The diamond formation proved both a gift and a curse until Fernando Llorente made the score Man City 4-3 Tottenham to put us through on away goals.
The best knockout match in Champions League history took drama to a new level with the help of VAR as it ended Man City 4-3 Tottenham.
Tottenham played in to Manchester City’s hands by using a narrow diamond. However, the formation equally threatened City’s centre backs through the use of two rapid forwards. Injury to Moussa Sissoko forced Mauricio Pochettino in to a reshuffle, which solved the diamond’s issues, but created new ones. However, it was Fernando Llorente who put Spurs through from a familiar corner routine.
Narrow diamond torn apart
Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to go with the diamond formation seemed a curious one. Tottenham’s flat midfield four had shut down Man City’s dangerous wide forwards in the first leg and seemed to be the way to go again.
However, Pochettino may have been influenced by Man City dropping Fernandinho for Ilkay Gundogan. Pep Guardiola went ultra aggressive with twin number tens Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to complete his central midfield trio. Three excellent ball players. Pochettino probably didn’t want to be overrun and so countered with four central with Christian Eriksen constantly picking up Gundogan to stop Man City playing through him.
Whilst the theory was sound to stop Man City dominating the centre, it allowed their wide forwards acres of space. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva had room to use their speed and quick dribbling to isolate our full backs. Three first half goals were the result as the narrow diamond was torn apart.
Man City exposing the wide spaces
Man City racked up three first half goals from quickly moving the ball out to their wide forwards in space. The narrow Tottenham diamond was exposed, as was the mobility and fitness of Victor Wanyama at the base of it.
Within four minutes Man City had the early goal they craved. Kevin de Bruyne’s run took him past Wanyama, which drew in Moussa Sissoko. Raheem Sterling was left free out wide with Kieran Trippier tracking David Silva’s inside run.
Isolating Trippier one-versus-one, Sterling cut inside and unleashed a curling shot across the goal and in to the far corner. Trippier was like a rabbit caught in the headlights, neither challenging Sterling nor forcing him on to his left and down the line. Man City was ahead. Spurs’ hard work from the first leg had been quickly undone.
Man City’s second saw a similar pattern. Wanyama’s positioning and mobility was once more exposed at the base of the diamond. The Tottenham full back was also drawn infield by a run from one of Man City’s twin number tens. Space was therefore afforded to the wide forward who scored.
The mobility of Victor Wanyama saw David Silva and then Sergio Aguero expose the space around him at the base of the diamond. Danny Rose tracked the run of twin number ten, Kevin de Bruyne. Bernardo Silva was therefore afforded acres of room out wide.
Rose tried his best to recover and get out to Bernardo. However, an unfortunate deflection took the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris.
Man City’s third of the night dismantled the diamond once more. Victor Wanyama conceded a free kick as Kyle Walker blew past him. From the resulting dead ball, Man City sprung Bernardo. His neat flick found an overlapping Kevin de Bruyne who had space against our narrow back four. On the other flank, Raheem Sterling had stayed wide against an equally narrow Kieran Trippier.
Kevin de Bruyne didn’t even need to lift his head to know that Raheem Sterling would be arriving at the back post. The pass from de Bruyne was exquisite and played to perfection. It was a classic Man City move with Sterling arriving to finish. Three goals all from the space that the narrow diamond was conceding to Man City’s wide forwards.
Tottenham’s twin attack
The defensive issues of the diamond had been targeted and destroyed by Man City. However, from an attacking standpoint, the diamond punched at the Man City weaknesses.
The Man City centre back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte often looked on different wavelengths. The pair was also left to fend by themselves by their aggressively attacking full backs. As Tottenham played two rapid dribbling players up top, Kompany and Laporte were given no end of first half trouble by their speed. As a result, Spurs grabbed two vital away goals.
The role of Dele Alli was also pivotal. Dele had been caught out by the speed of Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva on the Man City right. Dele just wasn’t quick enough to get out from his narrow position on the edge of the diamond in time to help his full back. However, his attacking sense to sniff out a goal scoring opportunity helped on both Tottenham first half strikes.
Son Heung-Min levelled the game up at 1-1, but Dele’s initial burst gave Man City problems. Vincent Kompany was drawn out of the back line by Dele’s movement. Space was therefore created behind him for Son Heung-Min.
Aymeric Laporte then deflected Dele’s through ball perfectly for Son in the space that had been created to drive home the equaliser. Spurs were on level terms at 1-1 so quickly after going behind.
Dele’s burst forward then gave Kyle Walker a problem as he was outnumbered with Son also arriving. Walker’s moment of hesitation gave Son the opportunity to cut inside and unleash a curling drive in to the top corner of the net. Tottenham ahead, flipping the match on its head.
Sissoko injury forces a reshuffle
The score was at Man City 3-2 Tottenham and the match had become out of control for both teams. Each side was attacking the other’s weakness that was being afforded to them by their own overly aggressive attacking strategy.
An injury to Moussa Sissoko pushed Mauricio Pochettino in to a reshuffle. With very little on the bench, Pochettino introduced Fernando Llorente and went to a 4-4-1-1 formation. The move solved a number of issues that the diamond had, particularly the width one. Pochettino put Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min on the flanks to help solve the problem of Man City’s wide forwards.
