After three consecutive losses in three games, it was an astonishing turn in a sumptuous season for Pep Guardiola and his men as they crashed out of the Champions League in the Quarterfinals. In the game between the two legs, City lost a chance to seal the Premier League title at the Etihad against their arch rivals – Manchester United. It was a herculean task for Pep Guardiola’s men as they couldn’t secure themselves with a victory.
However the first Premier League title in three years was there to be taken as they needed just two wins in the remaining six games. The first game of the run was against Tottenham Hotspur who were in their own battle to finish in the top three. It was no easy task for Pep Guardiola and his men to come away with a win against such a side from the Wembley as many from the football world had predicted a Spurs win against the run away league leaders.
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Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1) | Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Lloris // Trippier – Sanchez – Vertonghen – Davies // Dembele – Dier // Lamela – Eriksen – Alli // Kane
Manchester City (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Ederson // Walker – Kompany – Laporte – Delph // De Bruyne – Gundogan – David Silva // Sterling – Jesus – Sane
Spurs started in a 4-2-3-1 with Lloris at the heart of goal. The back four comprised of Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen and Delph. Dembele and Dier were played as the double pivot behind the attacking trio of Lamela, Eriksen and Alli. Kane led the line for Spurs as Pochettino had set up his side in a system which has been used predominantly this season.
City, on the other hand, were set up in their customary 4-3-3 structure as Ederson started in goal. The defense was constituted by Walker, Kompany, Laporte and Delph while the midfield trio was made up by De Bruyne, Gundogan and David Silva. Sterling and Sane started in the wings with Jesus leading the attack for Manchester City.
City’s basic set up
City started in their customary structure which had been used predominantly this year and the major change seen in the team was the absence of Fernandinho. As he had to serve his match ban for violation in accumulating yellow cards, Fernandinho had been replaced by Gundogan in midfield. Given the major defensive lapse Pep Guardiola would face by replacing the Brazilian with the German, Guardiola had to pack the #6 space with another player along with Gundogan. This is mainly due to the superior defensive abilities of Fernandinho while compared to that of Gundogan and also, to adapt to Gundogan’s movements to join the attack in many instances.
As we can see in the below instance from the opening minute of the game, Delph has joined Gundogan in the defensive midfield so that they could occupy the trio of Alli, Lamela and Eriksen. This would help the defenders to circulate the ball better at the back without much pressure. And one thing to note here is the positioning of Walker in the wings as he looks to provide width as well as run in the channel once he receives the ball.
This was due to the movements of Alli who would regularly got into the central channel to play in the central zone which would give more freedom to Eriksen to roam about. In the below instance, we can see how City have set up centrally and the situational back three. Kompany is at the deeper side of the defense, a role played by Stones in the earlier stages of the campaign. Given Laporte’s strength on the ball and being naturally left footed, he is a good option to be utilized as a left sided centre half in a three man defense. This three man defense is not flat in many occasions and is utilized in a triangular shape as this would provide better passing angles.
The City #8s had more space in the central midfield and even though they were up against the double pivot of Dier and Dembele. This was due to a 5v4 upfront and City had the advantage of bringing the ball into the midfield. As the three men behind the striker would press high upfront, Gundogan was left free into the midfield and while this happened, the two #8s would be man marked by Dembele and Dier.
However the two wide players would be in 1v1 against the respective full back. In this situation, the ball carrier in the central midfield would play a lofted ball into the wing who would have slightly dropped deep and look to progress the attack with the nearest #8 in the next move.
To avoid these situations, Dembele and Dier were positioned in such a way that they would press the ball carrier in the central channel just after receiving the ball from the defensive line. Hence this allowed the #8s to be free off the ball without being tightly marked and they adapted to the adjustments made by the Tottehnam midfield.
The wingers stayed wide as usual with Jesus playing in from the centre. In many instances, Jesus was seen dropping deep to allow the players around him play forward. In some occasions, Sterling dropped into the midfield which allowed Silva to play upward alongside Jesus. This made City look like they had adopted a 3-5-2 structure with Sane providing width in the opposite flank in the right. Delph and Gundogan in the defensive midfield played behind De Bruyne and Sterling through the middle.
This movement made by Sterling is shown as an example in the image above. Here this has created a numerical advantage for City where the two #8s along with Sterling have created a 3v2 numerical overload against the double pivot.
Off the ball, City made use of two solid structures when Spurs had the ball in the middle and final third. As seen from the image below, City were structured in a 4-3-2-1 with both the wingers dropping on either side of the defensive midfielder. This happened when Spurs moved the ball in the middle third. When Spurs moved the ball into the final third, Sane would drop into the last line to play as the line of five in the defensive line.
This was done as Delph could play as the third centre back in some occasions and Sane could occupy the slot which Delph evacuated.
In other situations, both the #8s would play alongside Gundogan while either one of Sane or Sterling would’ve dropped back.
City’s play out from the back
City were hugely successful in playing out from the back and they were able to do this by evading the pressure from Tottenham forwards. The composure was there to be seen even after such losses in the previous week. When building out from the back, City positioned themselves with four at the back, the two full backs were very wide and supplied with width.
Given, Kompany and Laporte’s strength to play the ball during build ups, they were able to play the ball to the next line from the back. In the instance below, Spurs had initially structured themselves in a well disciplined 2-3-1 block in the front with Kane up front. City couldn’t find a way to play around them and had to circulate the ball within the defensive line. But by doing this, City were able to invite the press from the players up front which would create space as the player would have left some space to come forward and press.
Here once Kompany plays the ball to Laporte, Eriksen moves forward to press him as he is in the same channel. This allows Silva to drop into the space vacated by Eriksen and now Laporte plays the ball to Silva in the straight line. Due to the pressure imposed on him by Dier, Silva played the ball to Delph on the left.
