Tottenham Hotspur – Manchester City: Tottenham not able to punish City for sloppy second half (0-1)
Manchester City looked in total control of this match after scoring early, even though some defenders looked prone to personal errors. In the second half, Spurs could have taken advantage of the available spaces allowed by City. A bobbly pitch and not being able to field their star playmakers for more than fifteen minutes prevented them from scoring an equalizer.
Tottenham’s manager Mauricio Pochettino was not able to name Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to the starting line-up, as both players were not deemed fit enough for ninety minutes. Tottenham’s initial line-up thus contained very little creativity in the middle of the pitch. In their 4-2-3-1 formation, Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Moussa Sissoko made up the line of three behind star striker Harry Kane.
Reigning champions Manchester City have such a broad, talented squad that manager Pep Guardiola can fill in his starting line-up and formations just how he wants. In this game, he chose a 4-3-3 without any surprises.
Tottenham’s new stadium is still under construction and as a result, Spurs are playing their home games at Wembley longer than expected. This fixture even had to be rescheduled from Sunday to Monday, because two other football teams were making use of Wembley on Sunday evening…
A little over twenty-four hours earlier, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles played an NFL match on the very same Wembley pitch. This meant that the field was completely torn up in the center and still showed marks of the yard lines used in the NFL, as well as the NFL logo in the middle circle. Apart from one very crucial moment – more on that later – it is hard to exactly tell how much the state of the pitch influenced the match.
— Nicholas Deluca (@nicholas_deluca) October 29, 2018
City’s early goal sets them up for control
Whenever both these managers have met over the past few seasons, a fascinating battle for the ball mostly ensued. Spurs played a high defensive line and pressed Guardiola’s side throughout large parts of the match in last season’s Premier League encounters between these two sides. It resulted in zero points for Tottenham and seven goals for Manchester City, in 180 minutes of football.
As Pochettino has showed – most notably in last season’s Champions League games against Real Madrid – he has a more pragmatic side to him too. Against City, he decided to show that version of himself once again, setting his team up in a 4-4-1-1 shape that tried to absorb most of City’s attacks without pressing very high up the field.
Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-4-1-1 medium block against Manchester City’s very fluid 4-3-3 formation.
Manchester City had most of the ball as a result. Guardiola’s men generally started their attacks in a 4-3-3 formation that featured a lot of interchangement and different build-up varieties.
The most exotic of those build-up patterns is when Fernandinho drops between the central defenders and both fullbacks tuck inside to form a new double pivot in midfield.
Most of the times in their build-up though, a 4-3-3 shape was maintained and a successful combination between Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho and a third City player offering for the ball between Spurs’ defensive lines would be enough to progress the ball up the field.
The way City are fluid in their approach on the flanks – as sometimes the winger stays wide and the fullback covers the inside, and sometimes the other way around – is very troubling for every opponent.
It may feel a bit unfair that Manchester City also have a goalkeeper with elite ball-distribution qualities at their disposal. In the seventh minute, when Spurs did choose to press a bit higher up the pitch, Ederson played a seventy-yard pass every NFL quarterback would have been proud of into the space behind Sterling.
Tottenham’s right back Kieran Trippier dealt with the situation poorly and Sterling had easy access to the penalty area, providing a clean assist for Riyad Mahrez to put City up 0-1.
Spurs can’t capitalize on City’s individual errors
Whenever Spurs had the ball, they did try to play their way out from the back. As City are a team that press vigorously when they can, your positional play and short passing has to be top-drawer level to play through it. Tottenham could not provide anything close to ‘top-drawer’ for the biggest part of this match, however.
A lot of times – Spurs’ goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and center-back Davinson Sánchez in particular – the ball was hoofed in the general direction of Kane and Sissoko up front, when City turned on the pressure, which led to simple turnovers. And if you give the ball away so easily against City, the whole process of them keeping the ball and passing their way into your penalty area commences again
Spurs could have gained more from City’s individual mistakes at the back. Especially fullbacks Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy put the away side in some awkward positions by making childish mistakes in defending, but Spurs’ wingers and midfielders could never capitalize.
Central defender Aymeric Laporte made an even bigger mistake, by heading an uncontested aerial ball right in the feet of Lamela. The Argentinian immediately played a through ball for Kane, whose first touch was too heavy. An explosive sprint and unconventional tackle save by Ederson prevented a big chance.
As a result of their incoherent offensive plan and failure to make something from City’s mistakes, Tottenham only had two shots in the entire first half.
Second half sees spaces open up
With either manager not changing anything tactically or in terms of personnel, the overall tempo in the second half seemed to go up. City did not try to control the match with the ball, as they ceded possession easier and did not play on Tottenham’s half for long spells.
This overall downfall in their play was illustrated by an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by Kevin de Bruyne, who came on as a substitute for Agüero with twenty minutes left.
After David Silva missed a huge chance to put his team 0-2 up in the 55th minute, the spaces between City’s midfield and defense appeared to be bigger than they had been in the first half. Spurs managed to play into them and get into the final third of the field a lot easier than in the first half.
The game truly sparked to life with the introduction of Alli and Eriksen. Eriksen in particular adds the killer pass that was so severely lacking in the first seventy minutes to Tottenham’s game.
In the 80th minute, Spurs missed their biggest chance to draw level. A deep turnover by City was picked up by Alli, who dribbled into the penalty area. A lovely diagonal run from Kane opened up the space for Lamela, who got the ball and took a shot with his first touch. His effort went wide by a good distance, as the ball fell to Lamela after several small bounces, and he made contact with the ball using his ankle more than the inside of his left food.
Lamela’s missed chance was the only moment where the horrible state of the pitch can be put into direct relation to the result of the game, as the chance was missed partly due to the pitch.
On the other hand, the pitch is an external factor to be dealt with, just like the weather conditions, the referee and the people in the stands are. The fact this game was played on a rugby pitch might have prompted Lamela to take an extra touch and then try to finish. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, probably.
A minute before the ninety minute mark, Guardiola brought on his captain Vincent Kompany for David Silva, as City reverted to a 4-2-3-1 with Stones playing as a midfielder next to Fernandnho. The away side easily saw the game out that way, as Spurs could not get a chance nearly as big as Lamela’s had been.
Spurs had some dangerous situations in possession that did not end in a shot or an actual chance. Their very low shot total – four shots in the entire match – is thus not wholly reflective of the actual flow and in-game dynamics. Especially in the last twenty minutes, it felt like Spurs could punish City for not putting away more than one goal, a feeling epitomized by Lamela’s curious miss.
Pochettino said publicly that this period at Spurs is ‘the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here.’ The fact that most of Tottenham’s resources were spent on the new stadium and not on his squad leaves him feeling limited.
Was this game business as usual for City? Well… Yes and no. They took three points against another top-six side with some impressive football. The way City opened up the spaces for Tottenham Hotspur in the second half and some of the individual performances on display will leave Guardiola scratching his head, though.
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