However, the shift in formation also created new problems. Son was moved away from the front where he had caused so much damage. What’s more, the slower and less mobile Fernando Llorente was introduced up top. As a result, the rapid and sprightly attacking verve of Son and Moura was instantly suppressed.
Kevin de Bruyne between the lines
The shift in formation created another big problem. Installing Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama as a central midfield partnership opened up space between the lines for Kevin de Bruyne. Dele was often trying to push up, which left Wanyama with more ground than his limited mobility could cover. Kevin de Bruyne benefitted and took over the match.
De Bruyne had already unleashed a venomous shot that was spectacularly turned away by Hugo Lloris before he delivered another devastating blow. Spurs were caught off balance as Christian Eriksen had been forward attacking. Dele therefore had his left wing position to cover and was caught with three Man City players in the space behind him.
Kevin de Bruyne received the ball, span and slid in Aguero to fire home at Hugo Lloris’ near post. Man City was ahead in the match and on aggregate.
Guardiola’s tactical error?
Following the Aguero goal, Pep Guardiola made a change to shut down the game, but it actually allowed Spurs to regain a foothold.
Man City’s twin number tens of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne had been enjoying the space afforded between the lines by Dele and Victor Wanyama. Wanting to shut down the game, Fernandinho was introduced for David Silva.
The move by Guardiola coincided with Mauricio Pochettino going back to the diamond. The change got Christian Eriksen reinstalled at the number ten position, which then forced Fernandinho backwards.
The change also got Son running in-behind once more as he had done in the first half. It was from such a move that Spurs won a corner.
Danny Rose took the resulting dead ball and aimed for an overload at the back post. Spurs had run Fernando Llorente, Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama in to this zone in order to overload Man City’s zonal marking. Ederson got fingertips to a well-angled delivery, forcing another corner.
The second corner saw Kieran Trippier deliver an even better ball as Spurs ran the overload towards the near post this time. A classic Pochettino corner routine. Kyle walker got the deftest of flicks on the delivery, which caused Vincent Kompany to momentarily freeze. Llorente ran off Benjamin Mendy to rise up and deflect the ball in to the net with his hip.
Llorente wheeled away in front of the jubilant away fans, making the score Man City 4-3 Tottenham to put us ahead on away goals. However, VAR threatened to kill the celebrations. A lengthy and nerve-wracking check revealed no infringement and Tottenham had the lead in the tie.
VAR saves Eriksen
In response to the goal, both managers made changes. Pochettino this time was the one to try and preserve the lead. Ben Davies came on to create a full back double-up on the left with Danny Rose. Davinson Sanchez was subsequently introduced to create a back five.
Pep Guardiola went ultra aggressive as Leroy Sane made a front four. Guardiola then sent up both his centre backs as Fernandinho and Kyle Walker finished as a makeshift defensive pairing.
The moves by both managers restricted the game to the Tottenham half. As soon as Spurs tried to clear the ball, it quickly came back.
Spurs willingness to play out from trouble almost cost the tie. Wanyama and Dele had been caught doing so before Christian Eriksen was to almost cataclysmic effect.
Eriksen trying to shield the ball and then subsequently attempting to be too clever saw Manchester City hoover up possession, sweep in and score. Raheem Sterling raced away celebrating the winning, knockout blow with the rest of his team mates. Spurs players sank to the floor knowing that the game was up. Eriksen had made the most ridiculous of errors with the chance to clear his lines.
However, love or loathe VAR it stepped in to do what it was created for. It quickly cleaned up the issue, but equally added even more drama to what was already one of the great Champions League evenings. Aguero was shown to have received the ball in an offside position, missed by the linesman. The emotions of each team flipped in an instant. Spurs off the canvas, Man City slunk down to it.
Man City, to their credit, continued to battle in the seconds that remained. However, it was Spurs that could’ve iced the tie. Son Heung-Min running in-behind once more took a touch when a first time shot could’ve seen him complete his hat trick.
A corner was won though, which wound up the final few seconds with the score at Man City 4-3 Tottenham and Spurs going through on away goals. As Mauricio Pochettino shouted “finish, finish” while indicating time had surely ran out, the referee blew his whistle.
An elated Spurs team celebrated in front of a jubilant away support, which moments earlier had thought that this season’s Champions League journey was over.
Man City 4-3 Tottenham overall
An incredible game for not only the drama, but also each manager’s willingness to attack the opponent.
Mauricio Pochettino’s diamond was a disaster defensively, but in attack it hit Man City’s weaknesses to cause maximum damage. Likewise, Pep Guardiola used his wide forwards to destroy the diamond formation, but left his defence exposed two versus two against the speedy and nimble Son and Lucas Moura.
Injury to Moussa Sissoko forced Mauricio Pochettino in to a reshuffle that slowed us down from open play, but created a real threat at set pieces. Ultimately, a dead ball situation won the day and Fernando Llorente became the hero on one of the greatest nights in Tottenham Hotspur history.
Final score: Man City 4-3 Tottenham (Agg: 4-4). Spurs win on away goals.
MOTM: Kevin de Bruyne.