Premier League

5 Tactical Takeaways from Man City 4-1 Tottenham

 • by Frank Smith
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Manchester City came through what was expected to be one of their toughest tests of the season with a remarkably comfortable 4-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening.

Pep Guardiola’s side took the lead early on as Ilkay Gündoğan steamed in to take advantage of poor marking from a corner and head home from close range. From then on, rarely did the Premier League leaders look under serious threat.

Tottenham took the game to their exceptional hosts, but were unable to force concerted openings. Harry Kane went closest with a subtle passed finish from just outside the penalty box, but aside from that they were by far the second best team on the pitch.

Gündoğan turned provider to set up Kevin De Bruyne for Manchester City’s second goal, before a Raheem Sterling double – after a Gabriel Jesus penalty miss – sealed an easy three points.

Mauricio Pochettino accepted the outcome, saying: “Today yes, they showed better quality than us. The better team won.” His opponent, Pep Guardiola, was delighted, stating: “It was solid, good, against one team demanding to be intense without the ball. They (Spurs) have good quality, but we played really good to beat one of the strongest teams in the Premier League.”

Here Football Whispers looks at the five major tactical talking points from Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Tottenham.

SPURS PRESS HIGH

Tottenham have shown themselves to be one of the most tactically varied teams in the Premier League today. Earlier this season they deployed a midfield press to good effect against Liverpool, cutting off passes into their own half before countering over the top at speed. However, against Manchester City, they opted for a more proactive approach.

Rather than asking the question of Nicolás Otamendi or Eliaquim Mangala – the home side’s centre-backs – to play through them, Spurs went toe to toe with City high up the pitch. Their attacking press was bold, and helped to stifle the amount of controlled possession Guardiola’s side were able to accrue. This meant that, at the end of play, City only had 53 per cent of possession – 12.5 per cent less than their seasonal average.

EDERSON HELPS CITY PLAY THROUGH PRESSURE

Just as Spurs demonstrated their defensive flexibility at the Etihad, Manchester City showcased their ability to play out from the back in different ways. They reacted quickly to the high press, with Kyle Walker often dropping deeper, almost forming a three-man back line, to offer three immediate passing lanes – the other two being Otamendi and Mangala – to goalkeeper Ederson.

The Brazilian shot-stopper was therefore given more options to utilise when building out from the back, but he also was not afraid to go more direct. And, with his immense precision and ball-playing quality, this didn’t hamper City’s chances of progress.

Twelve of Ederson’s 19 attempted long balls reached their man. Sometimes he played dinked passes into the centre circle for the attackers to hold up and lay off; at other times he went longer down the flanks for the wide men to stretch the Tottenham back line. There was even one brilliantly risky volleyed goal kick to Walker, who was deep in his own half and on the right touchline.

Spurs were brave in pressing high, but with such quality on the ball from City’s last line of defence this approach was rarely fruitful.

CITY WING PLAY CAUSES HAVOC

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While most of the plaudits for Manchester City’s dazzling attacking football goes to their ‘interiors’, De Bruyne and David Silva, their wide men are equally integral to their effectiveness in the final third.

On this occasion, Sterling and Sané were exceptional, running at their opposite men constantly.

The way City attack is influenced a great deal by their wing dynamics. The full-backs attack in the inside channel, which causes issues for the opposition as to who exactly should move to pressure.

The wingers then hold a high and wide position, enticing out the opposition full-backs, while the ‘interior’ central midfielders operate ahead of the full-backs.

These movements create a triangle shape, ensuring multiple passing lanes to each player within the shape. And, with each individual operating at different levels, it is difficult for the opposition to mark. Combinations within the trident often led to the winger going clear towards the goal or by-line.

Sané particularly benefitted from these combinations against Spurs, often racing beyond Kieran Trippier and causing chaos in and around the penalty area. All in all the German completed six dribbles, more than anyone else on the pitch.

SPURS STRUGGLE TO BUILD ATTACKS

This season Tottenham have averaged a pass success percentage of 84.2, but on Saturday evening they completed just 79 per cent of their passes. This decline was largely down to their inability to play out from the back.

Within what was a rough 4-2-3-1 system, Spurs were often overloaded centrally by their hosts. Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier, their chosen centre-backs, were pressured by Sergio Agüero and one of De Bruyne and Gündoğan, which often forced them to wide.

There, Sterling and Sané waited to intercept the pass in the inside channels or moved up to apply pressure to the full-back receiving the ball. The end result was sideways passes, inaccurate long passes, or non-threatening interplay on the wings in Spurs’ own half.

VERTICAL PASSES KEY TO CITY

Another common theme of Manchester City’s offensive game this season has been a willingness to play through the centre at high speed, with quick passing and one-touch interplay. This was evident, and effective, once again against Tottenham.

Agüero, or his replacement Jesus, would often drop deep centrally from their striker role to receive a direct ball over the top or a penetrative pass along the ground. This enabled City to play through pressure. The striker would then look to lay-off quickly to one of the central midfielders or wingers, who would make a third man run off the ball, offer a pass, receive and drive forward behind the opposition’s midfield line.

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