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.
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.
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.
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.
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.