Once Silva plays the ball to Delph, he moves deep to receive the return pass from Delph as he can understand that the nearest passing option, Laporte, is marked by Kane. Here Dier has followed the ball and is pressing Delph but City are very good in these situations as they make great use of triangles in the one-touch passing between two players.
Here Eriksen has fallen back to mark Silva but Delph’s pass is accurate and Silva releases the very quickly as soon as he receives it. As seen below, this created a triangle between the two players and Delph was able to run past Dier as he knows where Silva would play the ball in the next move.
As Dier has moved from the midfield, there was more space available to be exploited by Delph as he ran in centrally. He was left free in the midfield with three options in front of him. Sane was in the wings with 1v1 against Trippier and Delph passed the ball into his path in the next move.
This instance below shows the importance of utilizing the various passing angles when playing out from the back. Here Kane is pressing the keeper with the ball while Lamela is marking Laporte. Eriksen is moving up towards Delph who has come in centrally while Kompany is free in the right. However passing it to Kompany will make it more obvious and given that Kane is trying to cover shadow him, Ederson decides to step up with the ball and play it to Gundogan.
Once Ederson plays the ball into the path of Gundogan, Dembele presses Gundogan and hence the German immediately plays the ball to Kompany who is free in the right. Now Walker is free in the wing and Kompany realizes it and plays the ball to him. These diagonal movements (formation of triangles) were used to come out of the defense helped City develop the build up better from the back.
City takes advantage of the available space
Right from the opening stages of the game, Tottenham’s spacing in the midfield was poor and City were able to take advantage of such situations. This image below is one such example where De Bruyne has received the ball in the wings. Spurs are immediate to close down De Bruyne but the Belgian’s ability to play inquisitive passes have overpowered here as he picked out David Silva here in huge space in the middle.
In this instance, Ederson released the ball in the right through Walker. De Bruyne positioned himself deep in that flank to receive the ball. And this had attracted Dembele to that flank as he marked De Bruyne. This also moved Dier into the central area instead of marking Silva as he wanted to maintain the distance between the two of them.
This provided more space in the middle for Silva and once the ball received Silva, Sane is free in the left as Spurs have overloaded the opposite side. Silva plays the ball onto Sane in the wings who is free in that channel.
To increase the compactness in the middle and reduce the space provided to City, Spurs pushed their defensive line high up the pitch and also pushed their forward line back. This reduced the space provided to City in the middle however they took a high risk by adopting the high line. City exploited this very well as they scored the first goal by utilizing this space behind the high line. City made use of the direct option just like how Aguero opened up the scoring against Arsenal in the Cup final.
Kompany sees that Jesus is in the final line and playa a long ball over the top. This ball was played to perfection as it curved into Jesus path into the centre and all he had to do was control with a good first touch and finish it past Aguero.
City dominate in transitions
One of the most interesting things from the game was how City were able to dominate the game by finding spaces and arriving at superior positions. In this instance below, we can see that Kompany had passed the ball into the path of Silva. This was done as Eriksen and Dembele had moved out of their positions to press Delph and Gundogan who were the nearest passing options for Kompany.
As they move onto press, this creates a space in midfield which gives more time for Silva. Once Kompany plays the ball, he can turn and play it onto the wings where Sterling and Silva would be in a 1v1 but in a positional superiority as they are nearer to the attacking zone and also can utilize their pace.
This instance below shows Kompany playing the pass to Gundogan. Here Gundogan is left free in midfield as Dembele decides to stay close to Silva. This allows Kompany to play the pass to Gundogan as he will be with less pressure and will have more time on the ball and he exactly like Silva, played a cross onto the wings.
City were able to adjust to the changes in the pressing schemes utilized by Spurs. By doing this, City were able to successfully transition their attacks from the first phase to the next phases.
The below image shows an instance in which City were able to exploit the spaces in midfield. Both Dier and Dembele positioned very close to each other and this game the freedom for Silva and De Bruyne to stay in the half spaces without much pressure. Here, Gundogan plays a pass to Sterling who sells a dummy and leaves it on to the path of Silva. Once the ball started to move in the direction of Silva, Sterling moves into the space behind the two men defensive midfield.
The centre backs stayed behind the line of full backs and it was due to the presence of Jesus and his first goal. They fell back with the thoughts in their mind that if they had played up the line, then Jesus may get behind them. And to counter that, the two centre backs played behind the line of the two full backs. However this created the space for Sterling to operate and as seen in the image above, Silva plays it into the space where Sterling can run fast and receive the pass in a dangerous area.
This image below shows another instance in which Sterling played in the half space and had threatened the Tottenham back line by splitting the defense and opening up the gap. Here once again City have played well between transitions after escaping the first line of pressure from the Tottenham forwards. Laporte is in possession of the ball after a misplaced pass from Trippier and we can see that Lamela is running to retrieve the ball as Silva is in space. However he shifts the ball to Gundogan who is in a much better position with less pressure.
Gundogan puts the ball into the space behind Sterling and the winger collects it with more space available to him. He is involved with a 1v1 with Sanchez as he looks to move into the box and draws a foul out from Lloris who comes out of his position understanding the situation. This resulted in a penalty for City and if not for Lloris, Sterling may have picked Jesus in a much better position so that the striker could’ve scored his second goal.
These were some of the movements with which City were able to exploit the spaces available for them and were far superior in the transition phases.
A game which was proposed to be tight before the start and with many even stating a win for the home team, Manchester City came out on top dominating the game and it has been the story this season so far. City rightly came out as the deserved winners from the Wembley for the second time this season and needed just a win in the remaining fixtures. However a shocking loss for Manchester United against the bottom club West Brom in the midweek gave Pep Guardiola his first league title in England and the joint fastest league title ever in the history of the Premier League.