Juan Foyth and Raheem Sterling battle for the ball during Man City 1-0 Tottenham in the Premier League.

Man City 1-0 Tottenham: getting down the sides of the centre backs

Pep Guardiola got his attackers down the sides of the Spurs back three as our Premier League clash finished Man City 1-0 Tottenham at the Etihad.

Mauricio Pochettino went with a different formation for round three of Man City vs Tottenham. Pep Guardiola stuck with his traditional set up, but had his attackers run the channels down the outside of our three centre backs. The result was a slender, but uncomfortable one-goal victory for the home team, as Spurs created a host of chances on the counter attack.

Mauricio Pochettino springs a surprise

When the team sheets were handed in it looked as if Mauricio Pochettino was going to spring some kind of tactical surprise. Four centre backs were on the list along with Eric Dier. Just what could Pochettino be up to?

Eyebrows were raised, but Juan Foyth was utilised as an emergency right wing back to allow Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to play as a back three. Spurs defence gained increasing control, but started off shakily.

Man City down the sides of Spurs centre backs

The first 30 minutes saw Man City in top gear, determined to avenge Wednesday’s champions league exit. Guardiola had his attacking players run the channels past our outside centre backs. It caused issues for Spurs, especially early on in the zone between Juan Foyth and Davinson Sanchez, until the stand-in right wing back settled down. After that point, Foyth was outstanding at shutting Sterling down.

The channel on the other side is where Man City gained their vital early lead. The runs of Bernardo Silva and Oleksandr Zinchenko separated Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen. However, the key to it all unravelling was outside centre back Jan Vertonghen being attracted to the movement and position of Kevin de Bruyne.

Jan Vertonghen gets attracted to the positioning of Kevin de Bruyne during Man City 1-0 Tottenham in the Premier League match.

Jan Vertonghen gets attracted to the positioning of Kevin de Bruyne.

Vertonghen was clearly worried about his fellow Belgian and stepping out of defence had a knock-on effect. It allowed Sergio Aguero and Phil Foden to split the lanes between the two remaining centre backs. Aguero could get in to the channel beyond Davinson Sanchez to work our other outside centre back. Foden was then free to arrive unmarked to receive Aguero’s cushioned header and score.

Aguero and Foden can run the lanes between the centre backs to score the only goal of the game during Man CIty 1-0 Tottenham.

Aguero and Foden can run the lanes between the centre backs to score.

Man City’s movement to get attackers down the sides of the centre backs had paid off. Toby Alderweireld was caught in no man’s land as a result of Vertonghen stepping out. He didn’t see Foden’s run behind him. Equally, Juan Foyth needed to spot the threat Aguero posed earlier and help Davinson Sanchez who was left with a decision to make of whether to pick up Aguero or go with Foden’s run.

The score was quickly Man City 1-0 Tottenham and it seemed as if we’d be in for another high scoring contest.

The Cityzens continued to press and play at a high pace and attack the channels down the sides of our outside centre backs. However, that threat reduced significantly when Kevin de Bruyne left the pitch. His injury saw Man City’s attacking prowess subside, as Pep Guardiola decided to replace him with Fernandinho. Guardiola had to deal with the constant Tottenham threat on the counter attack.  Introducing Fernandinho was aimed at stopping this. However, pushing Ilkay Gundogan to play with Phil Foden as the twin number tens didn’t have the same effect.

Tottenham counter attacks

Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min had given Manchester City plenty to worry about in the Champions League game on Wednesday night. Mauricio Pochettino may have switched formations, but kept the tandem together to terrorise the City centre backs once again.

With Man City playing extremely high and quickly closing down in an attempt to keep the ball in the Tottenham half, there were counter attack chances aplenty. Moura, Son and Eriksen all had opportunities that either saw them one-versus-one with goalkeeper Ederson or denied by a last-ditch tackle by a recovering defender.

The issue for Man City was three-fold. Firstly, they were prepared to leave their centre backs high against pace and in one-v-one situations. Secondly, the space between the centre backs was often too great. Thirdly, John Stones was often slightly deeper than Aymeric Laporte, which played the Tottenham attacker onside.

Stones and Laporte are caught out by Son's counter attack run during Man City 1-0 Tottenham.

