Manchester City – Tottenham Hotspur: Spirited Spurs Stop The Slide (3-3)
All but one of the last twelve clashes between these two clubs have offered at least three goals. This edition would follow that tradition but became a battle of two distinct possession plans, rewarding a different attitude and approach from the guests than under their prior leaders.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
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This contest was a meeting of the two Premier League clubs that have flew out of the traps but suffered a stalling streak of results. Would either be able to mount momentum from this outing?
Manchester City won their first six matches in the league for the first time under Pep Guardiola. The champions have only picked up 11 points from the next seven. It is too early to assume permanent problems but dropped points to fellow contestants for their Premier League crown still sting. Indeed, apart from a rollover of their Mancunian rivals, the hosts have failed to defeat any of the ‘Big Six.’
Contests against the champions have been bright moments in a fallow period for Spurs. And the camp cried out all the more for a savior after Harry Kane went to Germany. Ange Postecoglou answered the call, accumulating eight victories and 26 points from his first ten games. However, a familiar sinking feeling has surfaced since the trip to Crystal Palace, and the sooner their losing streak ends, the better.
The absentees are adding up for Ange. Rodrigo Bentancur, a welcome return at home to Aston Villa, is now out for at least two months with torn ankle ligaments. To his relief, Yves Bissouma was no longer under suspension and sat at the base of midfield. Elsewhere, patchwork prevailed. Emerson Royal joined Ben Davies at the heart of the back four. Giovani Lo Celso deputized beside Bissouma, and James Maddison’s replacement was Dejan Kulusevski, whom Bryan Gil flanked as a left winger.
A three goal swing against Leipzig secured first place in City’s Champions League group. Pep picked eight players that started in midweek. Ederson returned between the posts in place of Stefan Ortega. Nathan Aké had come on for Rúben Dias at half time, but he could not break into the starting eleven on this occasion. However, the manager had chosen to field Jéremy Doku and Julian Álvarez from the beginning, so Jack Grealish and Rico Lewis were the other two individuals who lost their positions.
Hero to zero
Even in his time at the club, Kane was not the kryptonite of City. That moniker has belonged to Son Heung-min. The central forward proceeded to open the scoring in this clash. Kulusevski launched the ball forward from a City corner, pitting his captain one-on-one with Doku, who had ended up as the final defensive presence at the back. His teammate eased Doku out of the way, nodded down the ball into his path, and sprinted into the penalty area before slipping a strike through the palms of Ederson.
The visitors had taken the lead in their last three league fixtures— none of which had produced any points. Alas, at the fourth attempt, their advantage disappeared almost as soon as it had materialized. City cashed in on another set-piece to level the score. Álvarez whipped a delivery from a free kick into the box; the ball brushed off Haaland’s head, then bounced off Son beyond Guglielmo Vicario.
Foden forays more centrally
City’s control kept growing from this point. Their organization on the ball was familiar. They used a 3-2-2-3 system in which Manuel Akanji moved into the double pivot with Rodri, and Doku, in the absence of his compatriot, Kevin de Bruyne, was the danger man who wished to finalize their forward forays from the left wing. On this occasion, Pep also switched the slots of the attacking midfielders.
Bernardo was in the inside right channel, while Álvarez operated on the left. Doku’s drive saw him smash the stanchion in the 30th minute, but the threat has featured far less from Foden on the right in the last few weeks. Bernardo is more comfortable as a wide player than Álvarez, and in the most productive phase of the first half for the hosts, the prospect of more positional rotations manifested as Foden often drifted inside. One of those instances was in the case of a second strike for City.
26th minute: offensive sequence from Manchester City. Walker advances on the outside in transition, drawing out Udogie. Lo Celso slides out to cover Foden and Bernardo had separated from Bissouma to become free in the right halfspace. Once Bernardo dropped to connect with Walker, the right back can overlap to chase a return pass, and due to the rotation, Foden was also available more centrally.
