While he was taking the Premier League by storm this season, Guardiola had one team left in his sights: Pochettino’s Tottenham. After passing the United test, City knew that Tottenham would provide a different challenge, they never sit back and wait for the opposition to play, they run in packs hunting for the ball and press high up the pitch. Pep planned extremely well for this match in order to avoid last season’s scenario, when Spurs handed City their first defeat of the season sparking a series of bad results thereafter. However, this season’s Manchester City is extremely different than last season’s, and that’s was shown on Saturday.
Manchester City (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Mangala, Delph; Fernandinho, Gundogan, De Bruyne; Sane, Sterling, Aguero.
Tottenham (4-4-2 Diamond) | Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Lloris; Trippier, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Winks, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli; Son, Kane.
City started in their traditional 4-3-3 with Gundogan and Mangala replacing veterans David Silva and Kompany. Pochettino fielded a 4-4-2 diamond formation to ensure midfield solidity against City’s superb attacking shape.
In this piece I’ll analyze important match scenarios to help give a clear idea on where the match was won and lost by the top two attacking teams in England right now.
Midfielders overload one side
The above image shows a common tactic used by Guardiola throughout his managerial career; grouping the central midfielders on one side to attract the opponents and quickly exploit the under-loaded side. In the game image we see Gundogan and De Bruyne on the left wing in addition to Aguero and Sané, forcing Tottenham to commit 6 players to carry out the defensive duties. Consequently, Sterling finds himself within acres of space in a 1 vs 1 situation against Rose. With De Bruyne as the deep-lying playmaker, wingers were found easily thanks to the Belgian’s great vision.
False full-backs’ effect
After Mendy’s injury, Delph replaced him in the left full-back position where Guardiola changed his role into playing as a false full-back. That meant Delph became responsible for joining Fernandinho in midfield to aid in possession and escape the press. However, in the image above we see Walker joining the Brazilian pivot to retain the ball and protect it from the pressing Spurs players.
Football is all about intelligence, and De Bruyne surely has what’s called the “Football IQ”. Seeing that his teammates attracted the opposition’s press, he moves behind the lines taking advantage of Tottenham’s blind spot to find himself in the center of the circle without anyone marking him. This caused a dilemma for Tottenham’s defence line; shall they press the Belgian leaving space behind exposed? Or shall they leave the center space to City’s best player to receive the ball and head towards goal? This is positional play at its best.
Otamendi’s Laser Passes
With Stones and Kompany injured, the central defenders available for the match were Otamendi and Mangala. Mangala took Otamendi’s old role in holding the line, whereas Otamendi showed incredible personality and courage in moving up the field and attempting risky line-breaking passes that facilitated things for City’s attackers. For instance, the pass made in the image above took out 6 Spurs players from the game; just one pass. Imagine the feeling of joy that overwhelmed Guardiola when witnessing this pass. Under Pep, the Argentine’s form has been on the rise showing incredible personality and leadership on the pitch.
City’s final third planned attack
Whenever Sané breaks away from his markers, the other two attackers each attack a post. Then they are followed by the central midfielders who position themselves on the edges of the box for any potential cut-backs or counter-pressing opportunity. Nothing is carried out randomly; this is the result of hard work done by the coach and his staff, in addition to the talent and intelligence of the players.
One can surely expect to see coordinated pressing when watching Guardiola’s team. For example, the common thing between the two images is the way the press is carried out; closing down passing lanes where each player sticks to the one he is responsible to mark.
In the first, each passing lane is covered, triggering a double team between De Bruyne and Sané on Eriksen in an attempt to intercept and initiate a quick counter attack. In the second image, City’s players push up their lines when Tottenham’s defenders get cornered near the touchline.
Different pressing triggers but the purpose is one, regain the ball.
Spurs are well-known for their energetic high pressing, but it wasn’t enough to stop Manchester City from circulating the ball using different player movements. Ederson played one of his best matches in terms of distributing the ball to his teammates. In the image above, we see how Delph’s half-space orientation opens up a passing lane between him and Ederson therefore beating the Londoners’ press. Had Delph been positioned near the touchline, he would be easily covered by either Kane’s shadow, or the advancing Eriksen. This is an example of brilliant use of the false full-back tactic again from Pep Guardiola in the big matches to cement his position as football’s greatest pioneers in terms of action and reaction to the different scenarios of the game.
City’s Half-space Focus
Different images but same focus – Tottenham’s half-space between Trippier and Dier. The first image on shows amazing positioning from Guardiola’s men: Sané occupies Trippier stretching the defence horizontally, Gabriel Jesus with Vertonghen, Gundogan teases Dier into pressing him, and De Bruyne moves behind Dier to attack the vacant space. This chance resulted in the penalty that was missed by Gabriel Jesus.
The next image shows the pace and speed of thought that City’s wingers possess. As soon as the gap was found between Trippier and Dier, Gundogan releases Sané with a smooth through ball but this isn’t the end of the attacking play; when Gundogan passes to Sané, Sterling performs what is called the “third-man run” behind the defenders on the ball-far side to put himself in a perfect position for a square pass from Sané.
Manchester City’s best performance of the season? Well, there are many nominees for that, but surely such a dominant performance will have a long-term effect on the team in terms of spirit, togetherness, confidence, and learning curve.
Guardiola was doubted and criticized during his first season; pundits and fans alike were despising his brand of football demanding that the ball be played the “English way”. However, the Catalan remained on the path that he was set on ever since he embarked on a football career. And he is yielding the results in his current season with some terrifying style of play. Well done Pep!