Going into to Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, both teams would certainly feel they have a chance of coming away with the three points. Tottenham have had a decent but low-scoring start to the season, scraping through games with 1-0 victories while Manchester City started the season like a train, even defeating previous champions Chelsea 3-0, however more recently City’s form has dipped with 2-1 defeats at home to Juventus and West Ham. Tottenham will feel they are facing City at a good time, with the visitors on the back of a long trip from Sunderland midweek, a couple of defeats in last two weeks, injuries to key players and most significantly a huge game coming up against Borussia Monchengladbach midweek in the Champions League which may force City to rest players. All these factors will give Spurs confidence that City may be vulnerable and there couldn’t be a better time to face them.
Tottenham lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Hugo Lloris in goals, right-back Walker, Alderweireld and Vertonghen centre-backs, left-back Ben Davies. A double-pivot of Delle Alli and Eric Dier, the latter of the two often dropping in between the centre-backs during build-ups. Next an interchanging attacking trio of Lamela,Heung-Min Son and Eriksen. The chief attacker was Harry Kane.
Manchester City matched Spurs 4-2-3-1. Joe Hart, who picked up a slight back strain during the week was on the bench allowing Willy Caballero to take his place in goals for City. A back-back four of Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi and Kolarov. City’s double-pivot was Fernando and Fernandinho. In front of them was De Bruyne who surprisingly stayed near the right touchline rather than moving into the right halfspace, a more familiar area for him, Yaya Toure who often made movements towards the right touchline to support De Bruyne and Sagna and Raheem Sterling. Up front was Sergio Agüero.
City’s Pressing Issues
In the first half, City defended in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, depending mostly on Dier’s positioning. If Dier dropped between Alderweireld and Vertonghen, Toure would move up alongside Agüero to press. When City pressed high in 4-4-2, this is when problems occurred.
To press high up the pitch, you need layers in your pressing, it is pointless to press in totally separate units without compactness as if the initial press is bypassed, there will be huge space in between lines. When City pressed in 4-4-2 this meant Toure had to vacate the area between Spurs defence and attacking midfielders to be alongside Agüero. The reason for Toure pressing alongside Agüero is to prevent Aguero being outnumbered 3v1 but actually, Toure supporting him when pressing didn’t make a difference as it was still 3v2 in Spurs favour. This meant when Aguero and Toure’s press was bypassed, the ball often came to Delle Alli in acres of space. When Alli picked the ball up he had plenty of time and space to drive into, unless Fernandimho engaged in pressing him, this didn’t happen often though as Fernandinho had to remain in position to defend Spurs narrow attacking midfield.
Inverted Wingers cause Problems for Spurs
A growing trend in the modern game is the use of playmakers on the wing, as inverted wingers. Although Spurs had two natural wingers in Heung-Min Son and Erik Lamela, Pochettino decided not to use them as traditional wingers. Christian Eriksen started on the left but offered almost no width, he would come inside and operated mostly in the left halfspace. On the right was Lamela, who would often cut inside onto his favoured left foot. Although these wide playmakers overloaded City’s double-pivot and at times cause the pair problems, Spurs also suffered due to this.
Often, when Eriksen began to make a diagonal run with ball through the centre he had no passing option on the right flank as Lamela was inside and Walker was either marked by Kolarov or too deep to be considered a suitable passing option.
Similar scenarios to the one above often happened, leaving Eriksen with no option other than to restart the attack by passing to Alli or shoot. If Lamela was in the red circle Eriksen would have a passing option that would cause City huge problems.
Lack of Forward Runners for City
Due to City often playing high diagonals out to De Bruyne rather than short ground passes through the centre, Sergio Agüero drifted out the game. To get involved, the Argentine began to drop deep, sometimes even beyond Yaya Toure, in a desperate bid to get on the ball. Eventually, Agüero did begin to get involved but this wasn’t necessarily a positive for City. As Agüero was the lone striker, when he did receive the ball deep there was no focal point for City and no one running in behind centrally. More concerning though was the lack of runs in behind from De Bruyne and particularly Sterling, the two wide players far too often wanted the ball in positions too deep to make an impact from rather than running in behind Spurs full-backs to give Agüero a vertical passing option.
More Vertically Orientated than Previously
Against Juventus in particular, a weakness of City’s was their pointless possession. Rather than using possession as a tool to move the opposition around, City have been using possession for no particular reason. When keeping possession in their own half for long periods of time, midfielders and forwards should begin to make movements to find pockets of space, drag opposition players out of position and find passing lanes to receive the ball.
Against Spurs, we seen a far more vertical minded approach from City’s centre-backs. Rather than playing 5 or more combination passes between themselves, Demichelis or Otamendi would play 1 or 2 then look vertical, often to Kevin De Bruyne who stayed closer to the touchline than expected, to receive these high diagonal passes from the centre-backs.
A very poor performance by City was taken advantage of by an excellent Spurs one. Erik Lamela and Eric Dier in particular impressed while Yaya Toure and Sergio Agüero appeared to not have turned up for this one. Pochettino’s side pressed very intelligently, not overcommitting when there was no need but pressing intensely when triggered. Although Heung-Min Son didn’t have a standout game for Spurs, his runs in behind Demichelis and Otamendi really stretched City’s defence and caused problems. On the other hand, City’s lack of vertical compactness was an issue that needed to be addressed prior to half-time, but simply wasn’t. A 4-1 victory wouldn’t flatter Spurs and if they can repeat performances like that, Tottenham may find themselves in a higher position than expected at the end of the season.