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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.