Spurs 3 Man City 1: Tottenham expose City’s full backs

What a game and what a six minute spell Tottenham put in to turn this match on it’s head, as it finished Spurs 3 Man City 1 at White Hart Lane.

Andre Villas-Boas’ formation switch took all the headlines, but it allowed Spurs to more effectively attack City’s greatest area of weakness, their full back zones.

Same set ups, different number tens

Both teams lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations, but our narrowness played in to City’s hands.

As we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man City, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure screen their defence, creating a block in the middle. With the wide players – Samir Nasri and James Milner on this occasion – also playing narrow, this congests the centre. As a result, Gareth Bale struggled to find room and wasn’t helped by Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey coming in too quickly from their wide starting positions. This meant that City were able to keep us at arms length for much of the first half.

Whereas Gareth Bale was being stifled in the number ten role, Carlos Tevez was excelling in amongst the traffic. The Argentinean played a large part in Man City’s opener with his neatly flicked pass to James Milner. Later on he put in Samir Nasri with a deft touch round the corner. The former Gunner could only stab the ball wide after having converted Milner’s cross for the first goal of the afternoon.

Not just content with feeding Milner and teeing up Nasri, Tevez also slid a ball in for Edin Dzeko to force a good save from Hugo Lloris down low to his right.


Carlos Tevez created City’s openings.

Although Man City weren’t rampant, they were in control, with Carlos Tevez creating a few good opportunities.

Jan Vertonghen limits the damage

Whilst Man City were on top, Jan Vertonghen was doing his best to keep them in check. The game could have been well beyond Spurs if it wasn’t for the Belgian. The Citizens did fashion three good opportunities in the first half, but Vertonghen’s superb reading of the game and timely tackles kept them from creating more.

Man City were heavily playing down the right flank through James Milner, taking advantage of the positioning of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who was often wayward.

With Gylfi Sigurdsson moving inside, the Cameroonian international was expected to get forward, overlap and provide the width. This often meant that he was caught up field and out of position when the ball was turned over.

Their first goal arrived from this side, after Benni failed to track James Milner, but Vertonghen was constantly bailing him out, making five challenges and four interceptions.


Spurs 3 Man City 1: Jan Vertonghen bailed out the wayward Benoit Assou Ekotto.

Whilst Man City created their first from our left back zone, we were struggling to attack their full backs.

That was until Andre Villas-Boas made his switch to a 4-3-3.

Astute Andre

Recognizing Man City were crowding the centre, Andre Villas-Boas made a half time change to move Gareth Bale out to the right. Although this was a good switch in principal, City had swapped the injured James Milner for Aleksander Kolorov and now had two defenders on this side.

Seeing that Kolorov and Clichy were dealing with Bale, AVB decided to go 4-3-3. His changes were effective for two reasons.

First of all, he brought two passers in to the game in Lewis Holtby and Tom Huddlestone. This enabled us to move the ball quicker through the midfield in order to move it wide and in behind. Both players can pass over longer distances, Huddlestone especially so, thus also raising the tempo.


Spurs 3 Man City 1: Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby moved the ball forward and wide with passes over distance.

Secondly it allowed Moussa Dembele to move further forward and execute his dribble-drives higher up the pitch as Tom Huddlestone likes to sit deeper. The combination of Dembele and Parker both get up and down as part of a fluid pairing, but with Huddlestone, we now had distinct levels.

The ball was moving quicker from back to front, but we were lacking a player to run the channels. Emmanuel Adebayor was dropping off the front to link the play, so Andre Villas-Boas switched him with Jermain Defoe who runs in behind.

It would have been easy to replace Clint Dempsey and go with two strikers, but AVB knew what was required and this immediately brought its reward.

Spurs score three through the full back zones

I looked at the Citizens’ vulnerability through their full back zones in the Tottenham tactics prior to the game and this proved their undoing in six wild minutes.

Before the switch in formation, only Kyle Walker had burst in behind when firing straight at Joe Hart in the first half. The switch suddenly allowed is to go from being narrow, to playing with width and transitioning the ball forward with great speed.

Gael Clichy’s left back zone has been slightly more vulnerable than Pablo Zabaletta’s right this season and this is where the equaliser arrived.

