Manchester City’s new-look 3-2-2-3 formation survived the effects of an ingenious half-time tactical switch from Everton’s Ronald Koeman to emerge with a point.
Guardiola’s new rearguard
Less than a fortnight removed from watching a high-pressing Tottenham Hotspur force his side into aimless long balls, Pep Guardiola introduced an extra centre-back to prevent Everton from repeating the trick.
Unusually, Guardiola chose not to protect his newly-introduced three-man defence with wing-backs however, as is customary, preferring instead to field Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané as out-and-out wingers in a daring 3-2-2-3 formation.
Greatly restricted in their positioning, holding midfielders Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan were tasked with protecting the flanks, by shuttling horizontally to cut off counter-attacking passes into Everton’s wingers Yannick Bolasie and Gerard Deulofeu.
City’s benign first-half dominance
Effectively defending with a permanent 3-2 double-barrier, this strategy worked perfectly in the first-half for a City side that failed to concede a single Everton shot on goal from open play.
Meanwhile, in possession, the tendency of Everton’s three central midfielders to stay tight to David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne – combined with the looseness from back-to-front caused by Everton’s failing high-press – meant that Fernandinho and Gundogan were perpetually free to feed their side’s dual-tens between the lines.
City’s central midfield pair attempted four through balls between them, fueling the hosts’ regular sorties to the byline, from which they attempted pull-backs. Fortunately for Everton, Guardiola’s front-five found a visiting centre-back partnership, in Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, that were up to the task, with both combining to execute countless key interceptions, blocks and clearances.
Only Sané, embroiled in a one-on-one battle with an initially shaky Bryan Oviedo throughout the opening 45, looked like a serious threat, beating the Costa Rican to force a near-post save from Maarten Stekelenburg in the early going, and winning what should have been a penalty-kick from the same player in the 11th minute.
Koeman’s second-half switch
Stekelenburg continued to shine in the second stanza, marrying two relatively facile penalty saves with two wondrous fingertip stops to deny a de Bruyne long-ranger and an effort from substitute Sergio Aguero.
The Dutchman’s second repelled 12-yarder of the day, which was also Jagielka’s second concession of a weird outing for the otherwise excellent defender, followed hot on the heels of Romelu Lukaku’s opener, that owed everything to an ingenious half-time tactical switch from Everton manager Ronald Koeman.
City’s lack of full-backs with which to create natural overloads meant a relatively risk-free shift from 4-1-4-1 to 4-3-1-2 that almost immediately paid dividends for the Toffees. Now asked, along with new strike-partner Lukaku, to make runs outside City’s back-three, Deulofeu converted a left-wing counter-attack into Everton’s first shot on target in the second-half’s opening seconds.
Later, with right-sided centre-back Nicolas Otamendi caught upfield, Bolasie rendered his reconstitution into a number ten a success when he nipped ahead of Jon Stones to flick deftly on to Lukaku, who beat covering defender Gael Clichy to score.
The tactical intrigue continued in injury-time when Koeman quickly responded to Guardiola’s Mourinho-esque introduction of Vincent Kompany as an additional penalty-box presence, by throwing on Ramire Funes Mori as a third centre-back.
Guardiola successfully prevented Everton from replicating Tottenham’s high-pressing success through the introduction of a third centre-back, but his brave new 3-2-2-3 world showed little signs of life in the attacking third in its maiden outing.
Having failed utterly to navigate City’s formidable 3-2 defensive wall on the break in the first half, Koeman’s half-time switch to a split-striker 4-3-1-2 was super-effective against a brand-new City back-three that could count on zero support in wide areas.
Ultimately, his otherwise disciplined Everton side foiled themselves with a handful of momentary defensive lapses in reason, the damage from which Koeman’s magnificent goalkeeper did much to minimise.