It was the Sergio Aguero show as a more promising display against the Citizens still saw us come out on the end of a lop-sided score line, Man City 4 Spurs 1.
Whether you’re a glass half full or a half empty person will really effect how you viewed this display.
On the one hand we gave Man City plenty to think about going forward; on the other our defence was inept and at times awful. The referee didn’t aid it, but whilst we were open and expansive going forward, we were leaving massive open expanses at the back.
The game was at times end-to-end, but revolved around four main themes – pace, penalties, pressing and positioning.
This was a major theme throughout on two levels.
Firstly the pace the game was played at was consistently high.
This was a fast tempo game, even for the Premier League, as the ball often went end-to-end as both teams looked to transition quickly once they had won it back. It was supplemented by pressing, City were looking to win the ball high up, we had sporadic bouts which seemed to come from two triggers, which I’ll come on to in a minute.
The second aspect was the pace of Sergio Aguero.
In a Tweet before the game, I expressed my concern about the quickness of the Argentinean up against Fazio and Kaboul. This proved to be the case as he lead them both a merry dance throughout.
It manifested itself early and he was a constant presence. City took the lead through his sheer quickness of mind and movement.
Erik Lamela lost the ball just outside our box far too easily, as City’s high press forced a miscontrol and took it away. They now had players between the lines, another theme we’ll come on to, as Milner, Silva and Lampard were all free.
At this point Aguero was between Kaboul and Dier, but a quick move away saw him now free behind Dier with the line of our back four now woefully all over the place.
Sergio Aguero loves to pull in to this area of the pitch. As he took the pass back from Lampard, this pulled Kaboul out of the centre, isolating him. The Argentinean’s speed to jink and fire in to the net in almost one movement left Kaboul standing.
Aguero’s short, quick movements, as well as his ability to run in-behind, gave us trouble all game.
Later he ran off the back of Kaboul, as we were caught playing far too high a line and one ball over the top set him away. His move to cut back and then go past Kaboul demonstrated his speed, nimbleness and ability to swivel on a sixpence, as our centre backs were just far to slow against him.
Fortunately, Hugo Lloris was there to bail Kaboul out, something the Frenchman did for us all game. His save on another Aguero pile driving shot after half time showcased his cat like speed and reactions after the Argentinean had left Fazio trailing.
Aguero would put the game to bed from the penalty spot, but he signed off with another finish from a run in-behind after a ball over the top. This time it was from a free-kick, which was taken five yards ahead of where it should’ve been. However, it once more highlighted why you cannot play a high line against him without speed of your own.
The most obvious factor in the swing of this match was from the spot. Four penalties in a game equal the record for a Premier League match, with several contentious ones awarded.
The first was the softest of the lot. Frank Lampard flopped in the area as Lamela eased him off the ball. Lamela had an afternoon to forget, still looking leggy from his trip to the Far East with Argentina.
The problem was in the build up though, as City got easily between our lines. Mason and Capoue, who were excellent at closing this space off against Arsenal, left it far too open here.
You can’t leave David Silva this open in this space. What’s more, the late third man run of Lampard wasn’t picked up as he went by Capoue before flopping in the area.
The second penalty was as clean cut as you’ll see. Again City got between our lines as Mason and Capoue were caught forward and once more it was David Silva who was free.
Younes Kaboul made a rash decision to go to ground, bringing down the Spaniard, no complaints. Hugo Lloris made a great save to deny Aguero on his second spot kick.
After conceding two penalties, the biggest moment and the one that the momentum in the game hinged on, was suddenly awarded to us after Soldado was brought down.
The contact looked just outside the area, but Demichelis knew exactly what he was doing as he clipped the Spaniard from behind.
What wasn’t in question was our good trapping in the build-up. With the ball sliced up in the air by the sideline, we had Soldado, Eriksen and Townsend pressing in the area to force a mistake. Soldado was first to the loose ball and drove straight towards goal before he was tripped.
The one thing the Spaniard has been since he arrived is an excellent executor from twelve yards. He was also having a good day here, with his one-touch layoffs, passing and link up play highlighting there is more to his game than many give him credit for. However, the moment just seemed too big for him and his kick, nor his run up, had the conviction we’ve seen in previous attempts.
