TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) shares his breakdown of Sunday's showdown between Tottenham and Manchester City.
Tottenham v Manchester City | Sunday 2nd February 2020, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Tottenham host Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s side look to recover from another Manchester derby defeat to United in midweek, albeit in a winning cause over the two legs of the League Cup semi-final.
The gap at the top of the table was stretched to 19 points as Liverpool eased past West Ham in midweek, and it is looking like an impossible task to catch the leaders, as Guardiola will be looking elsewhere in the search for silverware.
How that impacts upon City’s league form between now and the end of the season, particularly with European football restarting shortly, awaits to be seen, but with the mid-season break on the horizon for the Citizens, Guardiola will be keen to cement second position in the league.
Tottenham have been busy in the transfer market, and how that impacts upon the game will be interesting, as Jose Mourinho’s added depth means he could have further reinforcements to call on by Sunday as he searches for the formula to shock the champions and reinforce Spurs’ top four credentials.
The striker search is running to the last-minute as this piece is written, but any new face up front wouldn’t be expected to feature.
Mourinho to revert to type
Although under different management, the initial meeting between the two sides back in August does give an indication as to how Spurs will look to set-up, as they soaked up vast amounts of pressure in a 2-2 draw, before utilising their counter-attacking talents, as well as capitalising from set-pieces.
The Expected Goals (xG) count highlighted the gulf in opportunities both sides had, with a wasteful Manchester City racking up 3.20 to Spurs’ 0.07, and this has been a common theme throughout the season, as City’s profligate finishing once again cost them dearly on Wednesday night against Manchester United.
Mourinho has often looked to defend deep in these games against the top sides, before hitting the opposition on the counter, and it will be no surprise to see him set his side up once again to try and target City in this vain.
Without talismanic striker Harry Kane, and at time of writing, no further reinforcements to call on up front, it should see Mourinho set up in a similar fashion to recent weeks, particularly calling upon the defeat to Liverpool for tactical hints, as he tackles the issue of no focal point up front.
However, an issue that has emerged without Kane is the lack of hold up play, and in a game where they could be without the ball for long periods, the lack of out ball available to Mourinho’s side when not looking to move it over the top is a concern, and could see City dominate for long periods.
As a result, Spurs will look to invite City to dominate the ball, trying to upkeep their tactical shape, and whether it is a back four or five will be particularly interesting to see. Against Liverpool, he sprung a surprise by starting Japhet Tangana at full back with Serge Aurier in front, and this allowed flexibility to switch between a back four, as well as offering Spurs better defensive cover against Liverpool’s wide threat.
City threat’s out wide but vulnerability at full-back
Raheem Sterling has struggled for form out left for City in recent weeks, and was one of many guilty of missing quality chances for Guardiola’s side on Wednesday, but he will be confident of causing young Tangana problems.
When switched to left back against Watford, he did show signs that he is still learning his trade as a young full back, and with the threat of Riyad Mahrez from that wing to contend with, Mourinho will be more than likely to opt for Jan Vertonghen at left back in the back four, with his experience crucial in trying to keep the Algerian quiet.
By inviting the pressure on from City, the counter will be key for Spurs, and the make up of both the attack and midfield will be interesting. Mourinho will be hoping to exploit the gaps left by Man City’s full backs as they push high to provide wide support, and this has been an avenue many sides have targeted throughout the season.
How to stop KDB?
In recent weeks, Guardiola has looked to adapt to this by playing three at the back, and it does offer greater protection against the pace, whilst also offering a more fluid attack up front, and this also makes it tough to unpick quite where De Bruyne will feature.
The task of stopping De Bruyne is likely to fall to either Eric Dier or Harry Winks in the middle as Mourinho opts for solidity in the middle and keeping the Belgian quiet will be crucial to their hopes.
When City opt for a back three, it does make for a particularly tough task to stop the Belgian as he is given more freedom to roam and unpick sides from deep, particularly when they opt for a low block much like Spurs often do, and United did in midweek.
As a result, when playing this differing formation, De Bruyne does see his shot count drop so is something to be wary of, but if playing further forward in the 4-3-3 Guardiola can sometimes opt for instead, he sees these numbers increase.
With Tottenham expected to sit deep, the creativity will have to come from deep, and with little space to move into behind for City, it will need to be a patient performance when looking to break down Spurs.
Sergio Aguero is expected to start as the main striker, and his ability to work openings against tight defences is world class, and he will look to target Davinson Sanchez, who at times be positionally suspect.
Any lapses in concentration will see the Argentine pounce, and he will look to move towards Sanchez’s side when looking for opportunities in around the box, rather than Toby Alderweireld, who is much more capable of keeping the striker quiet.
As alluded to earlier, the counter will be key to Tottenham’s hopes, and pulling the strings will be Giovani Lo Celso, who is starting to thrive after taken time to settle with injury.
The balance of Spurs’ midfield will be particularly interesting, as Mourinho will be keen not to leave his side too open, so who he selects in these roles to keep City quiet will be interesting, as they risk being too open and overrun if Lo Celso is partnered in a two-man midfield.
Particularly concerning is the lack of pace in the middle, particularly against City’s counter, with Winks and Dier both susceptible to this, so how Mourinho alleviates these worries will be interesting.
In Tottenham’s first game post Christian Eriksen, it will be interesting to see how they react, but despite City’s shock defeat once again in midweek, it is a tough task to see a Spurs side without Kane firing home the chances to frustrate City, and it could be a long afternoon for Mourinho’s side.
The betting angles
With Mike Dean on the whistle for this encounter, the card markets are always hard to overlook. Factoring in both sides willingness to make a tactical foul, and the tactical nature of the game expected with both sides happy to counter, it is hard to see past both sides accumulating cards.
Four-four yellow cards this season for Manchester City, and 52 for Tottenham further reinforce this, and available at 21/20 (Bet365), each side to collect at least two cards appeals. With the line-ups hard to unpick as ever, picking out the standouts for an individual card is tough, but those tasked with stopping Son and Mahrez on either side could be the stand out option.
As touched on above, I do expect City to run out winners, and their alarming high xG of 64.29 does mean that creating chances shouldn’t be an issue. Game management is also excellent from Guardiola’s side, and if they can get the goal to settle their nerves, it will allow them to sit deeper and look to draw Tottenham on.
City have shown a willingness in many games, such as in victories against Arsenal and Chelsea, to sit back and dominate the ball, without pressing on for a large volume of goals. Available at 21/20 (Bet365), Manchester City to win and Under 4.5 Goals takes appeal, as Guardiola’s side should have too much for a Spurs side adjusting to the loss of Eriksen and Kane.