Stones and Laporte are caught out by Son’s counter attack run.

The key for Spurs was distribution. Christian Eriksen’s passing radar was back in full working order. Toby Alderweireld was equally accurate. Installed in the middle of the back three, Alderweireld was obviously instructed to look for the early out ball. One such pass set away Lucas Moura who should’ve buried the opportunity. Another found the arm of Kyle Walker as Alderweireld sought to put Dele Alli in on goal. VAR couldn’t help this time and no penalty was awarded despite Kyle Walker’s blatant handball as he tried to recover.

Tactical tweaks

As Spurs grew in to the game, Pep Guardiola made changes. Fernandinho was introduced to try and quash the Tottenham counter attack. Due to the limited affect this had, Guardiola dropped Ilkay Gundogan deeper to play alongside Fernandinho.

Guardiola’s first change had taken his team away from attacking the channels down the outside of our back three. Therefore, he sent Leroy Sane on to address this.

Sane tore past Davinson Sanchez to get down the outside of our three centre backs once more. He then cut the ball back for Raheem Sterling inside the six-yard box. With the goal gaping and Paulo Gazzaniga stranded, the Tottenham keeper somehow stretched out a leg to deflect Sterling’s shot away.

Pep Guardiola used his changes to stop the Tottenham counter attack and then restore his attacking strategy of getting at our outside centre backs. Mauricio Pochettino had to use his substitutes for different reasons. Victor Wanyama and Danny Rose were brought on out of necessity for the recently returned Eric Dier and rapidly tiring Dele Alli.

Pochettino then sent on Fernando Llorente, but took off Toby Alderweireld. Removing one of the three centre backs wasn’t the strange part of the decision when chasing a goal. However, removing Alderweireld, who had been key to springing the counter attacks with his long passing from the back, was.

The introduction of Llorente indicated that Pochettino was maybe looking for a set piece situation. Llorente, who had scored from a corner against Man City midweek, was now on the field along with three centre backs – Vertonghen, Foyth, Sanchez – and Victor Wanyama. Plenty of height and aerial power to attack an undersized Manchester City team.

However, when Spurs had the opportunities from dead balls to put the ball in the box they either lacked the quality of delivery or it went short.  It was quite surprising to see Spurs play a short corner in this situation. It was equally curious to see it when we originally had all four centre backs on the field and Eric Dier. Set pieces was surely one of the reasons why Pochettino included so much height in his original side?

The game ended Man City 1-0 Tottenham with the home team nervously playing out time.

Man City 1-0 Tottenham overall

After Wednesday’s Champions League epic, this started off in the same vein, but subsequently both teams ran out of steam.

Man City was keen to attack the channels down the outside of our back three. Spurs were eager to use the twin-pronged counter attack of Son and Lucas Moura. Both tactics worked, but the home team’s more clinical finishing was the difference in the Man City 1-0 Tottenham score line.

Final score: Man City 1-0 Tottenham.
MOTM: Ederson.



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8 Responses to Man City 1-0 Tottenham: getting down the sides of the centre backs

  1. Erik Zen 21st April 2019 at 11:16 am #

    Mark, amazing to have you back. Just read through your last few posts, fantastic write-up of last Weds too. Amazed you could see so much under the surface of that insane game when all I could see were random series of symbols and flashing colours followed by abrupt unconsciousness.

    Anyway after that exhilarating height like many Spurs fans I was expecting us to get eviscerated 10-0 by an avenging City. Consequently this really quite solid performance was amazing to see. The players and staff will be able to feel proud of themselves and keep on the confident high for our run-in.

    I like the way Poch has been mitigating our full back frailties by using double full backs recently (would be interesting to play Liverpool with that set up). And once again the quick interchanging forwards without a central focal point really plays havoc. Looking forward to the next one!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st April 2019 at 11:42 am #

      Was always going to be a tough match after Wednesday, but I was really impressed with the way we played given the turnaround time and the players available. The use of Rose as a left-sided midfielder is an interesting development by Poch. He used to play further forward before becoming a full back, so maybe that is what Poch is trying to tap in to. It has also been where Poch needs someone eg on the edge of the diamond who can get out from the middle to the flank to close down quickly, so maybe he sees Rose as this player as well. Interesting that Rose is on corners too from the right side where a left footed in-swinger is more preferable.

