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Tactical Analysis

Spurs 3-1 Manchester City: Tactical Analysis

The first of the 2 games on ‘Super Sunday’ saw Spurs take on the Champions Manchester City at White Hart Lane. Although City’s title charge was all but over, they were looking to continue their recent good form especially following their derby win over cross town rivals and Champions-in-waiting United. Spurs meanwhile were looking to seal Champions League qualification for next season. Having managed to only garner 4 points from the last 4 games and with a crucial game against Chelsea still to come, Spurs could not afford any more slip ups in their quest for a top 4 finish.

Spurs and City both featured in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formations. The notable inclusions for Spurs were Dempsey and Sigurdsson on the right and left wing respectively. Gareth Bale played in a more central role while Emmanuel Adebayor led the line. City’s team had no surprises as such with Dzeko given the onus of leading the line.


Lack of width:

With Dempsey and Sigurdsson on the wings and Bale in a central role, Spurs started the game with no natural wingers in the side. Their attacking play was always too narrow. Walker and Assou-Ekotto did make their occasional forays and attacked the opposing full backs with the former having the best chance of the 1st half but Spurs were largely forced infield and found it hard to create any chances against City.

Lack of width in attack

Lack of width in attack


In fact, one of the turning points of the game was when Bale was moved to the right following the introduction of Holtby. The equalizer was a direct result of this move. Bale got a hold of the ball on the right and delivered a good low cross with the Outside Of his Boot . Dempsey coming in form the left did what all good wide men though and turned the ball in at the far post.

No penetration in attack:

Although Spurs did run out eventual winners, they did struggle to trouble City’s defence for large parts of the game especially before the equalizer. As mentioned above, the lack of width in their attack led to congestion in the centre of the park. Parker and Dembele were closed down quickly and weren’t given space or time on the ball. Thus they were unable to dictate play form deep. Spurs did enjoy quite a bit of possession (an astounding 79% in a 5 minute  spell between 30-35 minutes), the play was quite often lacking penetration. Moves quite often led to the edge of the City box and then was forced back. The lack of width as cited above was of course a crucial factor in this as well. Looking slightly bereft of ideas, Spurs did try the long diagonal switching play on multiple occasions in the 1st half. However, both Clichy and Nastasic were up to task and were effective in shackling the aerial threat of Adebayor and Dempsey.

High line:

Spurs' high line.

Spurs’ high line.

As seen before Spurs under Andre Villas-Boas enjoy playing a high line. If not executed properly, this is a very dangerous tactic against the likes of Tevez, Nasri, Dzeko and Yaya Toure who are especially adept at not only playing through balls but also making sure they are on the end of them. City were always a danger especially on the counter and truth be told, had they not been wasteful in front of goal they could’ve well been out of sight out before Spurs’ impressive comeback.


While questions could be asked of the starting eleven and their positions, credit must be given to where it’s due. AVB’s substitutions and tactical changes were spot on. Seeing that his team was in need of width, AVB brought on Holtby for Sigurdsson. As a result Bale was pushed out wide to the right flank and not only played a key role in the equalizer but also scored the 3rd goal after his position was changed. Holtby played fellow substitute Defoe in for the 2nd and Huddlestone not to be outdone threaded the precise ball through for Bale for the 3rd capping off what was an impressive performance off the bench for the midfielder.


Attacking prowess and fluidity:

City player positions via

City player positions via

Mancini’s first season in charge was characterized by opposition fans mocking the club and indeed the Italian manager with chants of “Boring, Boring City”. However, those days are long gone and City have come to boast of a top quality attacking line up. Always dangerous on the counter, City were always a constant threat in the first half. With slick passing in the final third, City were not quite slicing open the Spurs defence at will but were certainly knocking on the door on multiple occasions and had their share of chances. The fluid nature of City’s attacking play was a constant thorn for Spurs’ defence. With Milner largely on the right wing, the likes of Dzeko, Nasri and Tevez were constantly changing positions as shown above.  Most notably, Nasri having already bagged a goal would be disappointed not to have at least got his shot on target when faced by the keeper.

Tevez’s free role:

Tevez drags Vertonghen out of position for the goal.

Tevez drags Vertonghen (in box) out of position for the goal.

Whatever you may think of Carlos Tevez one thing is for sure, given a ball at his feet he takes some stopping. Tevez reveled in the free role given to him by Roberto Mancini. Despite neither being the man with the final pass or the goal, much of the credit for City’s goal should go to him. Tevez dragged Vertonghen out of his position and having held him off superbly, played a great ball to Milner. Milner found Nasri and the Frenchman did the rest. The Argentine was crucial to City’s fortunes in the 1st half and was more often than not at the heart of City’s attacking play.

City playing deep and congesting the play:

Having secured an early lead, City were content to get men behind the ball. This does not mean that they had 2 banks of 4 in front of their penalty area. They were happy to get goal side of play and congest the middle of the park. Spurs with no outlet on the wings were continuously forced in field and back. To their credit, this worked for most of the game. However, after the equalizer City were rocked for the 1st time and failed to come to terms with the Spurs’ changes. What was also noticeable  in both the 2nd and 3rd goals was that both originated from runs made in the inside channel between centre and full back.


Some of City’s attacking play lacked the intensity of the 1st half. Tottenham looked much the better side after their substitutions. On the flip side, City ‘s response to going behind was not what you would expect from a top side and to be honest never really looked like mounting a late comeback. Scott Sinclair (remember him?) and Joleon Lescott as an auxillary centre forwards in the dying stages is not exactly tailor made for a late siege on the opposition goal. With Silva and Aguero missing, yesterday was another day when the lack of a replacement for Balotelli was felt.


In what was a strange game in North London which finished Spurs 3-1 Manchester City, Spurs took a great stride in the direction of top 4 qualification. City meanwhile would feel they deserved more but they have only themselves to blame for their wastefulness in front of goal. AVB deserves credit  for his substitutions and at the end of the day that was the the main difference between the 2 sides. With the title race now all but over, the battle for Champions League qualification could yet take centre stage at the business end of the Premier League season.

Featured Image made using OOTB’s Tactics Creator app.

Click here to read more Tactical Analysis.

Arnab Ray

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