Spurs 0-1 Man City: vertical ball movement lacks cutting edge

Swiftly getting the ball forward, but lacking the ability to finish, sees our Premier League clash end Spurs 0-1 Man City at White Hart Lane.

In the glorious sunshine at White Hart Lane Tottenham were bright and springing forward on the attack. What was missing was that sparkle in front of goal. Moving the ball swiftly forward in to our attacking players was creating chances, but the cutting edge to finish them off was sadly lacking.

Direct forward play

One thing we’ve lacked over recent weeks has been tempo. Mauricio Pochettino is renowned for pushing the pace of games by having his sides press and move the ball forward quickly. This incisive movement of the play in to attacking positions before a defence can get set was a key feature, especially with Man City’s destructive midfield.

Without Yaya Toure, Manuel Pellegrini went with a combination of Fernando and Fernandinho. The pair when fielded together can have a stifling effect on the opposition, as both are excellent at winning the ball back. With them in tandem, Mauricio Pochettino sought to try and miss them out by moving the ball past, over or between them to hit an attacking player on the run.

This strategy naturally removed Christian Eriksen as much of a threat from the game, but did allow Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Harry Kane to become more effective. Eriksen was struggling for space with Fernando and Fernandinho clouding the area in front of the back four. Kane up front with Lamela and Chadli in the wide positions, however, had space to move in to and run with the ball.

It started in the opening minute, as a swift pass forward saw Nacer Chadli break out on the run behind Pablo Zabaleta. We’d looked a their vulnerability here in the keys to Spurs vs Man City and but for a better ball across by Chadli, Lamela would’ve had a tap in.

After Chadli’s quick forward run with the ball, a swift pass up the field moments later from Erik Lamela released Harry Kane. The Argentinean cut inside and bisected City’s twin defensive pivot, but Kane could only rasp a shot wide of the post.


Lamela splits the def mid pivot to release Kane.

And it continued. Our vertical ball movement through either running directly forward with the ball or passing it in to these front three over distance was unsettling Man City. Jan Vertonghen released Harry Kane who was looking to run off the shoulder once more here.


Vertonghen looks long for Kane’s run.

On the other side, Eric Dier once again had an influential match with his crosses from a deeper position causing confusion. In the second half, his pass up the line for Kane to run on to and shrug off Martin Demichelis, only to be foiled by Joe Hart, was reminiscent of his ball for Nacer Chadli to find the net against Southampton last weekend.

Our ability to move the ball quickly forward was giving Man City problems and there would be plenty of other chances from it. We just were not being ruthless or clinical enough in front of goal.

This was best summed up by Kane not squaring Dier’s up field pass to Nacer Chadli after having fended off Martin Demichelis. Instead, he choose to try and flummox Joe Hart and get a shot away.

Ryan Mason also had a glorious opportunity when put clean through on goal, as Harry Kane’s vertical pass found his third man run. With the goal at his mercy, he snatched at it and was again foiled by the Manchester City keeper.

Man City through the inside channels

For all of our vertical movement to get the ball quickly forward, it was Man City that were more clinical and showed how it should be done. As we looked at in the keys to Spurs vs Man City, the Citizens create chances in two ways.

The first is getting the ball quickly forward for Sergio Aguero who likes it to be played early in-behind for him to run on to it. The second is by passing the ball through the inside channels for a man to run on to it, where he can either shoot or pull it back across goal.

Man City created a few chances in these ways before taking the lead.

Pablo Zabaleta was sprung through the inside right channel and his dangerous pull back was clawed away by Hugo Lloris for a corner. Then Zabaleta turned creator as his long searching ball forward saw Hugo Lloris come out of his goal and slip, allowing Sergio Aguero to race beyond the stricken keeper. Federico Fazio was trailing and a clash of legs saw Aguero tripped up, but no penalty was awarded and fortunately no red card either.


Zabaleta looks long for Aguero’s run.

