Owning the ball and dictating the tempo saw a one-sided score of Man City 3-0 Spurs in our International Champions Cup match.
Central to both Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino’s footballing philosophies is ownership and control of the ball. The Manchester City boss was so determined to dictate the play that his team suffocated Spurs and recycled possession with ruthless efficiency. The game ended Man City 3-0 Spurs as Guardiola laid down a marker for the new season.
Both managers lined up their teams in interesting shapes. Pep Guardiola stepped away from his famed 4-3-3 and went 3-5-2. Mauricio Pochettino opted for a 4-3-3 formation as he sought to combine Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Harry Winks in a midfield trio.
Dembele and Winks played ahead of Dier as almost twin number eights. The objective for their distribution appeared to be to attack the Manchester City left side.
To achieve this aim, the ball was often moved out to Kieran Trippier for him to attempt crosses towards Harry Kane and Dele Alli in the box. Equally, Christian Eriksen was buzzing around the inside right channel looking to play through balls. Eriksen’s pass to release Harry Kane for a glorious 1v1 against the Man City keeper on the stroke of half time summed up his play perfectly.
Man City pressing
It’s a given that Pep Guardiola teams will press the life out of the opposition. Man City was no different here. The Citizens used their 3-5-2 shape extremely effectively to maximise their abundance of speed and guile.
Speedy twin strikers could press our centre backs, supported by rapid wingbacks pushing up from wide. This quartet of players gave our defence little time on the ball.
If Man City didn’t recover possession in their initial closing down, they would force a backwards pass. This created the opportunity for someone else to move in and press. Frequent turnovers were caused as we tried to continually play out from the back, often needlessly inviting more pressure.
Rushed and poor passes became the order of the first half, along with regular kicking errors from Hugo Lloris. Our goalkeeper does many things well, but accurate distribution when under pressure continues to be a weakness.
Man City takes the lead
Inside the vortex of relentless pressing, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne were the guile that fashioned the chances. The duo were able to play balls through the inside channels or release wingbacks Kyle Walker and Danilo down the outsides.
Pressing, along with the use of Kyle Walker’s leaping ability and the quick-feet of David Silva fashioned Man City’s opener. Regaining possession from our throw in, play ended up with Nicolas Otamendi. He wasted no time to swing a long ball out for Kyle Walker. Using his spring against the less athletic Ben Davies, Walker could nod the ball down for David Silva to burst on to.
Silva’s slightness meant that as Mousa Dembele recovered, the sheer force of the Belgian sent the Spaniard toppling over to win a free kick. The move was very Spurs. You could almost see Toby Alderweireld playing the initial raking pass for Kyle Walker’s leap and Christian Eriksen bursting on to it last season. Pep has been watching.
Kevin de Bruyne sent in the resulting free kick. An unfortunate flick off the head of Christian Eriksen saw the ball drop invitingly for John Stones to head in to the corner of the net. Similarly to PSG, Tottenham were behind early once again.
Spurs long ball
Spurs persistence with trying to play out through the Man City press was becoming increasingly futile. When we did play the long ball to simply go over multiple layers of it, we troubled and turned the Citizens’ defenders.
Both Dele Alli and Harry Kane are more than capable in the air. The pairing did win a healthy share of any long kicks out. However, it was a ball across the turf that presented our best chance of the half. Jan Vertonghen pinging a first-time pass straight up to the feet of Harry Kane, dissecting two layers of Man City pressure.
Kane laid the ball off to Christian Eriksen. The Dane immediately dinked it through the opening for Kane to run on to. However, one-on-one against the Man City Keeper, Kane lifted his shot too high. It whistled just over the crossbar, a huge moment in the balance of the game.
The match followed this similar pattern until each manger made changes.
At half time, Michel Vorm was introduced for Hugo Lloris. This could have been to give Vorm 45 minutes of action. However, being the only change, hinted that Pochettino wanted a better player with the ball at his feet under pressure.
On the hour Pep Guardiola also started to make his changes. Samir Nasri became the pivotal and most influential of them, as he began to pull the strings.
Samir Nasri pulls the strings
Shipped out on loan by Pep last season, and with his Arsenal heritage, Samir Nasri played with a point to prove. The Frenchman replaced Kevin de Bruyne and his through passing unlocked a tiring Tottenham defence.
Nasri was constantly looking for the runs of Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling in-behind our high back line. He started a move that saw Aguero ping a shot off the base of the post. Nasri then released Kyle Walker to fizz a dangerous cross right through our six-yard box.
Nasri’s introduction also coincided with Mauricio Pochettino’s shift in shape. The boss had gone to a back three himself, but with the introduction of Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, moved Ben Davies to left centre back. Nasri seemed to pick on this pair to increase Man City’s lead.
Raheem Sterling doubled City’s advantage by running beyond the slow to recognise Nkoudou. Ben Davies was then no match to stay with Sterling, as he ran on to Nasri’s through ball to scuff home, wrong footing Michel Vorm in the process.
Nasri then ensured the game was wrapped up at Man City 3-0 Spurs as he set himself up against Nkoudou and Davies once more. Drawing the pair in, Nasri laid the ball perfectly for Demeaco Duhaney to run on to. Duhaney squared and after a series of shots, Brahim Diaz had the easiest of finishes.
Kane and Janssen
The introduction of Vincent Janssen indicated that Mauricio Pochettino was trying to solve the problems Man City had posed through their pressing and possession. Usually a replacement for Harry Kane, the pair played together in a 3-5-2 with some initial signs of success.
With Kane and Janssen up top, Spurs started to gain traction from long balls up to them. These overcame the Man City press and used their considerable size and aerial strength.
Vincent Janssen saw two good chances come his way. The first was from a long Eric Dier pass. Janssen just stumbled, prompting a moment of indecisiveness as Ederson Moraes slid out. As a result, Janssen neither took the ball round the keeper nor dinked it over him, wasting the opportunity.
Ben Davies would play the next pass that Janssen took well out of the air. Flicking the ball over the keeper as he spun towards goal, Janssen was in. However, a recovering dive by the goalie saw him fist the ball away for a corner.
The pairing of Kane and Janssen definitely had an effect against Guardiola’s set up. They couldn’t impact the scoreboard though. The match ended Man City 3-0 Spurs to conclude our USA International Champions Cup Tour.
Man City 3-0 Spurs overall
Much of this game was controlled by Man City’s ultra fast pressing and recycling of possession. At times Spurs struggled to get out by continually trying to play through the waves of pressure rather than take the easy option of going long. This was admirable, but ultimately futile.
Switching to a 3-5-2 and moving the ball much quicker over distance to Kane and Janssen definitely unsettled Man City’s back line. It’s difficult to assess its true impact, as at this point a number of substitutions had been made. However, having experienced a tidal wave of pressing at the Etihad and struggling against similar teams such as Liverpool last season, it did show that Mauricio Pochettino is still searching for answers.
Final score: Man City 3-0 Spurs.