Manchester City vs Napoli - Pep Guardiola's tactical battle against Maurizio Sarri
The two cerebral managers will face off in the UEFA Champions League as Manchester City entertain Napoli in the group stage.
Pep Guardiola admitted in the post-match conference after the game against Stoke City that it was City’s best performance this season thus far.
The upcoming game against Napoli would no doubt be, one of the hardest tests for City after Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premier League.
It’s a game between two managers who have the utmost respect for each other and what makes it an intriguing battle is how these two teams are almost telepathically similar.
It’s a game between two teams who want to have the ball, want to attack and build up play from the back regardless the opposition.
Both of them have an extremely dynamic front three who thrive on pace, movement, and quick one-touch football. Hence, the team defending better would have a huge say in the game.
Pep Guardiola’s men have been brilliant in all three departments of the game and not too many changes are expected.
For Manchester City, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy remain on the sidelines. As confirmed by Guardiola, Sergio Aguero has had an excellent training session before the game and he has admitted the unexpected improvement in Aguero’s sharpness. However, it is still a doubt if he'll start as the front three of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane have been excellent. Unless Pep goes for a 4-4-2 diamond for tactical reasons and he wants two out and out strikers. Aguero could remain on the bench.
We can expect a full-strength line-up from Maurizio Sarri unless the knock received by Jorginho in the game against Roma is serious enough to keep him out of the 11.
In the event that Jorginho is indeed still feeling the knock then the probable replacement would be Piotr Zielinski coming into the midfield three and Allan moving to the holding role.
Tactical tweaks - Guardiola vs Sarri
Anyone who has been following Manchester City and Napoli closely this season would know for a fact that it is a battle between two teams with similar styles and hence these two league leaders going head-on might take create a spark right from kick-off. However, the tactical nous of Pep Guardiola coupled with his bold selection decisions could hand Manchester City an advantage that Napoli might not foresee.
The addition of another central midfielder to the already decorated trio of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho could prove vital for City as it would help them out-number Napoli in midfield.
As you can see, the addition could be in the form of either Ilkay Gundogan or Bernardo Silva as a surprise starter for this game in an attempt to win the midfield battle.
Napoli have a tendency to play out from the back using their centre-backs and central midfielders extensively. While having said, in the event that City play an additional midfielder to form a diamond, it wouldn't be just an added option to retain possession but also to press Napoli high and disrupt their build-up play using short safe passing.
This would hand City a clear advantage while Napoli are on the ball. As you can see, the midfield trio of Napoli will pin back David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and either of Ilkay Gundogan/ Bernardo Silva. This will leave Fernandinho with time and space on the ball.
In case one of the players in Napoli's midfield three step out to press Fernandinho, that would leave one City midfielder in the final third free to receive a pass.
Or in case, Napoli counter this by bringing back Dries Mertens (striker) to press Fernandinho, it'll free both centre-backs of City to penetrate into the final third, which Pep Guardiola absolutely loves.
Hence, it wouldn't be that big a gamble as it looks to drop one of the front three who are in blistering form.
In case, Pep does decide to go ahead with this then the attacker to face the axe could be Raheem Sterling.
It is not because he is any less in terms of quality but simply the more suited for a front two would be his other partners in crime; Sane and Jesus.
Both players are capable of pressing a defender at the back and playing it to the on-coming Silva or De Bruyne while Sterling still lacks that strength and power.
The other attribute to be considered is finishing and this is one area where again, Jesus and Sane would out-perform Sterling. Since it would be a front-two with a midfield diamond behind, the above-mentioned attributes would be key to be successful in those areas.
Whatever the line-up, whatever the tactics, we are in for a blast today with one of the best games of the Champions League. There is no doubt this is going to be an end-to-end game with for those fans who love quality football with two cerebral managers locking horns against each other at such an early stage of the competition.