Man City were creating through these two ways, but with Aleksander Kolorov in the line-up they have a third method, wickedly drilled in precision crosses. Kolorov put in a couple of these, including one that saw Aguero whistle a sweetly timed volley past the post.

For all of these half chances, it was through moving the ball quickly up the pitch themselves that Man City scored the only goal of the game. Ironically it came from our corner as we’d created umpteen good chances from these. Slack marking had afforded opportunities to Dier, Fazio and Bentaleb. It was from the Algerian’s miss-timed header bouncing up off Aleksander Kolorov that Joe Hart gathered and started the counter.

Hart dispatched the ball quickly to David Silva who was already out on the run. The Spaniard had been giving us trouble by drifting infield, but here he jetted on to the ball and briskly dribbled it in to our half.

Alongside him, Sergio Aguero raced up field, leaving Fazio and Vertonghen stricken in the Man City box from the corner. Ryan Mason tried to get in as an emergency centre back, but as he and Danny Rose formed an unlikely back two, Aguero cut in-between them. Silva found him with a neat pass through the inside right channel.


Silva passes in to Aguero for the finish.

Aguero made no mistake as he rifled the ball first-time in to the roof of the net. City had combined his love of running in-behind with their neat inside channel through ball passing.

Pochettino changes

Man City were in the lead and we continued to create chances by moving the ball swiftly forward to evade Fernando and Fernandinho in the central zone. In the second half, Mauricio Pochettino made changes to try and get more cutting edge finishers in to the game.

Roberto Soldado came on for Christian Eriksen. With the Dane struggling to find pockets of space that were being taken away by Fernando and Fernandinho, Soldado was tasked with playing up on the shoulder of the centre backs. A tantalising cross whipped in by Eric Dier from a deeper position just evaded the Spaniard’s lunge as you could see what Pochettino wanted.

Paulinho was next to enter the fray for Ryan Mason. The Brazilian, like Soldado, hasn’t produced the goods, but does have the ability to break forward and pop up in the box from deeper positions. He showed a glimpse of this as he picked the ball up just over halfway, drove forward, exchanged passes with Soldado but struck his shot straight at Joe Hart as Man City’s centre backs parted to allow him through.

Paulinho is also a presence in the air and his header from Erik Lamela’s free kick again showed a part of his game we’ve rarely seen. The header glided just past Joe Hart’s left hand post and although offside, the threat was there.

Pochettino’s third change was to introduce another forward with a rare Emmanuel Adebayor sighting. If us moving the ball directly in to the attackers to avoid the Fernando and Fernandinho pivot was supposed to be like jumping the fence, now we were trying to kick the door in. The play was often sent straight up to use Adebayor’s size and strength.

Despite creating half chances, the changes never really carved Manchester City open.

Spurs 0-1 Man City overall

It was disappointing to not take something from this game. The way we moved the ball swiftly forward through either running with it or passing it across the turf made a nice change from previous matches. From it, we created plenty of good chances and also half chances, but we weren’t clinical enough in taking them or lacked the final ball.

Mauricio Pochettino deserves some credit for his willingness to aggressively go for the game with his changes. For much of this season he has been criticised for his lack of a plan B. Although he just went further down the route of plan A by throwing on all of his forwards to play the direct balls to, he did at least make positive moves to get a goal.

Man City have the deadliest forward in the Premier League and it was Aguero’s clinical finishing, combined with Silva’s deft setup play, which won this game.

Final score: Spurs 0-1 Man City.

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13 Responses to Spurs 0-1 Man City: vertical ball movement lacks cutting edge

  1. adhithya 4th May 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    It was Jan Vertonghen who gave a through ball to Kane, not Dier. It was a good article, so just wanted to point the one mistake! Sorry.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th May 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Thanks Adhithya

  2. Johnny 4th May 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Good piece and well balanced. It was deeply disappointing that we couldn’t finish. After all, that’s the most important part of the game. Ryan M had the best chance; he could have done better but you’ve got to give Hart credit. Encouraging that Lamela and Paulinho appear to be playing much better now. I feel Harry K has to be a bit more decisive at times and hung on to the ball a bit too long. Especially the one where Chadli had a tap-in. But criticism of Harry is a bit cheeky I know… the guy’s been brilliant.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th May 2015 at 10:58 am #

      Kane has been brilliant, much better than i thought he would do this season. He does hang on to the ball too long sometimes though, but at his age you’ve got to expect that and he’ll learn. When he does, he’ll be even more difficult to stop.

