“I think Man City are a formidable team,” said Maurizio Sarri ahead of Napoli’s trip to the Etihad last month. “The feeling I get watching them play, I didn’t even get watching Real Madrid last year.”
There are, of course, plenty of people who share the sentiments of the Napoli boss. Pep Guardiola’s side have been imperious, a seemingly unstoppable force, both domestically and in Europe.
At times they have appeared tactically impeccable, a side with incomparable talent and coached to perfection.
But, like any great football team, there are vulnerabilities to be exposed. Finding them and executing an adequate gameplan is the difficult part.
1 Exploit the left
When Benjamin Mendy suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in September, there was understandable concern. The left back was signed for £52 million from Monaco and had impressed early in the season. Now he was out for the season and City had no natural replacement.
So Guardiola turned to Fabian Delph, a questionable and risky decision in the eyes of many. But the England international has adapted brilliantly, undoubtedly helped by his coach's innovative approach to the full back role.
Delph, a natural midfielder, slots into a central position when City are in possession to ensure there is an extra man and, in turn, an increased likelihood of dominating the ball.
Off the ball, he is very much a left-back. It was a tactic Guardiola introduced at Bayern Munich with the likes of Philipp Lahm and David Alaba and it requires a player of astute tactical awareness.
It can also be exploited. Delph is still adjusting to his new role, still learning the intricacies of Guardiola's complex instructions. If teams attack efficiently down the right-hand side, they may find more joy than elsewhere on the pitch.
2 Enact an organised high press
As Alan Shearer pointed out in his analysis of Arsenal's defeat at Manchester City on Match of the Day, a high press must be enacted collectively and with almost mechanical efficiency.
Players cannot be disorganised in their closing down, one going a few seconds after the other, or not at all. It is of particular importance against City, who have the ability to cut through a side's attempts to press like the proverbial hot knife through butter.
Arsenal were a bad example. In fact, very few have been able to disrupt City's smooth, almost infallible build-up play this season.
A rare exception came when City played Napoli at the Etihad. For all of Sarri's effusive praise of his opposite number, it was his side that produced a display of meticulous and relentless pressing in the second half. The Serie A leaders robbed City of the ball deep in their own half on numerous occasions, from which came a number of goal-scoring opportunities.
It wasn't enough to prevent defeat but it was perhaps the best example of a team implementing a plan in an attempt to stop City not just succumbing to their entrancing attacking football.
3 Quick transitions and quick counter-attacks
Again, Napoli spring to mind as an example of how to exploit City. "They are perhaps the best side I've faced in my career," said Guardiola after the reverse fixture in Naples and there is a reason for that.
Sarri's side are masters of quick transitions, switching from defence to attack in an instant with swift, short passes and intelligent movement. They were dominant in the opening 20 minutes at Stadio San Paolo, not allowing City time to utilise their pressing game and dragging their opposition out of shape.
And that is the key: City's pressing can overwhelm a team, suffocate them into submission, so it is vital that a solution is found.
Quick, succinct, accurate and forward-thinking football is required, as are fast counter-attacks when the opportunity arises. Of course, it is far easier said than done.
Napoli were beaten twice by City but their performances offered a glimmer of hope for other sides looking to stop Guardiola's domineering outfit. It will take bravery, an element of risk and, as Sarri poetically put it, "huge bollocks". Sitting back and hoping for the best will likely result in more of the same - emphatic City victories.
Are Manchester City unbeatable? Let us know in the comments section below
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?