Joško Gvardiol stepped ahead of Johnson to contain a counter, City claimed the ball, and Haaland rotated the play to Doku. The striker drifted into the danger zone, allowing Álvarez to explode into the inner channel and ask for a pass. Doku obliged, and once Davies tracked the forward across the area, Foden was open on his inside. He slotted into the corner of the net: 2-1 to the league champions.
Højbjerg hauls up the standards
While the advantage was only by one goal, City could have scored several more. Haaland blazed over the bar and skewed wide of the post from transitions off the press, and Álvarez hit the post. Ange altered the midfield to add composure. He trusted the experience of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to partner with Bissouma. Lo Celso moved higher, and Kulusevski fulfilled his usual role as a right winger.
The substitution was successful. The away team kept 71% of the ball in the quarter of an hour after the restart. City pressed from a diamond structure in which Bernardo jumped behind Álvarez and Haaland, and the wingers mirrored the narrower positions of Spurs’ fullbacks. Højbjerg was mature in his work on the field, helping his teammates avoid situations where their passing lacked conviction.
47th minute: buildup sequence for Tottenham Hotspur. Joško Gvardiol put Pedro Porro under extreme pressure, and he passed the ball back to Emerson. Højbjerg waits on the left shoulder of Bernardo, pulls Gvardiol inside and he immediately parries inside the left back to receive a line splitting pass from Porro. Højbjerg then carries the ball into the free space outside, releases a pass to Porro and drops off on the line to expand the possibilities for his teammates to keep the ball in a tight situation.
Spurs showed enough initiative to wipe out the deficit. In a high pressing sequence, Emerson jumped to press Álvarez, whose layoff met the head of a diving Davies. Close to City’s box, Son spun the ball over to Lo Celso immediately, pulling away Rodri from his teammate with a deep run. Lo Celso chose not to return the favor, cut onto his left foot, and curled an effort into the net off the base of the post.
Spiky ending to a sensational show
The entertainment continued for the neutral as Spurs shot themselves in the foot more than once to concede to City for a third time. Álvarez attacked a dropping long ball, unnerving Emerson from clearing his lines. He hacked the ball into the air, and Bissouma brought it down but turned back into trouble with blue shirts converging. Rodri tackled the midfielder, releasing Haaland into the channel on his right. His cutback assisted Grealish, whose sweeping strike put his side in the ascendancy.
With nothing to lose, Ange threw on Richarlison in the 87th minute. And on the verge of injury time, another twist was in the tale. Johnson slung in a cross from the left flank, Kulusevski crashed the area and leaped above Aké, whom Pep had just introduced in place of Gvardiol, to steer home a header off the underside of the crossbar. An even split of six goals would leave City livid at their failure to see out the victory. The referee’s decision to pull back play once Haaland found Grealish over the top aroused more anger at the Etihad Stadium. And no time was on the clock to transcend the blunder.
🚨🔵 Guardiola: “Next question. I'll not do a Mikel Arteta comment”.— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 3, 2023
“It's hard when you review the image, the referee decides to blow the whistle after he's already said play on. After the pass, the whistle, I do not understand…”. pic.twitter.com/MPX6GlXb1o
Spurs have stopped the rot. This draw ensures they stay within one point of fourth placed Aston Villa and have not succumbed to a streak of four losses in a row for the first time in nearly two decades. Injuries and suspensions have contributed to the deterioration of form, but Ange’s approach has also faced criticism. This display was an indication that, in fact, he has encouraged his squad to play with bravery and intent and is bringing out more— even from old faces— than their past conservatism.
Manchester City have drawn a third game in a row, dropped into third position, and must ready themselves to travel to high flying Aston Villa in midweek. The distance from the summit is still only three points, and both managers pointed out how the ratio of chances should have seen City clear of their guests by the end of the first half. Their processes and patterns are intact, but Pep will look for ways to tighten up around both boxes to tide over his outfit into the new year without their big hitter.
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