Had he scored, the game could’ve gone anywhere, but as it stood, it gave City the confidence to go on.
Not long after, the fourth penalty arrived along with Fazio’s dismissal. Unlike many commentators, i had no problem with decision. Had the offence been up the other end on one of our players, I would’ve been screaming for a penalty and a red card.
It was a dumb decision from Fazio on two counts.
Firstly, Kaboul had a real chance to cut the cross out. Secondly, Aguero may not have made it to the pass as it was significantly far enough ahead of him. You could argue this is doubtful enough to not warrant a dismissal, but the intent from Fazio gave the referee a decision to make. In front of home fans baying for a red card and having already given three spot kicks, it was just asking for trouble.
Both teams were pressing, but in different ways.
Man City were looking to win the ball back high up the field, often in our half, and straightaway.
We were sporadically applying pressure and looking to go on triggers.
One of these, as on winning our penalty above, was an opposition player caught with the ball on the sideline.
The other was when a Man City player was in their half and caught with the ball and his back to goal.
We got back in the game to make it 1-1 with a passage of play that very much reminded us of our goal at Arsenal. A quick strip of a defensive midfielder caught in possession that was then moved forward fast and laid off for a runner through the inside right channel to finish across the keeper.
In that game Mathieu Flamini was caught on the ball, here it was Fernando. Ryan Mason pounced him upon as he was on the half turn and the ball went loose to Roberto Soldado. Just as Lamela had done to find Chadli at the Emirates, the Spaniard found Christian Eriksen bolting forward and the game was tied 1-1.
Pressing from both sides contributed to the high pace of this game, but also meant that player positioning was often out of sync.
The positioning of both teams opened up this encounter. Surprisingly it was Manchester City’s that was first called into question.
We’d looked in the Tottenham tactics for Man City vs Spurs at how they often use the edge of the penalty area as a means to set up their back four to play offside. This manifested itself in the seventh minute, as Ryan Mason almost opened the scoring.
We looked in the Tottenham tactics about how City will retreat to the edge of the box line and stop. This then opens the inside channels between the centre back for opponents to get a runner through.
Man City did that here, as Kompany and Demichelis set up along the 18-yard line, allowing Soldado to hit a cutting Ryan Mason right down the middle.
On our side of the ball, our positioning problem was allowing space between our lines.
Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason were playing far too high up. This allowed City acres of space, just as we looked at above on both of their first half penalties. However, they also had this space on many other attacks during the match.
This allowed the extremely dangerous David Silva to go to work in a space he loves.
Here we can see Navas, Aguero and Milner in acres working a 3v2 situation as Capoue and Mason were left trailing.
Unlike against Arsenal where we closed this space off and gave the Gunners nothing, here we were more attack minded, but defensively wide open.
Man City 4 Spurs 1 overall
The balance of the side wasn’t right to go to a place like the Etihad. If you are going to attack them, you need players who are quick, especially in recovery, in your own half of the field.
The likes of Fazio and Capoue are not fast enough over the ground to play this open against a team like Man City. Even a quicker player in Kaboul was torn apart by Aguero’s pace. Ryan Mason had a very good game going forward, but he is an attack minded player and not as intuitive in recovering his position in the defensive phase.
Teams that have been to the Etihad and done well this season – Chelsea and Stoke – played a reactive counter attacking game. City are a powerful side and like to play at speed and you just can’t give them the space to do this at home.
Whilst the balance was off, it was admirable of Mauricio Pochettino to go there with a game plan to attack. We did have 19 shots in the match compared to Man City’s 20.
However, Man City had 17 of their 20 shots inside the penalty area with only 4 of their 20 efforts blocked. Compare that to us having 19 shots, of which only 7 were in the penalty area and 8 of our 19 were blocked. This tells you some more of the story of why the score finished Man City 4 Spurs 1.
Credit to our boys for having a go and there were some positive signs. Had our penalty gone in to make it 2-2, then who knows where the game could’ve gone. As it was, this match ended up playing out perfectly to the strengths of City and Aguero.
Final score: Man City 4 Spurs 1.