52 passes, 11 players, one goal, no West Brom touches - Manchester City's Guardiola masterclass examined
"They didn't even have a touch."
This brag and similar variations are often exclaimed by football fans lauding it over beaten opponents as a way to underline total domination. Rarely has it ever proved to be remotely true.
Step forward Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola's in-form side made a particularly confident start to the EFL Cup tie at West Brom on Wednesday, stroking the ball about stylishly before Leroy Sane scored a third-minute opener.
From kick-off to Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster thwarting Ilkay Gundogan's initial shot – fellow Germany international Sane slammed home the rebound – City strung together a remarkable 52 unbroken passes.
West Brom didn't even have a touch. Well, none of their outfield players did until Hal Robson-Kanu restarted the game after three minutes and 16 seconds.
Pass master Mangala
Guardiola is famed for the intensive passing style he honed at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and, following a return of 13 points from five Premier League matches and a 4-0 Champions League thrashing of Feyenoord, the opening moments at the Hawthorns offered the latest early-season indication that his methods are starting to bear fruit in Manchester.
Every single City player touched the ball more than once in the move leading to Sane's opener – the winger admittedly taking a far more direct route for his counter-attacking winner 13 minutes from time.
Building from the back is one of Guardiola's fundamentals and the sometimes-derided 'sweeper keeper' Claudio Bravo completed two passes in the build-up – the same amount as centre-forward Gabriel Jesus.
City's centre-backs were instrumental in monopolising possession, with John Stones' eight passes only bettered by Eliaquim Mangala. The France international has found himself on the margins at City, with his ball-playing skills regarded by many as not up to scratch for Guardiola's style. Perhaps it is time for a re-think?
Indeed, it was Mangala's raking cross-field pass that allowed Raheem Sterling to cross to Gundogan with his third contribution – the same number made by Bernardo Silva, a playmaker by trade in a team apparently packed with them all of a sudden.
Sane earned his goal with four successful passes, equal to Gundogan and Yaya Toure pulling the strings in midfield, while full-backs Danilo (seven) and Fabian Delph (six) were also key.
Double the trouble of Cambiasso
Claudio Yacob equalised for West Brom during a much-improved showing after half-time from the hosts. City completed 479 passes over the course of the entire game, meaning the move for Sane's opener amounted to 11 per cent of their successful passes in the match.
Since Opta began collecting such passing data for the Premier League at the start of the 2010-11 season, no goal has boasted more passes in the build-up than Sane's.
The best on record is the 48 passes leading to Nacer Chadli scoring for Tottenham against QPR in August 2014.
Esteban Cambiasso's majestic goal for Argentina against Serbia and Montenegro at the 2006 World Cup – stylistically, surely, a Guardiola favourite – featured less than half of City's total with 24.
City host Premier League basement boys Crystal Palace on Saturday, where they are expected to see plenty more of the ball. But will they be able to hog it more effectively than they did during the opening exchanges in midweek?