  3. SomeDude 5th May 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Hey, good read again. I’ve not been watching much recently but this one was entertaining if a bit disappointing. just wondering if there any targets you think would strengthen the squad? Both in positions needed and potential individuals to fill them. Personally I think a striker is in order because Soldado has had his chance and if Kane falters/tires/gets injured we will be s.o.l. with Adey seemingly about to go. Personally I would have loved have gotten David Villa before he moved to Athletico, his price being quite low but no use now if it was even possible. There seems to be healthy money available for players with massive profits recently posted.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th May 2015 at 11:09 am #

      Thanks for reading SomeDude. I’m in two minds about how much we’ll shell out on new players. Having read comments from Pochettino that he was told when he accepted the job that we wouldn’t be spending big and he needed to bring the academy guys through, i’m not sure what to expect. The profit on the balance sheet may well go in to the new stadium.

      Like you say a striker is needed, but i don’t think we’ll be spending £25m plus given the disappointment that Soldado has been. I think Levy is once bitten, twice shy and that is why we have the youth revolution right now after spending and not getting much for it. That being said, i wished we’d pursued Christian Benteke harder when we had the chance. He is proven Premier League quality and would fit our system. I think he is probably out of our price range now as Aston Villa will prob value him around £30m+.

      The key area for me is full backs. That’s not due to the current injury situation, but because i believe they are the key position in Pochettino’s system. Their ability to overlap and provide ACCURATE crossing support, as well as get back and defend, is vital to creating a lot of what Pochetino wants. I’m not sure he has the guys he wants right now, so i’m interested to see if he pursues anyone in this position.

      Who would you like to see us bring in?

      • alex 6th May 2015 at 12:16 pm #

        I’m not sure bentaleb and mason are going to cut it long term. bentaleb again lost his nerve after we went 1 down and started misplacing passes. we need a cm that can control the game and score the occasional goal. we need a cd that can command the back line, and can play the high line if thats what they want to do (why buy fazio). FB have been a priority for a long time, crossing ability is as you say a probelm with ours, which is a priority if they are our actual wide men – but pace is still needed to get in behind (why buy Davis).

        The manager should have been getting Adebayor minutes away from home for a long time now.. away fans would have been kinder and he would have had chances to score and get the fans settled down… i think that was a missed opportunity.

        I just wanted to ask, does anyone know why juventus are able to win the league and now be beating madrid with a team full of quality and only have a 40,000 seater stadium? are they bankrolled by someone or are they just not pissing money allover the place like some clubs we know and love?

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th May 2015 at 11:59 am #

          Hi Alex, Juventus are fueled by a big TV deal. They earn’t the most money from the Champions League last year overall, despite not making the final.

      • SomeDude 8th May 2015 at 12:32 pm #

        I heard rumours about Sallah which I think would be excellent. We play with that type of player anyway (Chadlia, Townsend, Lammella) but I think he offers something extra in terms of quality and style. He is also European proven. In the striker department I have to agree with Benteke, we might go in for him if he’s in a contract dispute. Could also try and go for Berahino. I personally really like Wanyama but that could be because he used to play for Celtic. I also like Cabella and Sissoko of Newcastle, who could be available, but I’m not sure if they’re what we need. Aside from that I don’t really know of any strikers in our range who are potentially available but we need one if we want to compete in Europe. I know many think that the competition should be sacrificed to the league but I’m not of that opinion. I think it doesn’t breed a winning mindset and I think it gives players experience in different environment, but this only works if we win and take it seriously. Teams that do well in Europa tend to go on to do well in the champions league (Chelsea, Athletico, Basel, Porto, Juventus). So in my opinion we need a deep squad.

