A resilient performance sees us reshuffle the pack then attack down the right to finish Man City 2-2 Spurs at the Etihad.
Resilience is a key trait of our team under Mauricio Pochettino. In seasons past we would’ve folded. This Tottenham team has a bend but don’t break mentality. The pack had to be reshuffled several times. However, fighting back from two goals down to finish Man City 2-2 Spurs showed the mental toughness that Pochettino often refers to us building.
The game revolved around Pep Guardiola’s aggressive selection and our ability to respond to it. The Man City coach went with an extremely attacking 4-3-3 that saw Yaya Toure as a holding midfielder. Ahead of him it was all about speed and guile. Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva provided the crafty through balls. The fleet of foot Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero the pace. They used this not only with ball, but also to cause us tremendous problems without it.
Man City pressing
Guardiola paid us an enormous compliment after the game. He said that Tottenham were the best team in the Premier League if allowed to play freely. Guardiola obviously didn’t want to let that happen so swarmed us every time we got the ball. He used his front three to match up on our three centre backs and closed them quickly.
Guardiola not only wanted us to stop playing the ball out from the back, but also sent in a wave behind. Yaya Toure backed up Silva and De Bruyne, as the trio compressed any space in the middle of the park.
The objective was to restrict us from playing through to Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Our two number tens have overrun teams between the lines recently, seeing us beat Chelsea and West Brom. Man City wanted to stop this by overloading Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama. They fought manfully to be fair. Dembele went on several mazy runs, evading three or four challenges, but the press was ferocious. So much so, that Eric Dier was moved in to help after 20 minutes as we shifted to a back four.
Most interestingly was their harassment of Hugo Lloris. Pep is no stranger to a keeper’s ability to kick having shunned Joe Hart for this reason. Man City sought to restrict and close down Lloris at every opportunity to force him in to kicking errors. This saw him shank and miss hit a few, giving the ball away in our half or for throws.
Kevin Wimmer exposed
Wimmer has struggled in a back three. At Arsenal in our 1-1 draw, his positioning was errant, movement slow and tackling often reckless. He picked up an early yellow card at the Emirates and did the same here, then almost picked up a second.
Man City were clearly after him as they tried to steal Pablo Zabaleta in to the spaces off and around him. Danny Rose was occupied by the wide forward on the right, allowing Zabaleta to pop up in surprising positions around Wimmer. It saw Zabaleta gain several chances to score, but his finishing was off.
Balls over the top
Man City have two methods of chance creation. The first is from through balls in to the penalty area that leads to shots or a position to cut the ball back or play a short cross. The second is from the early ball over the top of a high line.
We were conceding chances from both, but the ball over the top was causing us real issues. The problem was not only Man City’s speed, but also their use of players in offside positions to stretch the playing area. Aguero, Sane and Sterling would station themselves in inactive offside positions. They would then suddenly turn and steal in once the ball had gone through down another channel.
It was very prevalent in the first half, particularly from Sergio Aguero. It would also be a factor on their opener.
Man City takes the lead
This tactic of having players loitering in offside positions to stretch our back line worked for Man City on their opener. It ended up being a gift from Hugo Lloris, as he fluffed a headed clearance. However, Sterling and Aguero stretched the left side of our back line deeper through their positioning. This allowed Sane to run past Kyle Walker, with Danny Rose playing him onside across the field.
As soon as the pass went from Kevin de Bruyne, City not only had Sane running, but also Aguero and Sterling. The latter pair had now gained an advantage on our back line through a better starting position and would now be onside.
Hugo raced from his line and it looked as if he could’ve punched the ball at the edge of his box. He took no chances though and went for the header. It barely grazed his head, glancing the ball on to Sane’s arm and dropping perfectly for the forward to tap in, Man City 1-0 Spurs.
They continued with this tactic of loitering players in offside positions, creating other chances. The biggest of these was for Raheem Sterling. Kyle Walker pushed him in the back as he raced through, putting him off enough to shank the shot. Referee Andre Marriner gave nothing and Walker breathed a sigh of relief as Guardiola went ballistic on the sidelines.
No straight camera angle on the TV replays made it tough to tell whether Sterling was off or onside? What wasn’t in doubt was that Aguero and Sane were in offside positions to try and stretch our backline as Aleksander Kolorov stepped forward with the ball.
Hugo slips up
Hugo Lloris has saved us countless times, but he had a shocker here. Man City’s press was targeting his kicking, which was often wayward. His poor attempted clearance had gifted them the first goal. He then went on to fumble the ball at the feet of Kevin de Bruyne to make it Man City 2-0 Spurs. We’d dug ourselves in to a huge hole, most of it of our own making.
Spurs right-sided raids
At 2-0 Man City began to tire. Their relentless press had clearly taken its toll and having the advantage on the scoreboard they dropped off. This saw them start to concede more space, especially between the lines with Yaya Toure as their defensive midfielder. Combine this with Aleksander Kolorov at left centre back and they were in trouble. It saw us open up the spaces and score twice from the right.
Our twin number tens of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli have burst in to form since going three at the back. The new formation allows them to overload opposition defences between the lines and the pair now had more space to operate.
We got back in to the game through just this. Man City dropped off, affording both Alli and Eriksen to get in between the lines. Toure, Silva and de Bruyne were caught, meaning the Man City centre backs were pulled out.
Nicolas Otamendi was dragged towards Dele Alli and was now out of position. Aleksander Kolorov was caught watching the pass drift out to Kyle Walker, unaware of Alli and Eriksen racing in to the space behind him.
Kyle Walker was in acres on the right with everyone inside being drawn towards the ball. He once more delivered a pinpoint cross for Dele Alli to swoop in for another decisive header at the back post, 2-1.
With the tide turning, we had to make another switch. Toby Alderweireld, supplier of the initial pass to Dele Alli for our first goal, had to come off. Harry Winks replaced him and he started to dictate the midfield with Man City now conceding space.
Sterling was denied a penalty and then seconds later we were level. Once again, Man City failed to pick up Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen between the lines. They also, surprisingly left Harry Kane unattended between their centre backs.
The ball went to Eriksen who had been floating in space towards the right. This drew Aleksander Kolorov out from his centre back position and Gael Clichy across. Kane was free to now flick the ball around the corner for the arriving Son Heung-Min to sweep home. Suddenly, from a position of nowhere, it was Man City 2-2 Spurs.
We looked to have the upper hand, but Man City almost took the three points at the death. Gabriel Jesus slid home Kevin de Bruyne’s short cross to the back post, but was offside. By the skin of our teeth a point had been preserved.
Man City 2-2 Spurs overall
A resilient and fighting performance to somehow take a draw from what should’ve been a Man City win. Once more we struggled against a team that pressed us high and quickly. Liverpool are the other team that has given us problems with the speed of their press, but even Bournemouth have adopted this practice to unsettle us. It’s a problem we still need answers for.
Given how much Mauricio Pochettino had to reshuffle, the result was even more impressive. He was quick to address the fact that our back three wasn’t working and to move Eric Dier in to midfield. He was also quick to hook Kevin Wimmer at half time. Pochettino then had to deal with the loss of Toby Alderweireld and we finished with a makeshift centre back pairing of Dier and Wanyama.
A good result given the context. For all of Man City’s troubles, they have been strong at home. Only Chelsea has won in the Premier League at the Etihad this season. That was with good fortune as Man City should’ve been 2-0 ahead had Kevin de Bruyne not missed an open goal.
It was a performance that highlighted this group’s resolve under Mauricio Pochettino. Had Hugo not had an off day, then who knows what might have been?
Final score: Man City 2-2 Spurs.
Spurs MOTM: Victor Wanyama.