Football Features

“The best right-winger in the world” – Five things learned as Man City mangle Marseille in the Champions League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:02, 27 October 2020 | Updated: 9:42, 30 March 2021

In a supreme night of football, Manchester City comfortably beat Marseille 0-3 in the Champions League.

The result gives City a perfect two wins from two in their Champions League group, sending them top and keeping their rhythm high. What did we learn?

1. World-class in more than one way

Under Pep Guardiola’s guidance, Kevin De Bruyne has developed into one of the best, if not the outright best, central midfielders in the world. De Bruyne’s ability to put his foot down and immediately up the tempo of whatever match City are playing (to say nothing of his passing, dribbling and shooting) make him unquestionably world-class.

However, what is often not discussed is that De Bruyne is basically also the best right-winger in the world.

Whilst De Bruyne dominates central areas, he has games (or long stretches of games) where he is constantly drifting out into that half-space on the right. And when he’s there he is terrifying dominant, sending in scorching crosses that are almost impossible to defend.

That is exactly what he did against Marseille to open the scoring. One slack pass from Valentin Rongier and De Bruyne, who had actually been playing more to the left, took the ball and instantly played a killer ball across the box with insulting ease. The pass found Ferran Torres who made it 1-0, and then late in the game De Bruyne made another run down the right and curled another beauty of a low cross for Raheem Sterling to tap home City’s third.

Two devastatingly clinical right-wing assists in 80 minutes for Kevin De Bruyne. And he created more chances besides that too. Yes De Bruyne is one of the best central midfielders in the world, but he’s just as dominant at right-wing. A phenomenally fluid attacker that dominates from two positions simultaneously. A king.

2. Ferran Torres is different

When Manchester City signed Ferran Torres from Valencia and then gave him David Silva’s old shirt number, you’d be forgiven for expecting him to end up being a tricky playmaker who thrived creating chances for others. Instead, Guardiola is using him in a much more direct role.

Ferran’s skill-set doesn’t lend itself to comparisons to David Silva. He’s much more of an attacking threat, a goalscoring threat. His willingness and ability to press and his eye for goal make him a dangerous weapon in the front three.

Against Marseille it was Ferran, rather than Raheem Sterling, who was given the role as City’s starting “striker” in the absence of Sergio Aguero. After Raheem Sterling missed yet another big chance at the weekend, Ferran dispatching De Bruyne’s low cross with nerveless precision to give City the lead shows why he is different.

3. AVB had stars in his eyes

Andre Vilas-Boas has long been confirmed as a Pep Guardiola admirer, a fanboy, a stan. He’s spoken at length about how great Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were and what an influence they were on his sides. So when he got the chance to upstage the man he considers an idol, he declined to take it.

Well, he definitely tried, but he altered Marseille’s usual shape and left star man Dimitri Payet on the bench as he tried to contain City and then break on them. He showed Guardiola so much respect rather than have his Marseille side fly at them with a furious pressing attack that could have caught a nervy City out.

Sure, they managed to stay in the game for 70-odd minutes, but in the end their defence inevitably collapsed under the pressure from constant Man City attacks. AVB will be wishing he had taken that risk.

4. Ruben Dias is unspectacular, and that’s perfect

Manchester City’s record with centre-backs in the Guardiola era is spotty at best. Pep Guardiola’s been trying to revolutionise City at the position ever since he took over and has tried any number of extravagant solutions ranging from Aliaksandr Kolarov (no, really) to Nico Otamendi (seriously now) to cultivating John Stones despite the obvious weaknesses, to taking big punts on Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Aké (that have worked when the defenders have been fit, which isn’t often) or trusting in Eric Garcia only for him to refuse to sign a new contract to try and force a move back to Barcelona.

Now Ruben Dias is the latest player Pep has tried at centre-back, but the difference between the Portuguese stopper and everyone else is that he’s a pretty boring player. That’s not a criticism, Ruben Dias is not some majestic Rolls Royce of a centre-back, he’s just big, strong and solid much in the same way that Vincent Kompany used to be.

Ruben Dias was a huge part of shutting Marseille down. He’s not a magnificent passer, he’s just alright – but then neither is a hyper-aggressive duel merchant like Otamendi. He just gets on with it, which makes him the ideal compliment to the rest this City side which is full of team selections where Guardiola is trying to make a statement. Ruben Dias is an unspectacular centre-back, and that’s perfect.

5. Foden shines again

Manchester City have desperately missed Leroy Sané’s direct and dynamic play on the left-flank. At the weekend Phil Foden showed that he has the potential to shine in that zone, scoring City’s goal. Tonight he once again shone, albeit this time with no goal.

Foden has the pace and skill to play as a genuine winger, but the tactical intelligence to come narrower and help pack the midfield if that’s what is needed. Most importantly of all, of course, is that he has a wand of a left-foot. This means he provides balance to the side with his movement and intelligence. That intelligence is the perhaps the most impressive thing.

Against West Ham he came on in a charged situation, City were pushing for a goal. It wasn’t easy to perform, but his role was clear. Now he had to start the match and play 90 minutes, which carries with it an entirely different kind of expectation.

Yet Foden once again handled himself superbly, playing a huge role in City’s second goal with a sharp turn, run and a delicious cross to the back-post that Sterling knocked down for Gundogan. He hinted at it on the weekend, but tonight Phil Foden showed that his future at City isn’t the centre of midfield but on the left of attack.