Tottenham 3 Man City 1: Story Of A Match


Tottenham respond with a second half burst to earn a key three points in their pursuit of Champions League qualification, while the defeat all but ensures Manchester City will fail in any bid to chase down United. Today on the blog Matt Wallace offers his tactical analysis of Spurs' 3-1 win on Sunday.


Tottenham hosted Manchester City on Sunday with everything to play for. A win for Arsenal on Saturday meant the race for the Champions League positions was getting tighter than ever, and the need to keep up the pressure was high.

Injuries to Silva and Aguero meant a reshuffle for Mancini, bringing in Dzeko up front with Tevez playing off him, while Barry partnered Yaya Toure in the middle.


Spurs, without Lennon, opted to put Dempsey wide right and recalled Adebayor, hoping for one of his traditionally good games against former clubs.


For large parts of the first half, and into the second, City were notably the stronger side, and this was typified by the busy play of Carlos Tevez. Playing between the lines, Tevez frequently harassed Tottenham fullbacks and pulled Parker out of position, allowing City to overload Spurs in the final third.


The opening goal, after just a few minutes, was all down to Tevez’s tenacity down the right and the complete misreading of the ball by Parker. It eventually broke to Nasri who slotted it away. With the tendency of City’s wide players to swap flanks and cut inside, they were able to use Tevez’s great movement to operate in little pockets of space in front of the Spurs backline.


This was in no small part helped by the poor game Scott Parker had. His job, to provide an anchor and allow Dembele to break forward, was disrupted by the movement of Tevez, but he was frequently relaxed on the ball and pulled out of position.


In fact, Dembele had more of a defensive impact than Parker did. One effect of his poor play, and has been a staple of his career, is his limited passing range. Without the pace of Lennon, Spurs looked ponderous on the ball and lacked the dynamic forward thrust.

This was exacerbated by Bale not having his strongest game playing off Adebayor, marshalled well by Toure and Barry. Bale excels when he has space to run into, but with Zabaleta in great form and Kolarov helping solidify the other flank, he had little to feed on.

Villas Boas Makes His Move

After being 2nd best for much of the first hour, Villas Boas made a key tactical switch and swung the game decisively in Spurs’ favour. The first part was the removal of Parker for Huddlestone. Tom hasn’t played as much as he’d like this season, but he showed his worth here, not least for his discipline in closing down Tevez.


But what was key to Spurs revival was Huddlestone’s passing range. Reduced were the ponderous sideways, safe balls from Parker and in was a more dynamic, vertical threat that switched play quickly and played to Tottenham’s strength: the pace of Bale.


Above you can see the change in style that occurred. For much of the first hour Spurs were reduced to playing in front of Man City and trying to beat them with the ball – they rarely did. They hardly ever got behind defenders and their attacks became predictable. For the final half an hour, with a shift in formation and Bale playing high on the right, their passing was quick and direct, aiming for the final third.

The problem with Spurs, without Lennon’s pace and with Bale being such a central figure, is that they struggle for width. Sigurdsson has spent large parts of the season on the left, always itching to come inside, and on Sunday Dempsey started on the right, always itching to come inside. Dembele has been played there too. With so many central players, it keeps the field compressed. Lennon is just as key to the way Spurs play as Bale, just because he keeps defenders pushed back, full-backs on their heels and opens up space for Bale to do what he does. And in order to keep Bale ticking over, a sort of solid 4-4-1-1 has been developed to provide stability. The final half an hour on Sunday saw an evolution from that system, one that takes into account Lennon’s absence, still provided solidity and allowed Bale to be an attacking force.

Holtby and Bale

The other key substitutions were Holtby and Defoe. The former’s compact play and energy perfectly compliment that of Dembele, while Defoe was able to take advantage of a suitably knackered City backline and do what he does best – find something from nothing.


The switch from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-3-3- was instrumental in bringing Spurs back into the game. With Bale high on the right, he was occasionally marginalised, but his attacking instincts in the final third were clear to see with the terrific ball for the first and intelligent run for the third.

Toure and Barry

One final thing that was notable in the 2nd half was the marginalisation of Barry and Toure. The impact Yaya Toure has on games is one of his major attributes, he almost dominates them by force of will, but the verticality of Tottenham’s threat, aiming quick passes high up the flanks and basically bypassing the area in front of the centrebacks, meant they had to go searching for the ball.


Neither of them did it particularly well, Toure looking a particularly lazy figure as he was outplayed in the middle by Dembele and Huddlestone. With so little to play for for Man City, you wonder if his mind was on a beach.

The Final Word

All in all it was a fascinating game simply because of the tweaks employed by AVB. He has fast become an interesting manager for neutrals because of his willingness to alter formations, find the best system for a group of players and try new things. With the side being reasonably outplayed for large periods, his ability to trust his players in different positions, try out a new formation in a key game and turn a game around shows his ability, and the trust the players have in him.

A strong win, and a key one in the story of their season.



To read more of Matt's work, visit his blog

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Blogger, philosopher, lifelong mate, never wants a passer-by to pass him by. Blogging at on all things Norwich and here with monthly Story of a Match pieces, breaking down the interesting games to see exactly what made them tick. I also bet, but with unreliable outcomes.