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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.