premier League, february 5 2023
With the goal that took him clear of Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham Hotspur's all-time leading goalscorer, Harry Kane ensured Spurs saw off Manchester City and got their top-four bid back on track. It was only Tottenham's third win in seven Premier League games since the winter break, but it extended a woeful run at their stadium for City. Pep Guardiola's side missed out on the opportunity to gain ground on Arsenal at the top of the table following their defeat to Sean Dyche's Everton on Saturday.
With Antonio Conte absent due to illness, his assistant Cristian Stellini was in the dugout. "The key was the capacity to suffer when City has the ball," he said. "We know when we play against this team we have to suffer, because they have the ball a lot. But we moved well in the defensive phase and defended in a brilliant way."
SHOTS / ON TARGET
ATTACKS INTO AREA
EXPECTED GOALS (XG)
Tottenham used a 3-4-2-1 shape but only rarely had any sustained periods of possession. They came up against a City side that defended in 4-4-2 block. City’s two centre-forwards screened central access into Spurs’ double pivot of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur, which forced the hosts to build around the outside. City’s wide midfielders, Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez, worked back well to cover the inside channels, stopping passes being reversed into Son Heung-min, who dropped in to receive on the left, or one of Dejan Kulusevski or Emerson Royal on the right, who rotated well (below). With City dominating possession, Spurs sat in a low block for the majority of the first half, but they superbly picked their moment to jump out and press City during their deep build-up. Højbjerg aggressively pressed and won the ball on the edge of the box, before sliding Harry Kane in to finish.
With Tottenham defending a lead, they maintained their low block throughout the first half. Rico Lewis moved inside from left-back whenever City had the ball, which left a lot of space for Kulusevski to transition into down the Tottenham right. Grealish was forced to make recovery runs over a significant distance on numerous occasions as a result, as Spurs’ threat down the right grew. With Nathan Aké not moving forward to support the winger on the left, like Kyle Walker was on the right, Kulusevski had even more space to advance into, either with or without the ball. Kane’s ability to pin Manuel Akanji, hold the ball up, link with runners (below) and control direct forward balls also helped Spurs find Kulusevski more frequently. Son eventually joined the attacks, too, from his deeper starting position.
Kane dominated Akanji throughout the game, especially by moving towards the ball after a midfield regain. This dropping short helped link together the hosts' counter-attacks, with Kane then finding support on both sides of the pitch, as wing-backs Emerson and Ivan Perisic committed forward on the break to support Kulusevski and Son. With Kane often dropping into the left inside channel and connecting with Bentancur, space was created for runs through central midfield from Højbjerg, who then tried to work the ball out to Emerson and Kulusevski on the right (below). However, Spurs lacked the cutting edge to punish City with a second goal, and were fortunate they weren’t made to pay for their profligacy.
As well as providing central runs to penetrate through the middle of the pitch, Højbjerg put in an impressive performance in how much we won the ball, either through individual duels or pressing. What’s more, once he had made a regain, he showed good composure to pick out a teammate – usually Kane, who drifted to the left slightly. From here, as City surrounded the ball, Kulusevski – who defended narrower in the second half – continued to benefit from the spaces that emerged on City’s left (below). Højbjerg also found Kulusevski on a few occasions, and although they couldn’t find a crucial second goal, Spurs’ constant threat on transition severely disrupted the visitors’ attacking rhythm. This forced City away from goal and into their own third to reset time and time again.
From their 4-4-2 out-of-possession shape, City used a 3-5-2 structure when attacking. Rico Lewis inverted from left-back, supporting Rodri and Bernardo Silva as a central-midfield three. Julián Álvarez and Erling Haaland widened slightly to occupy the hosts’ two outside centre-backs, with the aim of creating space centrally for Silva to receive between the lines (below). Kyle Walker and Nathan Aké became City’s two wider centre-backs in a back three, with Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish holding the width. Walker would move slightly higher, supporting Mahrez on City’s right; this forced Son to work back, which largely nullified his threat on the counter. However, this didn’t much effect with the ball, as City didn’t create much down the right at all.
With Lewis inside, City had a 3v2 overload against Tottenham’s central-midfield two. Even with Son and Kulusevski narrowing to create a compact second line, Silva was repeatedly found with penetrative passes through the middle (below). City then had an attacking line of four, which is one fewer than the front line of five that has been consistent under Guardiola. Despite purposeful runs from Haaland – after initially dropping short to pull Cristian Romero out of the back line – and some clever supporting movements from Álvarez and Silva, City failed to connect with those runs, and had very few efforts on goal as a result. Rodri and Lewis would sometimes rotate with Silva, ensuring someone was always in the number 10 position, but Haaland was woefully starved of service despite getting a run on Romero, who had already been booked, time and again. Mahrez hit the bar moments before half-time, but that came from a high regain rather than City's dominance of possession.
Tottenham’s defenders were constantly in two minds about whether to follow Haaland into midfield or maintain their shape, and his movements created space for him to run in behind the Spurs back line (below). However, despite City working the ball into good areas within the home side’s block, their midfielders failed to spot Haaland’s purposeful and well-timed runs. Kevin De Bruyne was added to City’s attack as the number 10 – presumably to look for Haaland more often – with Silva moved out to the right, but Haaland grew increasingly frustrated as his teammates continued to miss opportunities to find him.
Silva offered little once he'd been moved to the right, but with De Bruyne now between the lines, Spurs’ second line became even more narrow, which meant Kulusevski over-covering City’s left inside channel (below). As a result, Emerson had less protection and was left 1v1 with Grealish too often. Grealish drew a couple of fouls from Emerson, but the Brazilian largely coped well. Grealish did, however, drift infield as well, and caused problems there, with Romero sent off for hacking the winger down as he broke. Grealish was City’s brightest spark in the second half, but despite all of his efforts, City once again failed to score away at Tottenham, and slumped to a disappointing defeat.
To learn more from the professional coaches of The Coaches’ Voice, visit CV Academy
Author: The Coaches' Voice