in

the Premier League.

If one simply looked at the table of fouls conceded, Manchester City lalso ook like the

cleanest team in the Premier League. The two worst teams are Watford, with 386, and Everton,

with 404. The five best teams for fouls conceded are Manchester City, tied with Bournemouth,

Chelsea, Burnley, and Leicester City.

However, when one takes possession into account, Manchester City start to look a little less

angelic. Premier League sides have so far played 32 or 33 games this season and so its

possible to work out an approximate time spent in and out of possession. City have had an

average possession this season of 71.8% in the league, so the 28.2% of the time spent

out of possession means their opposition has had the ball for just over 800 minutes; the

next most dominate sides, Arsenal and Spurs, have seen their opposition keep the ball for

over 1000 minutes each. Factoring in fouls, its pretty clear that in the limited time

Citys opposition have the ball, they get fouled a lot.

To give context, the bottom two sides for fouls per minute when out of possession are

Bournemouth and Burnley, with 0.19 and 0.18 fouls per minute respectively. Burnley are

the cleanest team in the Premier League. So much for stereotypes.

Why do City foul so much, relative to how little time they spend with the ball? Pep

Guardiolas sides have always kept the ball a lot, striving to use possession as the first

line of defencewhen the opposition cant get the ball, they cant attack. But, Guardiola

teams also commit a lot of men forwards. As we have seen before, Citys typical 4-3-3

shape looks more like a 2-3-5 in attack, with the full backs either tucking in or pushing

up wide, and five men in attack.This leaves City clearly exposed to counter attacks, especially

out wide if the full backs have tucked in, or through the centre if they are out wide.

This is why every Guardiola side has had a player who acts as the tactical fouler, the

player who sits at the base of the 4-3-3s midfield shape and is responsible for thwarting

attacks through the centre or covering over to the wide spaces should the danger be there.

At Barcelona, it was Sergio Busquets, at Bayern Munich Javi Martinez, and at City, its

Fernandinho. These players are obviously not just hatchet menall show superb positional

awareness and much of their defensive work is done through being in the right place at

the right time to intercept or tackle. But they also have a job to stop attacks by any


The area patrolled by Fernandinho is in front of the centre backs, but also out wide and

pushing up. As City press high, Fernandinho will move forwards to press the central midfield

area, but much of the pressing is done by the front five players. Fernandinho is there

if the press fails, or to supplement it.

City also tactically foul to stop play developing out wide on the counter. According to the

Premier Leagues site, Citys most fouling player is, of course, Fernandinho with 37.

Second to him, though, is Raheem Sterling, with 33. Kevin De Bruyne also has 27. These

players push into the wide spaces or half spaces when City are high up the pitch and,

should the City attack break down and the opposition attempt to counter, Sterling and

De Bruyne will commit tactical fouls high up the pitch to allow City to regain their

defensive shape.

While Manchester Citys team are fit and intelligent players with a strong positional

sense, their commitment to pushing men forwards leaves them vulnerable to the counter. The

aggressive pushing up of Nicolas Otamendi and the sweeping of Ederson can only secure

the back so muchits far more sensible for City to stop attacks in their tracks by

committing tactical fouls in the danger areas, rather than trying to regain a sensible defensive


Cynical or sensible, theres no doubt that Citys fouling is deployed systemically

and cleverly, especially by Fernandinho and in the wide spaces. City would not be able

to commit so many men forwards if they were unable to stop counter attacks. Part of that

approach requires tactical fouling. It might not be as attractive as the rest of their

play, but its an integral part that allows the rest of their style to flourish.

The Description of Manchester City and the Art of the Tactical Foul