        I like our fullbacks but I think every position could be improved with the right signing.Forgive me if I’m wrong but Walker and Rose seem either inefficient or unlucky with crosses. Dyer’s delivery has been quite dangerous and I’d like to see him progress as a fullback, extra strength in that position can really be a plus. Overall though I think the key is quality over quantity. I’d be happy with two 30 mill signings and I think we could afford it, even with the stadium to pay.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th May 2015 at 7:51 pm #

          Some good suggestions, i guess we’ll see who comes in during the summer. Salah is an interesting one as he would fit the mould. He did snub us for Chelsea and their is the issue of playing for a Jewish club and his previous with this.

  4. chu2ks 6th May 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    I haven’t replied to your posts in a while, apologies. Still very well written and paints a wonderful picture about one’s opinion of the fixtures.

    In my humble opinion, we could have won that game, but on the flip-side, we could have lost that game by much more. Everyone who has watched Manuel Pellegrini’s sides will know he plays a 4-2-2-2 at home, and a 4-2-3-1 away. On this day, an away fixture, he didn’t have Yaya Toure as one of the two, instead he relied upon Fernaninho and Fernando. With all due respect to those gentlemen, they are the same kind of player and offer no serious attacking threat. With the news already out there that Toure wasn’t playing, I feel the onus was on Pochettino to own the midfield, and thus control the game.

    With the season drawing to it’s conclusion, I remain an optimistic Spurs fan (God knows from reading the fan forums, we’re a rarity), and I understand what Pochettino is trying to develop at the club. But, he fails to grasp the fact that there’s what he wants to do, and what he needs to do, and the vast difference between the two.

    He seems wedded to his 4-2-3-1, which is laudable, but in my opinion, he hasn’t got the players for it. God bless him, he’s done well with a very unbalanced squad, but the squad along with his tactical persistence has led to our season ending this way.
    I feel that the only reason Southampton have done well this season is down to the organisational foundations Poch left for Koeman, especially in midfield, with Davis, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse and Shneiderlin. Whilst these gentlemen can function as twos in midfield, they are equally comfortable as threes in a 4-3-3, which is what separates Koeman from Poch, which is what Koeman has done for most of the season. Poch’s squad at the moment can play a 4-2-3-1, probably against less competitive midfields, but against the solid attacking ones, Spurs with this current squad should be playing a 4-3-3 WITH a defensive midfield player shielding the centre-backs. No matter how slow Poch thinks they are ( and I’m talking about Capoue and Stambouli), he should have attempted this tactical change. That’s probably my criticism of Poch, is his tactical inflexibility.

    In the midfield two, Bentaleb and Mason in my opinion should be fighting for one spot, and I think Bentaleb edges that. Or alternatively in the midifeld three, you could have them playing in front of the DM, rotating with Dembele and Paulinho. Up front, you have Lamela (yep, I said it) and Eriksen either side of Kane, switching positions non-fixed wing forwards. This allied with Poch’s high intensity pressing game, could in my opinion seen us have a better season than we do now, but just my opinion, folks.

    He has this transfer window and pre-season to bring in his kind of players to suit his tactics, but for me he should switch to a 4-3-3 to bring the season to a conclusion.

    • anotherwisemonkey 7th May 2015 at 9:58 pm #

      Some excellent points, chu2ks.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th May 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      Good post Chu2ks. I said at the start of the season that Pochettino is an appointment that fills me with excitement but also a great deal of trepidation and i still am in that position. I can see what he is trying to do, but he needs time to get the side playing in this manner, with the players that will work for him.

      I, like you, would like to see a switch to 4-3-3. He often did it with Rodriguez and Lallana playing either side of Ricke Lambert. Like you say, Lamela and Eriksen are ideal either side of Harry Kane and i actually see alot of similarites in the style of play betwen Lallana and Eriksen and Rodriguez and Lamela – apart from the goalscroring at the minute – so this could work out.