Raheem Sterling runs in-behind the defence during Tottenham 1-3 Man City.

Tottenham 1-3 Man City: passes beyond the back line

Pep Guardiola used a drifting left back to free his number tens to constantly send passes beyond our back line, as it finished Tottenham 1-3 Man City in our Premier League clash.

A humbling game at Wembley Stadium saw us fail to get to grips with Manchester City’s twin number tens. Pep Guardiola used a back four and then a three to free them up. As a result our defence was pulled around and City could send passes behind our back line for Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling. The match ended Tottenham 1-3 Man City, as we didn’t get to grips with the task at hand.

Guardiola’s three man defence

Even with a back four, Pep Guardiola utilised them as a back three. The key player was Fabian Delph. Playing at left back, Delph was moving in to central midfield positions alongside Ilkay Gundogan.

Fabian Delph floating to a central position from left back during Tottenaham 1-3 Man City.

Fabian Delph floating to a central position from left back.

The rest of the Man City defence shuffled across to become a back three. The setup gave us problems as to who to mark, especially for Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier. Should they push up or be more concerned with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva?

As a result, de Bruyne and Silva often had pockets of space to work in and time on the ball. From these positions, both players could pick their passes and dictate the rhythm of the game.

Man City balls in-behind

Man City is always looking for the ball in-behind as it turns teams, which then causes defenders to often lose their positions and structure. The Cityzens had already struck the post through Leroy Sane before they took the lead. Whilst not a classic City ball in-behind, Vincent Kompany’s long, lofted ball over the top still had a similar effect to cause panic in the defence.

Kompany was able to pick his pass due to the positioning of Fabian Delph. Taking up a central spot saw Erik Lamela splitting him and Ilkay Gundogan, giving both City players space. Harry Kane going to close down goalkeeper Ederson gave Kompany room to get on the ball and pick his pass.

Position of Delph frees Kompany to deliver the ball over the top for Gabriel Jesus to score a goal during Man City 1-3 Tottenham.

Position of Delph frees Kompany to deliver the ball over the top.

Davinson Sanchez made a huge mistake letting Gabriel Jesus run off him. No pressure on the ball should’ve seen the Tottenham back line drop. However, Sanchez was caught pondering for a split second. That would be all Jesus needed to sprint away and rifle a shot under Hugo Lloris.

Ball in-behind wins dubious penalty

Ninety seconds later and Man City added a second from a penalty kick. The ball in-behind this time saw Raheem Sterling race free. Hugo Lloris upended Sterling outside the box, but Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot.

A turnover by Kieran Trippier was key to the move. Within two seconds Ilkay Gundogan had played Sterling through.

The role of Fabian Delph was once more important. Delph’s spot, wide this time as he was racing back in to defensive position as a full back, held Trippier and left Sterling in space. What’s more, Davinson Sanchez, who was slow to get out, played everyone onside and created a situation where Hugo Lloris had to decide whether to race out or not.

Gundogan finds Sterling's run in-behind to win a penalty during Tottenham 1-3 Man CIty.

Gundogan finds Sterling’s run in-behind to win a penalty.

Gundogan converted the penalty and in the blink of an eye Man City were two goals ahead.

Jan Vertonghen steps up

The central positioning of Fabian Delph in the attacking phase allowed David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne to run Dembele and Dier about. What followed may have been a response from Mauricio Pochettino or maybe it was just Jan Vertonghen taking it upon himself?

Vertonghen started to push out of his role as a left-sided centre back and pick up de Bruyne in midfield with increasing frequency.

Jan Vertonghen goes forward to deal with Kevin de Bruyne during Tottenham 1-3 Man City.

Jan Vertonghen goes forward to deal with Kevin de Bruyne.

This ploy by Vertonghen allowed Dembele and Dier to deal with central midfield battle and moved Spurs up the pitch. As a result, Tottenham attacks became more frequent and resulted in a goal to get us back in the match.

The goal came from a free kick won by Vertonghen stepping up to deal with de Bruyne in midfield. Taking the ball, de Bruyne fouled Vertonghen and received a yellow card.

The resulting free kick was swung in and partially cleared. However, Spurs still had a number of players forward and could overload the Man City back line.

One thing Man City’s defence does is use the edge of the 18-yard box as a marker from which to base their defensive line. However, with Tottenham’s overload of players, Vincent Kompany was dragged forward from the defensive line towards Harry Kane on the ball.

Kompany drawn out from the defensive line allows Eriksen in-behind to score a goal during Tottenham 1-3 Man City.

Kompany drawn out from the defensive line allows Eriksen in-behind.

