Attacking the space around Aleksander Kolarov leads to a trouncing in our Premier League clash as it finishes Spurs 4-1 Man City at White Hart Lane.
Refereeing decisions were the big talking point. Three of the five goals should’ve been ruled out for offside, influencing the pattern of the game from each team’s perspective. Both were forced to play catch-up, which lead to an open and entertaining encounter. The overriding factor was attacking the Man City left back zone, but the Citizens set-up also helped it.
Both teams set up to press each other, which lead to a good early tempo. Man City were trying to stop us playing the ball around at the back between Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier. This lead to them seeking to force us out towards the sidelines where they would try and hem us in.
Behind this initial press, the Citizens pushed up their midfield. This saw defensive stoppers Fernando and Fernandinho often recover the ball as we tried to play out or clear. Beyond them, they pushed Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi higher than you’d have expected. Demichelis is really struggling for pace at this point in his career and Otamendi didn’t possess the speed to cope with the runs of Son, Lamela, Kane and later N’Jie.
This setup saw Man City give us problems throughout the first half, but as the game opened up, it lead to their downfall. Spaces started appearing between the lines, which allowed Lamela, Eriksen and Son to run in them, something they all enjoy much more than playing with their backs to goal.
Man City increasingly got in trouble, but our press was also slightly flawed. Although we harried and closed down, having Eriksen and Lamela on the outsides of our attacking midfield trio saw them slow to get back and mark Man City’s full backs. This lead to us being caused problems, particularly from Eriksen’s lack of recovering his defensive position. Late in the first half, Mauricio Pochettino switched Son Heung-Min with the Dane and we had a much better look about our defensive shape following the change.
Attacking in the left back zone
The overriding theme throughout the big moments of the match came from us attacking Man City’s left back zone. As we looked at in the Spurs vs Man City preview, getting the ball in-behind the area frequented by Aleksander Kolarov had caused Man City issues even though they were keeping clean sheets. Three of our four goals came from getting a runner beyond the Serbian and even the City goal came from us trying to get in here.
Man City opened the scoring from a counter attack situation. The break started at the edge of their penalty area after an errant pass from Kyle Walker. Prior to this we’d earned a corner from Erik Lamela trying to get Son Heung-Min in-behind Kolarov with a through pass. The corner was taken short and worked around the Man City left back to Kyle Walker before his poorly targeted pass missed Christian Eriksen. City surged forward and Kevin De Bruyne swept home. The flag stayed down as the Belgian ran on to Toure’s pass despite replays showing he was offside.
After going a goal down, the game sparked in to life. Nicolas Otamendi’s miss-kick afforded Harry Kane a great chance to open his Premier League account. Erik Lamela then drifted off Aleksander Kolorov to tee up Kane for a shot.
As half time approached, we got back in to it from getting in-behind Aleksander Kolarov once more. This time Kyle Walker was much more fortunate. He burst beyond the left back to receive the ball in an offside position, which wasn’t called. Man City were all up using the edge of their penalty box as a line to play offside. This was something that we looked at them doing in the Spurs vs Man City preview. A correctly timed third man run has had success against it, but here Walker’s burst through was the right idea, but highly fortunate rather than well-timed.
Walker’s cross saw the ball cannon off of Willy Caballero as he saved at the feet of Son, straight to Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian’s errant pass went directly to Eric Dier who lashed the ball back in to the far corner of the goal, 1-1.
Two minutes before half time and we were level; a couple of minutes after the interval and we were ahead. The goal arrived from a free kick, as Toby Alderweireld headed over the advancing City goalkeeper, but getting in to the space behind Aleksander Kolarov again created it. Harry Kane chased a long ball sprayed out to the City left flank, beating Nicolas Otamendi to it and earning a foul.
2-1 down and Man City were forced to chase. This started to see them lose their shape as their formation became stretched, creating space between the lines. Fernando and Fernandinho had previously done a good job of keeping us off their slower centre backs, Demichelis especially. Now they were left even more exposed, allowing our attacking midfielders to run at them.
Two became three highlighting just this. Man City had the ball and were pushing numbers forward. Erik Lamela won it back deep in our half and after exchanging passes with Christian Eriksen burst forward in to this space between the City lines straight at their exposed centre backs.
Martin Demichelis was not quick enough and chopped Lamela down, fortunate to escape without picking up a second yellow card. The punishment came from the resulting free kick. Harry Kane beautifully controlled a difficult rising ball that Christian Eriksen had smacked against the crossbar.
Following the goal and seeing the space open up; Mauricio Pochettino replaced the tiring Christian Eriksen with Nacer Chadli. We now had three men that like to get on the ball facing towards goal in space and to run with it. Clinton N’Jie, another in this vein, replaced Son Heung-Min to continue with this ploy.
N’Jie getting between the lines and then spinning around to get in-behind left back Aleksander Kolarov once again sealed the match.
Getting N’Jie on the ball between the lines with the game now stretched, and Man City having withdrawn a defensive midfielder in Fernandinho, was becoming much easier. N’Jie’s spin to lose and go away from Aleksander Kolarov gave us a glimpse of the raw talent the Cameroon international has and where City’s vulnerability was.
Erik Lamela, who has looked more of a player since he has started to increase his runs in-behind defences, was up with him and wide open in the centre.
N’Jie found him with a perfectly curled pass in to his path. The Argentinean looked much more composed as he rounded the goalkeeper to put the ball in to the net, making it Spurs 4-1 Man City and sealing the three points.
Spurs 4-1 Man City overall
After a few weeks of writing about how Mauricio Pochettino had his tactics right, but we were just failing to execute and be clinical in the final third, we really got it right in this game.
Man City played in to Pochettino’s hands with their setup. Coming on to a Pochettino side allows it to flourish with the speed in the attacking midfield positions exploiting any space between the lines. That saw us go away from Man City with the score at 2-1, but three of our four goals came from us getting in to the space beyond left back Aleksander Kolarov. Man City had previously kept clean sheets in all but one Premier League match, but their vulnerability in this zone had been masked by great attacking play. It was pleasing to see that our scouting team must have noticed where they have been susceptible this season and targetted this.
Final score: Spurs 4-1 Man City.