With the ball being originally crossed in from Man City’s right back area, it was only partially cleared to Kyle Walker. Gael Clichy was caught squeezing in and not tracking, as he left Gareth Bale in acres of space to get in behind.

The Welshman had been pretty quite up until then, but his perfectly weighted pass with the outside of his left foot found Clint Dempsey at the far post. Matija Nastasic was tracking the American, but with Lewis Holtby floating in the area, he had a choice to make and he left Dempsey free.


Gareth Bale gets in behind the left back zone.

Minutes later, the right back zone was exposed, as the quick movement of the ball got in behind City once more.

Pablo Zabaletta was caught up field providing width, but as the attack broke down with Lewis Holtby stealing the ball, the Argentinean was caught out of position.


Pablo Zabaletta is caught up field as Lewis Holtby quickly moves the ball.

Holtby, seeing the channel open up, then fired a quick pass for Jermain Defoe to run in behind, isolating himself one-on-one with the slower Vincent Kompany.

Defoe cut inside and rifled a shot in to the corner as the Belgian failed to show him down the line.

The two substitutes had combined beautifully to highlight what AVB’s changes were trying to achieve – quick passing through the channels in to the full back zones for runners in behind.


Defoe gets in behind the right back zone to make it 2-0.

The third was created by the other substitute, as Tom Huddlestone weighted a magnificent pass in to the zone behind the left back once more.

Again it followed a City attack breaking down with the full back being caught up field.

Huddlestone’s pass was enticingly slid between Nastasic and Clichy for Gareth Bale to run on to. The Welshman was calmness personified as he chipped it over the advancing Joe Hart, 3-1.


Spurs 3 Man City 1: Huddlestone finds Bale in behind the City left back.

Three goals, all created by quick passing to put balls in to the zones behind the full backs. Man City’s weakness here had been well and truly exposed.

Spurs 3 Man City 1 conclusions

The changes made by Andre Villas-Boas will rightly take the headlines here, as again it was another instance where his coaching switches have won us the game.

In the first half, our narrowness played in to Man City’s hands, as they were able to keep us from creating much at all.

The switch to introduce two players who can pass the ball accurately and one who can run in behind opened up the game. This allowed us to attack Man City at their weak points, the full back zones.

Final score: Spurs 3 Man City 1.

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2 Responses to Spurs 3 Man City 1: Tottenham expose City’s full backs

  1. Chris 22nd April 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Good stuff as usual, mate. I think perhaps you’re a little harsh on BAE for the goal – but I’m not a Parker fan this season (last season he was great with Modric, had a clear role and snapped into tackles – this year he sits off and doesn’t have an obvious quick pass when he does have possession). When you say BAE is out of position, isnt that because he and Walker are being told to play high up the pitch. With Parker (and Dembele) sitting deep to cover for our CBs who in turn go wide to cover the full backs when they’re caught out up the pitch.

    Walker deserves credit for his part, both in taking the game to Man City almost alone for much of the game, but mainly for showing real intelligence to lay off to Bale for that cross rather than taking a wild pot shot. I guess you could say he actually was the cause of this rocky period with that bad pass at Liverpool, but I have a lot of respect for the way he has carried himself (and the team) over the past month or two.

    Good to see the manager making positive changes, good to see players like Bale being told what to do (get out wide and stay there!) and it making a difference. And personally, I’d rather watch a game with Huddlestone spraying passes left and right than trying to sit onto a narrow win or loss with 2 holding central midfielders.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd April 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      Thanks, yes BAE and Walker are having to get up and down to provide the width and this seems to be both of their undoing at times this season without regular wide players (Bale/Lennon) in front of them. Sigurdsson on the left has given better cover than Dempsey on the right in recent matches, purely due to Clint cutting in to central areas to support Adebayor whereas Gylfi stays wide – less distance to recover and get set defensively.

      Benni was caught behind Milner and eventually gave up as he received the pass from Tevez on Nasri’s opening goal. Vertonghen was having to cover him quite often which seems to be the case with Benni at the minute – he was caught out of position on the Basel opening goal at WHL also. Not sure if he is merely struggling to adapt given that he has missed large parts of the season due to injury or whether his mind is half out of the door already…