Kane then slid a pinpoint pass through for the run of Christian Eriksen. Aymeric Laporte blocked Eriksen’s initial shot. The ball rebounded back off Eriksen and neatly found its way in to the net. Tottenham 1-2 Man City, game on!

Spurs formation shift

Throughout the first half, Mauricio Pochettino tweaked our setup. Christian Eriksen had started as a number ten, but Erik Lamela finished the half in the position. There was also the shift of Vertonghen to close down on de Bruyne.

For the second half, Pochettino moved to a 4-3-2-1 formation to deal with de Bruyne and Silva due to what Fabian Delph was doing.

Dele Alli formed a flat trio with Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier. In the defensive phase it gave much better coverage of Man City’s twin number tens.

4-3-2-1 formation in defensive phase during Tottenham 1-3 Man City.

4-3-2-1 formation in defensive phase.

In the attacking phase, the new formation gave us another deeper option to play around Man City’s press. Dele had to work extremely hard in the new setup to also support in attack, but it allowed us to gain control of the match by forcing Man City back.

4-3-2-1 attacking build-up with Dele coming deeper during Tottenham 1-3 Man CIty.

4-3-2-1 attacking build-up with Dele coming deeper.

Guardiola goes to a back three

Pep Guardiola had been using Fabian Delph as an auxiliary central midfielder from his left back starting position to create a back three. However, now under pressure from Spurs, Guardiola switched to an orthodox back three. Nicolas Otamendi entered the game so Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker became wingbacks.

The shift was interesting as it was essentially achieving the same thing as what Guardiola had wanted to do, but with a twist. Raheem Sterling joined Gabriel Jesus up top and Man City now had two central players with speed for the through balls played behind our defence.

There were warning signs before the Cityzens added a third. Both Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus had chances to seal the game, racing in-behind our back line as Silva and de Bruyne regained control in central midfield.

The third goal came from a corner. In the build-up, Kevin de Bruyne had played Kyle Walker in to space behind our back line.

Kevin de Bruyne releases Kyle Walker to run in-behind during Tottenham 1-3 Man City.

Kevin de Bruyne releases Kyle Walker to run in-behind.

Hugo Lloris parried Walker’s cross directly to the feet of Raheem Sterling.  He tried to walk the ball in to the net, but was thwarted by Jan Vertonghen.

The corner saw two Tottenham errors. Firstly, two Man City players got to the near post to flick on. Secondly, a poor touch by Davinson Sanchez allowed Gabriel Jesus to fire the resulting loose ball at Hugo Lloris’ near post. Raheem Sterling pounced on the rebound to make it Tottenham 1-3 Man City and seal the game.

Tottenham 1-3 Man City overall

Man City have used the ball through and in-behind the opposition defence all season. The Cityzens use of twin number tens allows them to play this way to pick out the striker and wide forwards. The front three can then play cut backs, pull backs or the ball across the box from one wide forward to the other.

All three goals saw them execute their passing in-behind to score, win a penalty and then a corner.

The key player was Fabian Delph. His central positioning allowed the twin number tens the freedom to go to work and expose the gaps that were being caused.

Mauricio Pochettino’s response to go 4-3-2-1 was a good one. The formation certainly troubled Man City and gave us our best spell in the match. It definitely gives food for thought for the next time we face them. However, our individual errors were ruthlessly punished and against Man City you simply cannot make these.

Final score: Tottenham 1-3 Man City.
Spurs MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.

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25 Responses to Tottenham 1-3 Man City: passes beyond the back line

  1. Andy B 15th April 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    Very interesting insight into the tactics of Man City. They deployed similar tactics with Delph previously.

    Vertonghen was sensational, as he has been in so many games this season. He is a Rolls Royce of a player.

    Lucas Moura looked the part when he came on and injected some pace, trickery and excitement.

    Dembele also showed some of his classic trademark dribbling skills.

    Apart from those players, there wasn’t much positive stuff to say about this game.

    Lloris has been a bit of a concern with some of his decision making, over the last few games.

    Who should play in the FA Cup semi final? Vorm or Lloris?

    I am not sure that it was a good decision to keep Kane on the pitch, until the end of the game. He was not doing very much and did not play to his usual high standards. On the one hand, it was good for him to get the minutes, but Spurs really needed to win this game. You could argue that Kane only needs one chance, but it just didn’t look like his day. This highlighted the need for Spurs to get another striker, as back up to Kane.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2018 at 10:46 pm #

      Hugo hasn’t been good recently, but I think you have to play him through this to work it out. That’s the reason why I’d go for him in the semi final.

      I do think we need to succession plan at the goalkeeping position this summer. We need to bring some young talent in to learn from Lloris’ experience so that he can come through in 2-3 seasons or so.

