Guardiola and Foden

How West Ham could arrest the Citizens | Manchester City Analysed

Formed by Hammers supporters Jack Elderton and Callum Goodall to offer their fellow fans in-depth but accessible analysis of their team and its players, Analytics United will provide content for the Club's official website, app, Official Programme and social media channels over the course of the 2023/24 season.

Here, Analytics United use performance analysis and data to examine how West Ham United can hope to halt Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Saturday afternoon...


Manchester City have started the 2023/24 Premier League season with a perfect record of four wins from four, with eleven goals scored and just two conceded. It has never been an easy task to look for chinks in The Citizens’ armour but with Erling Haaland on fire, and new signings Joško Gvardiol and Mateo Kovačić showing no signs of struggle in their adaptation, this might be hardest team to face in world football right now.

Pep Guardiola has made a few tweaks to last season’s treble-winning team with the aforementioned Gvardiol and Kovačić replacing the outgoing İlkay Gündoğan and the injured John Stones, but progress hasn’t slowed at all.

Tactically, City have continued with their effective three-box-three attacking shape from last season which often sees four centre-backs start with one advancing into midfield to join Rodri in a narrow double-pivot in possession. This player would usually be Stones, but Swiss international Manuel Akanji stepped into the role in Manchester City’s most recent game against Fulham in his absence.

Erling Haaland and Manuel Akanji have been key to City's winning start

Thanks to this utilisation of a centre-back in a more advanced position, Guardiola’s team are always protected against counter-attacks as they are well stocked with physically strong defensive specialists and able to aggressively challenge for the ball before falling back into shape. This defensive security also enables Guardiola to deploy out-and-out wingers in the wide positions rather than wing-backs. Last season, this was often Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez but with the Algerian’s recent move to Saudi Pro League side Al Ahli, we are likely to see Bernardo Silva, or new signing Jérémy Doku (pictured, below), take his place.

Players like Grealish and Silva are extremely hard to dispossess and will retain possession expertly, enabling Guardiola’s team to continue moving the opposition whilst waiting for gaps to open where they can use their creative talent to find Haaland. Additions like Doku, Kovačić, Gvardiol, and Matheus Nunes also add a high degree of unpredictability, with all four capable of quick bursts to beat defenders opening new gaps in tightly packed defensive blocks.

Talking through this multidimensionality in attack, without even covering Haaland and his six goals already this season, makes it clear that probing for weaknesses in Manchester City’s team isn’t particularly fruitful.


When looking at City’s system on paper, we can draw some comparisons with West Ham’s recent win over Brighton, where David Moyes masterminded a brilliant win by focusing on counter-attacks exploiting the right side of Brighton’s defence. We are able to compare because Brighton also opt for an aggressive in-possession approach which often forces teams to sit with five players across the backline to counteract The Seagulls’ stacked attack.

In this match, Moyes deployed new signing Edson Álvarez between the midfield and the defence where he could track Evan Ferguson and drop in between centre-backs Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna when needed. In attack, West Ham focused on direct play to expose the weak cover on Brighton’s right side as James Milner offered little protection ahead of Adam Webster when inverting from right-back into central midfield.

Things will be different against City though. Where Brighton were unable to cope with Michail Antonio’s dogged determination in the channels, City will hope to match the Jamaican’s strength and directness with their talent in the wide centre-back positions. Guardiola could even opt for Kyle Walker on the right side, as he did against Sheffield United, to add pace which provides improved cover in defensive transition.

Fulham used defensive midfielder Harrison Reed to try and stop City

The reality is that West Ham will have to be at their absolute best to secure a result, but perhaps some inspiration can be taken from Fulham’s first half performance at the Etihad before the international break.

Marco Silva’s side were able to get some control in the match by splitting their centre-backs wide with defensive midfielder Harrison Reed dropping deep between the two in build-up. This drew City on and, whilst Julián Álvarez and Haaland struggled to cover the spare man generated by this situational back three build-up shape, Fulham cleverly committed the full-backs high and were able to utilise long balls to the flanks to get out.

This aggression from the full-backs was replicated out of possession as Antonee Robinson and Kenny Tete rapidly closed down Doku and Phil Foden, keeping the pair backpedalling and interrupting City’s forward momentum. Fulham’s goal came from a set-piece too, a strength we share, as they ran their low outswinger routine again, enabling an unchallenged volley just like the one João Palhinha scored to equalise against Arsenal.

Whatever strategy Moyes implements, West Ham must combine defensive perfection with attacking accuracy to contain the attacking talent at Guardiola’s disposal and make the most of the limited opportunities that will be offered up.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Analytics United and do not necessarily reflect the views opinions of West Ham United.


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