Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Tottenham herd Manchester City quickly forward

Manchester City want control so they can defend with the ball, but Tottenham forced them to play a game of many transitions by pressing them from behind. That forced them to only play forward, offering them no opportunities to command play.

Figure 1.1 - Phil Foden's passing options while pressed from behind.
Figure 2.1 - Bernardo Silva's passing options when pressed from the side, not allowed to go back.
Figure 3.1 - Phil Foden's passing options forward as Tottenham block off the pass back.

Tottenham were always on Manchester City’s heels. It’s one thing to press, but the intent to force the pass forward was clear and exhausting.

Tottenham pressed City’s backline, but once the pass was played forward to the midfielders or forward, City were locked into the transition. It is like a Border Collie herding sheep. They were funneled into trouble.

They made them play quickly. City need the pass backwards to walk the ball up the pitch. They don’t have the pace necessary as a collective to compete against Tottenham in a straight line. They need that slow build-up to take advantage of their technical ability superiority.

Figure 4.1 - Phil Foden's passing options wide and forward as the pass back is blocked off.
Figure 5.1 - Kevin De Bruyne's passing option forward as he is pressed from all directions.

Tottenham were fine with allowing that space to be open in behind because they could be bailed out by the pace of Mickey van de Ven. The most important thing was to make Manchester City rush.

Figure 6.1 - Phil Foden's passing options wide right as he is surrounded.
Figure 7.1 - Space left wide by Tottenham. Rodri plays the ball over the top to Kyle Walker.

And Tottenham were fine with allowing the space wide because they could easily collapse on the ball. They gave ample space to Josko Gvardiol on the left and Kyle Walker on the right.

City don’t want to play wide because when they play wide, one, they leave the defense more vulnerable because the man with the ball is a defender and a midfielder has to cover for the defender, and two, normally the pass inside is blocked off so if they don’t get a cross off, they will be forced to play back to center-backs Ruben Dias or Manuel Akanji. It’s easy to press the center-backs.

The threat with leaving space wide is that if someone on the wing receives the ball in line with Tottenham’s backline and in the half-space, it is free shooting practice. All that is needed is the low cross across the penalty box. That is how Manchester City scored their first goal. Kevin De Bruyne receives, cuts across goal to Haaland for the tap-in.

Forcing Manchester City to play quickly forward forces the midfield to commit numbers ahead of the ball. When they commit numbers ahead of the ball, and Tottenham win back the ball, the backline immediately is left vulnerable to the counter. Everyone knows how good Tottenham are on the counter. Manchester City are not very good at defending transitions because of how risk-averse they are in regard to tackling.

This is hell for Manchester City. They can learn how to beat a team that defends deep, but they’d need to adjust many things to be functional in transition.

It was a very well-executed plan from Ange Postecoglou’s team. The wind played a major part in the game. City weren’t playing well, but it was swirling in the first half, which made it more difficult than usual for them to connect passes succinctly. That wind settled down in the second half. Pair the wind dying down with the general tiredness that comes with Tottenham chasing City around the pitch and making endless runs, then City got better command of the ball.

Match: Tottenham 0-2 Manchester City, 14 May 2024

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