      It didn’t look Kane’s day, but I guess Poch kept him out there for the pure reason that he is a shooter and a goal scorer. When he’s on the field we always have a chance. We do need another striker though. It needs to be on our list this summer if Poch doesn’t fancy Kaziah Sterling etc to come through.

  2. Charles Crawford 15th April 2018 at 8:00 pm #

    Was there.

    Two things.

    Why leave no-one or even two up on the halfway-line for their corners? Invites unrelenting pressure

    Why pass back to Lloris who runs back with the ball approaching then to hoof it upfield? He can’t klick far, so we lose some 30 yards and again invite extra pressure. Baffling!

    You’re analysis is good. For the first 30 mins or so Dele and Eriksen were far too far forward. Much better when they dropped deeper.

    More Moura please. Would we have been worse off if he had started instead of Kane?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2018 at 11:04 pm #

      I’m not sure why we didn’t given that Man City are a very short side. Kompany and Laporte the only two with any height.

      Hugo’s kicking has always been a problem. You have to take the good with the average with him. I don’t think he’ll ever improve his distribution now, so it’s something we should be looking for when succession planning at the goalkeeper position.

      It’s impossible to tell if we’d have been better off with Moura instead of Kane. He is an exciting player and I think he would have been well deployed to run at the zone Delph was vacating.

      I understand why Moura’s not getting minutes, but he does need some game time to acclimatise to the league and practice what is required. I can see him doing well in the Premier League due to the offensive nature of the competition and the spaces that are often left. He’s an exciting talent and we are all on the edges of our seats to see what he can do.

  3. Chas 15th April 2018 at 11:25 pm #

    Out-thought and out-manouevred by a master tactician and out-played by an excellent team. No shame in that, but what IS a concern is Poch’s love affair with Lamella, and his reluctance to use Lucas Moura, who impresses with every scarce appearance.
    The guy looks a game-changer and his work-rate is good, yet he goes weeks and weeks between appearances.
    To quote Charles Crawford from his post’s excellent points…baffling!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2018 at 11:51 pm #

      I too was surprised Lamela was in the starting lineup. I know he adds some bite and closes down well, but this wasn’t the game for him. We had no speed on the field and if anything has been shown by teams that have beaten City in the last two weeks, counter attack speed kills them. Moura or Son should’ve been the choice and I only hope we have learnt this.

  4. Matt 15th April 2018 at 11:36 pm #

    Good analysis; I see a lot of people saying Alli isn’t involved enough in games but your analysis points out he does more than assist and score, he covers a lot of ground. I’m surprised Lamela is picked in front of Son or even Moura. I like Eric as much as the next spurs fan and I appreciate his work rate, but he just doesn’t offer the goals and speed of Son or I suspect Moura.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2018 at 11:56 pm #

      Dele has really become more of a complete player this season. The fact that he finished the game in defensive midfield after Moura came on is testament to that.

      I’m also surprised Lamela started. As said to Chas, City have lost to Liverpool and Man Utd teams that have counter attack speed and that is where you can hurt them. With Lamela in we had no speed in the lineup and it hindered us in counter attack opportunities.

      • Shuban 16th April 2018 at 7:40 am #

        We need players who can move the ball quickly and accurately….shame winks was out…I was impressed by the discipline showed by Dele…

        Know it’s a game by game thing but would you prefer to see him start deeper thus allowing for more attacking players from wide areas?

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 10:14 am #

          I prefer Dele in more advanced areas. He can do a job deeper but he is not as much of a threat and that takes away from his effectiveness.

  5. Grum 16th April 2018 at 10:34 am #

    I was surprised by the way Poch set up our team. It’s pretty clear that City are awesome on the break and with the ball in behind. Should have learnt from Liverpool, defend deep and catch them on the break. As good as MC are, like all teams they find breaking down a deep sitting defence difficult.

    Sitting deep and playing Son and Moura may have posed them more problems but I don’t think that Poch is ever inclined to set his team up to defend.

    Also, is it just me but is Harry completely fit? He looks a shadow of the player he was before his injury

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 12:46 pm #

      It is a strange one. Earlier in the season eg Real Madrid, Dortmund, Liverpool at home, we set up and played counter attack to great effect. Poch is an attacking coach, but we haven’t seen this counter attack approach against dangerous teams, in what was a rather successful approach, for quite a while.

      Harry doesn’t look 100% and I wonder if he was rushed back to keep going for the golden boot.

  6. Toby4eva 16th April 2018 at 12:09 pm #

    Thanks Mark – great read again.

    Citeh were always going to be a nightmare after losing three massive games on the trot.

    Perhaps our lads have their minds a week ahead of themselves!

    Nothing to add to the eloquent thoughts herein regarding the respective tactical and selection decisions.

