Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester City bait Tottenham's press to create space between the lines

Throughout the match, Manchester City defaulted to baiting Tottenham’s second line to press by passing back, even when the option to play forward was available. This opened loads of space to isolate Hojbjerg and Tottenham’s back line.

Figure 1.1 - Tottenham 4-1-4-1 out of possession structure.
Figure 2.1 - Tottenham's compact lines with a high offside trap.

Manchester City did not have the necessary speed in attack to take advantage of a pass behind Tottenham’s high line.

They need to force Tottenham to defend in their own box because City are made for the tighter spaces. Quick acceleration and short passes. Tottenham have the advantage in the larger spaces due to their speed and elite defensive organization.

Figure 3.1 - Bernardo Silva receives the ball and has several passing options open forward.

I began to notice in the first half, but more so in the second half, that Manchester City would always play the ball back when they retrieved the ball in the middle of the pitch.

Bernardo Silva can carry the ball forward or attempt a progressive pass, but when he does, Tottenham’s second line will be able to collapse on the ball carrier, with the help of either Cristian Romero or Micky Van de Veen stepping out from the back line.

Figure 3.2 - Bernardo Silva ignores all those choices and passes back to Ruben Dias.
Figure 3.3 - Ruben Dias passes back to Stefan Ortega.
Figure 3.4 - Stefan Ortega kicks the ball forward to the two front men.

As we learned from the Bournemouth match, the best way to create space between the lines when the opposition is set up to create the least amount of space between the back and the second line is to bait a press by passing back. So naturally, Manchester City default to passing back.

Tottenham is hard-wired to press without thinking so they always take the bait.

Figure 3.5 - Mateo Kovacic heads the ball down to Phil Foden. Manchester City has the numerical advantage.
Figure 3.6 - Phil Foden carries the ball forward.
Figure 3.7 - 6v5 for Manchester City with Tottenham's lines stretched.

Now Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is isolated, the back-line is retreating, and Manchester City has the numerical advantage. There’s forty yards of space between the back and the second line rather than five to ten yards.

Manchester City can either attempt to score quickly or force Tottenham to defend in their own box, eliminating the congestion created previously when they did not bait the press. Working in the tighter spaces forward with space behind.

Then as they repeat this process over and over, each of Tottenham’s lines grows tired because they are having to run up and down the pitch like it’s a basketball match. Which creates even more space.

Match: Tottenham 0-1 Manchester City, 26 January 2024

Back to top Share on Twitter Email this post Copy link