Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Previewing Manchester City vs Tottenham

Tottenham is predictable due to limited depth from injuries and suspensions. I believe Manchester City should adopt a conservative defensive structure to control the match’s pace, using runners on the wings to test Tottenham’s high line.

Tottenham manager, Ange Postecoglou, was direct when asked about playing more defensively:

“If you had to take a punt, what do you reckon I would say? Just a wild guess? I don’t want to be flippant, but I don’t do what I do to prove a point.”

Ange Postecoglou on the possibility of Eric Dier playing at center-back instead of Emerson Royal:

“No. I thought it was one aspect where we struggled last week, maybe around set-pieces. To be fair, [Aston Villa] are very good at them. Overall, I thought our defending was quite good. We were disappointed with the second goal, more than the first. Not just the back four, but defensively, we were really passive in that five to 10-minute spell which we paid a price for. That’s more of a collective thing. They haven’t grown – they are all the same height as last week. We tried to feed them some different stuff but we’ll go with that.”

Predictable, Ange is kind of stubborn, but it works, so why change. I am a massive fan of using strong and quick full-backs like Emerson Royal and Ben Davies at center-back. They need the speed at the back to make the high defensive line work.

They should have scored 5 or more goals against Aston Villa, as I wrote about.

Pep Guardiola on Ange Postecoglou:

“He’s already there, in a short time, even the games they didn’t win lately, I’m impressed how good things they do and chances they create. Aggressive all departments. He came here and you recognise perfectly his team.”

Aggressive in all departments is the important part.

I chose this lineup for Manchester City because it mirrors what they used against Liverpool, another team with an aggressive potent attack. It’s a pragmatic control approach at the back with a back-three that can turn into a back-four if the opponent doesn’t apply pressure. But that is not how teams under Ange operate; they pressure you.

Figure 1.1 - Illustration of Tottenham and Manchester City's shape when Manchester City is in possession.

Pace from Kyle Walker at right-back to track runs from Son Heung-min, and Manuel Akanji inverting into the double pivot with Rodri. They then have the option to switch between a back-four with Kyle Walker advancing down the right-wing, and Phil Foden inverting to overload the middle of the pitch.

Figure 2.1 - Reece James' trivela to Raheem Sterling over Pedro Porro's head.

Ever since the 4-1 loss to Chelsea, I have been waiting to see Jérémy Doku attack that space with pace on Manchester City’s left-wing. Tottenham allowed, tempted, or dared Chelsea to attack the left-wing. I will be disappointed if we don’t see him get a chance to attack Pedro Porro.

Figure 2.2 - Conor Gallagher makes a run from deep.

And then have Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden attack the space from deep on the right-wing like Conor Gallagher and Raheem Sterling did.

Figure 2.3 - Marc Cucurella begins his run while Reece James has the ball on the far side.

Use the deeper buildup that City used against Bournemouth to force Tottenham to come out, and then attack with runs five yards ahead of Tottenham’s high line to get in behind without triggering an offside.

Then it’s just a simple tap-in for Erling Haaland or whoever makes the run on the far post.

A lot of the game will be Manchester City reacting to Tottenham, rather than being proactive and forcing the issue.

Like Muhammad Ali, they’ll let the opponent throw haymakers and tire, and Manchester City should throw jabs. Quick curved runs in behind from Erling Haaland down the middle, switches from Rodri to the runners on the wings.

Figure 3.1 - Illustration of Tottenham and Manchester City's shape when Tottenham is in possession.

Tottenham is going to attack like they aren’t understaffed. If anything, I expect them to attack even more aggressively than in previous matches in hopes to overwhelm City.

They have moved Dejan Kulusevski central, as I suggested they should do. That’s good. The main goal should be to take Dejan Kulusevski out of the game because if you take their creator out of the game, it will be difficult for Son Heung-min to get chances on goal.

Kulusevski will be roaming between the right half-space and right-wing. I think a combination of Bernardo Silva intelligently pressuring, getting in the way, with Nathan Ake physically helping would be enough to neutralize him. If Tottenham can keep Kulusevski moving unmarked than they should create good chances for the forwards.

Figure 4.1 - Destiny Udogie makes a run from left-back between Aston Villa's center-backs, and Son Hueng-min is making a run behind him, but Udogie takes the shot over the bar.

As I wrote last season, Manuel Akanji has a problem with tracking runners that run between him and the other center-back. The thing to watch for is the runs into the center of the pitch from Destiny Udogie on the left and Pedro Porro on the right.

Watch Udogie closely when he attempts to run between Akanji and Dias. That will be Manchester City’s weak spot.

I wouldn’t expect City to be as vulnerable as Aston Villa. They won’t leave space behind; they’ll allow you to possess the ball, collapse on errors, allow you to take shots, and attempt to block shots. As I wrote recently, Manchester City don’t take risks. They will allow Tottenham to come at them and then wait for mistakes.

This is what I’ll be watching for in the game to be played on Sunday, December 3rd at the Etihad Stadium. The Etihad is a bit of a fortress as of late, with Manchester City winning 23 of their last 24, only drawing the one match against Liverpool 1-1, last week.

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