    Simply hats off to Citeh, far too good this season for everyone except Klopp, Mo and co.

    We have to refocus quickly and look to win our last five to try and get an auto qualification CL spot.

    Utd at least looked less inspired and more insipid then us at Old Trafford!

    Have to bounce back sharpish and get to the Cup final – and our form in that regard is good.

    But my man STILL can’t get on the bench!


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 12:50 pm #

      I still think there is a race for top 3 within the top 4. While there is separation by the top 4 from the rest of the pack, no one wants to play the Champions League qualification game that is so early on in the season. A tie against some tough Spanish or Italian team is not wanted by any team so early in the season, especially with players having extended rest if their nation goes well at the World Cup.

      United looked like they had one eye on the Cup semi-final to me. They’ll be well up for the game!

      • Grum 16th April 2018 at 1:10 pm #

        I don’t think there is a qualification round this year for Premier top 4

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 5:33 pm #

          yes there’s a change for next year’s competition. Makes it better to avoid a tricky playoff tie.

  7. Toby4eva 16th April 2018 at 1:28 pm #

    Correct Grum!

    Excellent shout.

    Hadn’t picked up on that either.


    Nice one.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 5:31 pm #

      Hadn’t seen that, thanks for sharing. Maybe we’ll see a number of teams easing off and resting players once qualified. Unless of course they want the extra PL money for finishing higher up the table!

    • Chas 17th April 2018 at 2:40 am #

      There’s no mention of whether the Europa league winner shoves the 4th placed PL team back into Europa league. Do you know if that still applies?
      It only states the top 4 PL teams automatically qualify for the group stage.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th April 2018 at 9:12 am #

        I don’t know if that still applies. It says the Europa winner will also go in to the main draw, but that could create a numbers issue and therefore someone would have to miss out.

        • Grum 17th April 2018 at 10:07 am #

          No, doesn’t apply – maximum of 5 from any country. So if Arse wim Europa they qualify along with top 4. if Liverpool win CL then the Czech Rep get the extra spot – still 4 from Premiership. Only danger to Spurs if we come 4th is Liverpool dropping out of top 4 and winning CL – highly unlikely.

  8. Mark from Virginia 16th April 2018 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Mark,
    I love reading your posts! I too thought it interesting how Delph was utilized and didn’t quite understand what was happening there until seeing your explanation.
    Before the game started I thought the team setup should have had a back three of Jan, Davidson and Toby with either Davidson or Toby as a sweeper. This would have been better for dealing with the through balls.
    The team seems to have an issue dealing with the speed of MC. I was at the Spurs – MC preseason friendly in Nashville and they had the same problem then. MC has really focused on getting speedy players and I think this is what most teams have problems with.
    What are your thoughts?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 16th April 2018 at 6:42 pm #

      Hi Mark, I did actually think of that Nashville preseason friendly when Ederson smashed a couple of goal kicks way downfield straight over our back line at Wembley. In that Nashville preseason match he did the same for Aguero’s goal and i thought we hadn’t learnt our lesson as that was an audaciously booming downfield kick! The guy has probably the hardest and farthest kick, along with accuracy, in the PL if not Europe! Opponents need to beware.

      As much as i’d love to see Toby out there I think he is almost out the door. Whether there is an agreement in place to sell and we don’t want to risk further injury, i don’t know for sure of course, but this has all the hallmarks of someone who has pissed Poch off and is being ostracised from the group.

      That being said I think there are some merits to playing Man City with a back three – close the inside channels off, force them wide and have man coverage versus their front three. I really think a 3-5-2 will work well against them, although Poch’s 4-3-2-1 that we switched to after half time definitely gave them problems, until Guardiola’s response to move to three centre backs himself.

      In regards to their speedy players I think we need faster full backs. Aurier and Rose would’ve a been better combo. Rose being injured didn’t help and he appears to have lost a step of quickness. Aurier still looks shaky and i’m hopeful this is just first season acclimatisation. I think this is definitely an area we need to address in the summer. The trend now is to get lightning quick front men and therefore we need defenders with the foot speed to matchup.

  9. brian 17th April 2018 at 5:41 am #

    Hi Mark

    The many contribtyors to this site every aspect of our defeat.Have just about covered our defeat.Even allowing for the errors.We were simply outplayed on this occaisson..Lets just hope some of the ampathy shown during this game,is not carried forward too the Brighton game.
    But to put in more simply,man city were the better team on the day.

    Many regards Brian

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th April 2018 at 9:15 am #

      Hi Brian, they’ve been destroying teams but not taking their chances. They got goals at good times and it made an already difficult task even harder. Worryingly, I think Man City will be even better resourced next season!