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Transfer Rater: Mahrez to Manchester City

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Which club is better to watch: City or PSG?

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 By David Mooney

Man City have never played better... you can tell from all the tap-ins

Man City have scored 29 goals after eight league matches and Craig Burley fully expects much more to come.
With Man City on a tear in the Premier League, Craig Burley analyses their form compared to the chasing pack.
With Man City on a tear in the Premier League, Craig Burley analyses their form compared to the chasing pack.

For all of Manchester City's exciting attacking play this season, there's one thing that the vast majority of their goals have in common. Aside from the odd exception, Pep Guardiola's team have mainly scored tap-ins.

This isn't a criticism. In fact, it's very high praise -- because the movement of the ball, the one-on-one attacking play, and the interchanging of positions of the forwards is what is creating these opportunities in often very congested penalty areas.

City's opposition, more often than not, attempts to stay narrow and compact, limiting the amount of space that can be exploited. Despite that, and as was highlighted throughout the team's 7-2 battering of Stoke on Saturday, there's often two or three of City's attacking players that could apply the finish by the time the ball is touched into the net.

Out of City's 29 Premier League goals this season, just four have been hit from outside the box. Fernandinho's thunderbolt on Saturday was the latest -- following on from Kevin De Bruyne's in the 1-0 win over Chelsea; Fabian Delph's in the 5-0 success versus Crystal Palace; Leroy Sane's in the 5-0 victory against Liverpool.

The rest have been struck from inside the area, and mostly from positions where the striker couldn't miss. It's been the build-up play that has been exquisite, built on the foundation of what Guardiola was attempting to do last season, and it's been carving up the majority of what it's been up against.

In order to create those chances, City attempt to overload areas of the pitch. Before the injury to Benjamin Mendy, it involved both full-backs overlapping into wide areas to put whipped crosses into the box. In the matches since the left-back was forced off with a knee ligament problem against Crystal Palace, Delph has been a stand in -- though he's drifted inside to shore up the middle, while David Silva supported Sane on the left.

City's movement off the ball is what has actually been doing the most damage in this recent run of excellent form. The reason Guardiola's side look like scoring every time they attack is that the entire XI is working as a team better than it ever has done, creating spacing for each other and busting a gut to get into position, even if a pass isn't going to come their way.

Every time a City player gets on the ball, they have several options. That was the intention last season, but it continually broke down under pressure from the opposition -- and upgrades in the goalkeeper and full-back departments have put a stop to that.

This season, though, the one and two-touch passing is successful in all areas of the pitch. With the ball at his feet, Ederson can be trusted to pick out the right pass, while the four in front of him -- particularly Kyle Walker, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi -- have become more comfortable over where to move to give their goalkeeper a number of options.

This results in two-on-one situations across the pitch, allowing De Bruyne and Silva, two of the Premier League's best passers, to pick out through-balls time and again.

Bernardo Silva
City have been tearing opposition defences apart.

When the space is on the flanks, the pace of Raheem Sterling or Sane can be used to get in behind; when it's in the middle, those two have been cutting into the box with devastating effect.

When players score tap-ins, defenders are often criticised for allowing forwards to ghost into the box unmarked. However, City's opposition have been dragged so far in the build-up that it's difficult to blame them for leaving gaps.

The opening three goals against Stoke were almost carbon copies of each other. One player was released into the near post, he drew the goalkeeper before finding a teammate in the middle, who had an open goal to slot into. Even the second half strikes by Gabriel Jesus and Sane were similar, although the assists by De Bruyne were remarkably better than a simple low cross into the box.

This forward line is one of the best the English top flight has ever seen, and Chelsea's record Premier League tally of 103 in a single season could well be under threat.

City fans have fond memories of the attacking play in both Roberto Mancini's 2012 and Manuel Pellegrini's 2014 title-winning teams, but Guardiola's 2017-18 side have been on another planet in comparison.

In his first campaign, Guardiola had problems with his team missing chances and it was costing them games. The solution to that has been twofold -- first, create even more chances through passing and movement; second, make the opportunities so good that whoever is on the end of them can't miss.

It may be very early and the full effects of the winter schedule are yet to take hold, but City fans can hardly be blamed for getting excited. Their team has never been playing better as a unit, with everybody pulling in the same direction, as it is right now.

David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney

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