      Hoping that Saturday has not taken even more out of us for an absolute key game with Brighton. They are going to be incredibly tough to break down – as Wolves found out – as i’m expecting them to tuck their full backs in and use their wide midfielders to make almost a back six like they did at the Amex. Llorente could be a key battering ram in that case and resting him for most of the City contest was a smart move.

      • YouShubes 21st April 2019 at 2:02 pm #

        We had a good performance and merited a draw…which will happen as it did seem odd we were doing a pulis almost with 4 cbs? Once KDB went off they lacked imagination in their midfield.

        I think there was slight travel hangover as we looked less fresh…I am still puzzled why I think Davies allowed Silva to cut onto his left as easily for the first goal…TBF Silva is superb at doing that…

        Dave was caught out in no man’s land I felt, but I did not realise Jan caused the line to wobble… I was surprised Foyth did so well against a maybe jaded Sterling… What do you think about him playing as DM, while dier is off form, Wanyama still on the return and Winks still injured…

        Do you think Eriksen was too honest as it looked like Laporte grabbed his arm, not allowing him to strike the ball as clean as he would like?

        Son could done a wee bit better with his first touch from that delightful pass from Eriksen, who seems to have his contact lenses back in :D….TBF only a couple times Sonny did not touch the ball as he would have liked… he will be tough miss when we play the first leg vs Ajax

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st April 2019 at 7:30 pm #

          At this stage of his career Foyth needs to be playing centre back. He needs to learn the position properly rather than fill in as a central midfielder. Dier looked off the pace, but needs some playing time to get back to fitness and although he was below his usual level, it was a good 60 minutes for him. A bonus was Wanyama looked better in this match than on Wednesday. Whether it was fitness or just that he came on as the game was slowing its tough to tell, but encouraging signs nonetheless.

          Eriksen was a bit too honest and it’s one of those fouls that puts the shooter off enough to make the shot more difficult and often results in a goal not being scored. However, it’s also one that refs often let go and if Eriksen flops to highlight the infringement then the ref will often wave play on. It’s a difficult one and why the defender will always try it. Hopefully VAR will do something about it if the replay shows the tug to the arm and the player going down or impeded. It’s often the angle from the other side that the ref cannot see that will give the cause for a penalty to be awarded, as the ref is behind the play and either doesn’t see it happen or it doesn’t look as bad from his angle.

  2. brian 23rd April 2019 at 3:02 am #

    Hi Mark

    As per normal mark,a very good summing up.
    As with comments on the site, i also thought we deserved a draw out of the game.
    Especially with so many of our regulars missing.All in all a very good performance.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th April 2019 at 12:29 pm #

      Completely agree with you, Brian. Just a shame we couldn’t take a point with Arsenal and Man Utd losing and Chelsea drawing!

  3. TonyM 23rd April 2019 at 1:13 pm #

    Hi Mark

    I have been doing some amateur investigating on why Pep is so successful-most of the times-particularly at getting his teams to score.

    My limited analytical eye has noticed that he frequently gets his finisher to run into defenders blind spot for tap-in goals. Examples: Sterling’s tap-in from KDB cross and in 2018, Mahrez scored from sprinting into Ben Davies blind spot.

    In short Pep creates an overload of attackers at one side-this gets all eyes ball watching then they switch to the other side were a finisher runs into a defender’s blind spot to simply tap into the net (even Sterling’s diehard detractors are starting to call him Mr Tap-in in an uncomplementary sort of way).

    Maybe Spurs could pick up a trick or 2 from these routines ?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th April 2019 at 12:39 pm #

      Hi Tony, great observations and research. Pep’s misdirection play is a key to his team’s attacking strategy as you rightly point out. This is where the width of his wide forwards is key. Sterling and Bernardo will make late runs to sneak in at the back post for a tap in. Spurs could learn something from this. However, it would involve a change of formation and we’d need speed in wide positions – why Pep has Mendy, Walker, Sane, Sterling in his wide positions. I’m not sure we have the personnel right now – faster full backs are needed for sure. And we’d also need some proper goal scoring wide forwards. Currently only Son really fits the bill.