Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City made quite the statement on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, beating Tottenham 6-0 in a one-sided affair. For the visitors, a return to the drawing board is necessary, as the Spurs faithful start to question their side’s ability to challenge for a top-four berth.
Despite the dominance of the hosts, a number of tactical observations can be made from the game.
City’s movement off the ball far superior to Tottenham’s
Both sides play bespoke versions of the 4-2-3-1 formation, with one side freescoring all season long and the other struggling to hit the net from open play. A key reason for this could well be the respective attackers’ movement off the ball, with a noticeable disparity between the sides on Sunday.
While City wingers Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri popped up on the touchline, ran in behind their opposition full-backs and pushed in-field to take up dangerous positions, their Tottenham equivalents were too predictable.
Aaron Lennon and Erik Lamela were given the nod, and similar to the likes of Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurdsson, consistently looked to push in-field and get involved centrally. This bunched up Spurs’ attacking game and resulted in limited space. The resultant intricate and tight-knit play proved ineffective.
What ever happened to Tottenham wingers staying wide? With Lennon and Townsend (he is left footed, play him on the left!) natural widemen, for Spurs to find more space in the final third this duo need to hug the touchline.
Tottenham’s defensive positioning completely flawed
Spurs had been applauded for their defensive prowess ahead of the game, but in truth two men this season have ensured the side’s previous miserly rearguard record.
Hugo Lloris’ ability to play as a keeper-sweeper and Jan Vertonghen’s pace to cover in behind have got Tottenham out of danger on more occasions than the White Hart Lane faithful would care to remember this term. With both off the boil at the Etihad Stadium, Spurs’ defence was cut to ribbons.
As good an attacking full-back as Kyle Walker is, he over-relies on his pace to cover for his positional naivety. He was found out repeatedly by Samir Nasri here, as he consistently was caught too far up the pitch.
The main problem area though was the north Londoners central defensive partnership. Despite the superb movement and interplay of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero, Spurs’ defence were at sixes and sevens from the first whistle to the last.
Younes Kaboul is only returning to action after prolonged injury and did what he could. Spurs captain Michael Dawson, not for the first time this season, looked like a pub player. His lack of speed saw him consistently outstripped, he was continually dragged out of position and individually beaten on countless occasions.
The answer? Tottenham simply must put Jan Vertonghen back in at centre-half. The Belgian is one of the best central defenders in Europe and can offer the leadership, physical presence and pace that Dawson severely lacks. No left-back? Play Vlad Chiriches there until the return of Danny Rose; as a collective Spurs will be much stronger.
The art of two strikers
City showed Tottenham just how effective playing two strikers can be, with the home side’s strike pairing devastating. Negredo and Aguero worked together to unpick the opposition defence and bring others into the game.
At the other end, talented striker Roberto Soldado has been completely isolated by Tottenham’s formation all-season long. In the brief period that Emmanuel Adebayor was on the pitch with the Spaniard, Spurs instantly looked like more of an attacking threat.
It is time for Andre Villas-Boas to abandon the 4-2-3-1 formation – it is clearly not working. What ever happened to 4-4-2?
City on the other hand are as dangerous an attacking unit as anyone in England, and this result shows that they are real contenders for the Premier League crown.