Man City 2 Spurs 1
Andre Villas-Boas got his initial set up correct, but Robert Mancini’s move to a back three overloaded our defence and saw them edge us out, Man City 2 Spurs 1.
AVB made a couple of changes from the side that beat Maribor Thursday night. Brad Friedel came back between the sticks, Sandro returned to his usual midfield role and Jermain Defoe dropped to the bench as we went back to 4-3-3.
Spurs’ approach to the game was one of simple counter attacking football and looking to take advantage of set pieces.
We started quickly at Old Trafford and St. Mary’s with quick counters from deep, but here we were much more subdued.
This was due to two factors. Firstly, we were missing the dynamic drive of Moussa Dembele from midfield to surge forward with the ball. Tom Huddlestone prefers to drop deep and be a passer and there is nothing wrong with that, but it changes the dynamic of the team. Secondly, Man City pushed their fullbacks up to jam Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to stop them getting possession high up the park.
I outlined in the Tottenham tactics preview to the game how Man City had conceded the majority of chances through their left back zone. However, here Aaron Lennon wasn’t the factor he should have been to take advantage of Gael Clichy.
Up front, Andre Villas-Boas brought in Emmanuel Adebayor and the Togolese front man was doing a good job dropping in to both left and right channels. His play to dribble in behind and set up Huddlestone for a rasping drive that whistled past the post was a great example of this. Had we made it 2-0 in this phase it would have been a very different game.
Adebayor was able to hold up the ball and bring others in to play, whilst also drawing a number of fouls, which is where we hoped to create something from.
Man City have conceded goals from set pieces this season and in the first half, we were able to draw a number of free kicks in wide positions. This allowed us to put in crosses and Tom Huddlestone was delivering some good quality balls. It was no surprise that Steven Caulker, who has been a threat from set pieces all season, nodded in the opener.
After giving away a lot of free kicks in the first period, Man City cut out their silly fouls in the second half.
Man City approach
Roberto Mancini initially sent Man City out in their 4-2-3-1 formation with Gael Clichy and Aleksander Kolorov down the left, whilst David Silva cut inside from the right. Carlos Tevez was working the channels, whilst Sergio Aguero was looking to get in behind our high line and this was a feature for much of the match.
With the Spurs defence pushing up, City were looking for the ball over the top for much of the game.
In the first half, many of these went straight through to Brad Friedel or Man City were caught offside. In the second, they were getting increasingly frustrated at being flagged, typified by Tevez’s reaction to being caught twice in a matter of minutes.
Soon after though, Aguero sprung the trap, only to slip and fall over when controlling the ball as he was clean through on goal.
Roberto Mancini outmanoeuvres AVB
With our defence tiring, the warnings signs were increasingly there and Mancini made a bold move.
His use of a back three has been much criticised this season due to its lack of success and City have conceded when using it.
The Latics used their three centre backs to crowd us out of the middle of the pitch in their defensive zone. Here, it allowed Man City to get more players forward and David Silva in to the centre in the attacking zone.
Maicon came on and his deployment as a wingback gave us trouble, with Gareth Bale not offering as much cover to Jan Vertonghen as he should have been. Super Jan has had trouble dealing with quick wingers when playing left back – most notably Nani at Old Trafford. Maicon offered City an outlet 1v1 with a tired Vertonghen and he caused no end of problems.
Both goals came from quick transitions in play, which caught out a tiring Tottenham team, as Jan Vertonghen, whose legs had gone, was out of position for both.
The first was created when Pablo Zabeleta headed Tom Huddlestone’s chipped pass back over the Spurs midfield towards Carlos Tevez. Yaya Toure was pushed further forward by Mancini’s formation shift and Kyle Walker’s skewed clearance, combined with the Man City man’s touch, put in Aguero.
With Vertonghen caught up field and struggling to get back, the Argentinean had dropped off in to his vacant left back area. Despite Steven Caulker quickly coming over, Aguero checked back inside, as Caulker’s momentum meant he was unable to stop to put in a decent challenge. Aguero then tidily put the ball in to the corner of the goal, giving Friedel no chance.
Andre Villas-Boas thought the equaliser was key.
“We looked sharp in the first half and defensively we played well. We could have done a little more with the ball but we improved that in the second half and at the moment we were finding gaps and spaces, that’s when we conceded. That put us on the back foot.”
The second goal came from another quick transition, started by Maicon and finished by Edin Dzeko, after a superb flicked pass by David Silva.
The influential Brazilian substitute took down Brad Friedel’s clearance on his chest before lobbing a pass over the retreating Spurs midfield to Dzeko. The striker had moved out to the left flank to fill the space vacated by Jan Vertonghen, who was up on the halfway line.
This meant that Steven Caulker once again had to come out of the centre to deal with him. Although Vertonghen was able to get back, Dzeko cut inside and found the influential David Silva. He then continued his run, which Caulker failed to track, passing him off to Dawson and Silva’s perfectly weighted lobbed pass picked him out beautifully.
Man City had been trying all afternoon to get in with a ball over our high defensive line, with two minutes to go, Silva did it with a deft chip from close range.
Man City 2 Spurs 1 conclusions
Despite conceding in the final minutes for the third time this season, this was a decent performance by Spurs. The Etihad is a tough place to go and had we hung on for a 1-1 draw, then this would have been seen as another solid away day.
Andre Villas-Boas set us up to play in the correct way, but we struggled to operate on the counter with Man City jamming Bale and Lennon. We also missed the driving runs of Moussa Dembele to provide a thrust from midfield. Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey, despite doing a good job by stopping Yaya Toure from being a factor till the City formation change, lacked this drive.
Emmanuel Adebayor played well up front, despite still looking a bit rusty, which is understandable given the game time he has missed. There were plenty of promising signs that the Togolese striker will improve our build-up and link play, as well as get goals.
After Mancini’s formation switch, City were able to get Yaya Toure forward, whilst bring David Silva central. The move took advantage of our tiring backline, whilst Jan Vertonghen was caught out of position with Gareth Bale offering little help.
Andre Villas-Boas’ use of the substitutes bench could have been better in this game. Kyle Naughton came on for Aaron Lennon, but replacing Vertonghen may have been a wiser move, as we had four centre backs on the field at that point.
Super Jan has been superb this season, but has played a lot for us in all competitions and he needs some rest, as well as moving back in to the centre. Arsene Wenger will probably deploy Theo Walcott against him next week if he continues at left back.