Journalism student Billy Hawkins discusses Beppe Sannino’s tactical masterstroke at the Etihad at the weekend
WHEN I sit down to write this column – usually a Wednesday morning – there are often two games to discuss. This week, with the scheduling of a Thursday night game – for the benefit of the Sky cameras – leaves only the FA Cup game to discuss; and what a game it was.
In 45 minutes of football – and one goal apiece from Fernando Forestieri and Troy Deeney – hope returned for the remainder of the season. Although the insurmountable talent of the Manchester City side powered through to the final whistle – with the aid of an incredibly unlucky mistake by Jonathan Bond – Watford left the pitch to the praises of the City players; the City tunnel camera shows Joe Hart walking Bond off after his error, and Aleksandr Kolarov waiting around to swap shirts and talk to Almen Abdi.
On the announcement of the starting line-up, there was a certain level of uncertainty surrounding the formation being used; Sannino announced a team fitting a 3-4-3, an unsightly 5-2-3, or a fluid 5-4-1 with Forestieri and Ikechi Anya dropping deep to aid the link up play to Deeney as a lone front man.
The choice of formation seemed to create a void in the centre of the pitch, but with the midfield pivot of Cristian Battocchio and Sean Murray pressing all over the pitch, meant that City could not use the space to their advantage. It was this space into which Battocchio played his long pass for Deeney to flick into Forestieri`s path for the opening goal. And for all the talk of Deeney and Forestieri not getting along in a personal capacity – they certainly celebrated as a team in the aftermath of the goal.
Marcos Lopes and Jesus Navas – the City wide players – were not allowed the space to run into with Forestieri and Anya tracking back, and Murray and Battocchio holding as deep as they could without disrupting the defensive line. Every cross was either claimed by Bond, or cleared by the first of many men blocking the path to the centre of the box. The space in midfield was reminiscent of the classic WM of Herbert Chapman`s legendary career at Arsenal in the 1930`s, in which he pioneered the formation used as a standard in England for many years. Manuel Pellegrini has used the 4-2-2-2 formation throughout much of his career, and the ‘Magic Rectangle` of the box-to-box midfielders and deep lying inside forwards was negated by the positional sense of the midfielders and inside forwards of the Watford side.
The incessant running from Anya and Forestieri – and the refusal to track back from Navas and Lopes – culminated in the second goal; Forestieri created space in the attacking third, played in Anya who had lost his marker, and Deeney rounded off the move with a shot past a hapless Costel Pantilimon in the City goal.
Yet, for all the brilliance of the first half, the running and pressing took its toll in the second. Watford retreated further and further back as the game wore on, with Deeney acting as the only attacking outlet. But still, the mass of bodies held on until the 59th minute.
From then on it was only a matter of time until City completed the turnaround, but the way in which it occurred – Kolarov`s weak shot squirming through the arms of Bond in a manner accustomed to English goalkeepers at the Etihad Stadium – certainly did not sum up the performances of both sides.
Whilst a loss is still a loss, the squad had no right to leave the pitch feeling anything other than pride. They scored twice and led against the current highest scorers in England in a game where everyone had planned for a cricket score. The only hope is that this belief carries into the remainder of the league season – starting with the game on Thursday.
What better way to restart a Play-Off push than with a victory over Nottingham Forest broadcast live for the rest of the league to witness?
This season may not be a write-off after all.