Manchester City's attacking instincts are delivering at the start of new season
What a difference a year makes. Manchester City’s opening three matches of last season were one win and two draws. This season it's three out of three.
In those three wins they have racked up 54 shots, compared to 47 at the same point last year. While it would be fair to say the opposition in last season's openers was tougher, there are causes for optimism for City.
Sunday's 2-0 win away at Reading, thanks to Pauline Bremer’s double, saw them reach joint top of the Women’s Super League and they could be very hard to displace if they keep up their level of performance.
Hurrying the opposition was key
In the Manchester derby last weekend, despite City dominating the statistics with more shots and possession, they struggled with United’s constant pressing.
United’s frontline seemed to surprise them and while they did not use the same pressing technique on Sunday, whenever they did not have the ball, City found a way to win the ball back within a few seconds.
As can be seen in the picture below, Mayumi Pacheco was looking to play a one-two to move Reading out of their own half but a swarm of City players penetrate that left hand side and cut out any possible space.
The only pass that would lead to safety from that position would be a ball over the top to Rachel Rowe, as shown by the yellow arrow, but that pass is extremely difficult to make. Eventually, Pacheco has to make an aerial clearance and hands the ball back to the visitors.
This was one of many scenarios where Reading’s players could not find space and string a few passes together as City were ruthless in their pursuit of the ball.
Long passes are not always a bad thing
Throughout the 90 minutes, captain Steph Houghton was always seen as the player who began attacks for her side from defence.
But Houghton rarely drove through to the opposition half and instead played long passes to the flanks and other players in midfield to quickly move the ball.
Most of these long passes were along the floor and with pace, which have a better chance of success than a pass made more in hope than expectation.
In the picture below, Houghton is looking for outlets and sees Keira Walsh in some free space. Rather than playing an easy pass to her, Houghton decides to play the pass in quick and with pace.
Walsh takes this on and with a neat bit of trickery, finds some more open space before noticing three potential passes. She decides a fast pass into Janine Beckie is the best option down the right flank.
The WSL runners-up of last season did this countless times as they tried to attack at every opportunity they could.
Use of flanks was evident
At times last season City could not break down stubborn opposition as they were reluctant to use the wings but on Sunday it was evident that the use of the flanks was something manager Nick Cushing had planned.
Both the right and left-hand side were attacked extensively against Reading and in particular, Demi Stokes was rushing up to support attacking play whenever she could.
Many times the attack eventually came back to the midfielders to use their creativity and incisive passing to make a difference, but using the full backs to stretch the opposition could be a definite ploy in the matches ahead.
Much stiffer opposition will have to be faced by City over the course of the season, but in these opening three matches, they have made an exemplary start and could take some stopping this season.