Manchester City 0-1 Tottenham: Spurs deservedly into the Champions League
Tottenham emerged victorious from this Champions League playoff, primarily because they created more clear-cut chances. Peter Crouch’s winner was slightly fortunate, but it was no more than Spurs deserved.
Manchester City played their expected line-up in a game they needed to win – two strikers with Emmanuel Adebayor as the targetman, and Carlos Tevez dropping off in behind, in a position he seems to prefer, judging by his recent display at Arsenal. Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson continued as inverted wingers.
Tottenham largely returned to the system that had proved successful against Arsenal and Chelsea, rather than the one which suffered a 1-3 defeat against Manchester United – Gareth Bale in front of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul playing as a defensive-minded right-back. Wilson Palacios was on the bench, with the Huddlestone-Modric parnership preferred. Peter Crouch came in for Roman Pavlyuchenko.
The first half was a tense, nervy contest. It was a stereotypical English football game - fast tempo, physical, and a bit lacking in technical quality at times, with the wingers on either side looking dangerous, and set-pieces key. City had the majority of possession and more shots, but Spurs came closest to scoring, from a Crouch header against the post, and a controversially disallowed Ledley King header from a corner.
City coped quite well with Tottenham’s wide threat in the first half. Adam Johnson played deeper than usual, and helped Pablo Zabaleta against Gareth Bale, covering well early on when Zabaleta was beaten. On the other side, Bellamy stayed reasonably high up the pitch, and therefore against Aaron Lennon, Wayne Bridge was aided by Gareth Barry, who dropped to the left, vacating the central midfield area. This left a slight hole in the centre of midfield, whch was manned solely by Nigel de Jong, but Spurs were unable to exploit this too much with their two central midfielders, as one of them (generally Tom Huddlestone) was concerned with Tevez dropping deep.
0-0 was a fair scoreline at half-time, but the game opened up in the second-half. The onus was on City to get forward, as Mancini pushed Adam Johnson further forward, and seemingly allowed Craig Bellamy more of a free role, but Tottenham took advantage of the wide open spaces to play the ball to their wide players.
City’s wingers were tracking back less, and with neither Wayne Bridge nor Pablo Zabaleta the most mobile of full-backs, they were exposed by Tottenham’s wing partnerships of Kaboul & Lennon and, in particular, Assou-Ekotto & Bale. Twice before their goal, Spurs should have gone ahead through left-wing crosses. Firstly the two on the left combined to get Assou-Ekotto in a crossing position, and he played in a brilliant ball that both Defoe and Crouch were inches away from converting. Soon after, Bale’s ball from a similar position was headed straight at the goalkeeper from point-blank range by Crouch.
Spurs were quicker and more assured on the ball throughout the second period, and Gareth Barry’s departure for Patrick Vieira (who these days is an awkward, uncomfortable-looking player) did nothing to help City achieve what they really needed – a goal.
The away side finally went infront from a cross from Kaboul that fortunately fell into the path of Crouch, but it was a fair way for the game to be settled – both because it was a Spurs goal, and because it came from a cross into the box.
With both sides playing 4-4-2s that became 4-4-1-1s when not in possession, the game was characterized not by free players or one system prevailing over the other, but by individual match-ups throughout the pitch, as shown in two Chalkboards below. King and Dawson consistently beat Adebayor in the air, whilst Toure and Kompany consistently lost to Crouch in the air.
The one difference between the two systems, of course, was the nature of the wingers. City’s wrong-footed pair, Johnson and Bellamy, had to come inside or cut onto their stronger foot to get crosses in, making it difficult to create chances from this method, especially with Adebayor struggling. Tottenham’s, however, could more instinctively look up and swing balls in towards Crouch without disrupting the flow of the attack. Wrong-footed wingers have been arguably the tactical development of the season, but Tottenham’s proficiency from crosses tonight showed that the good old-fashioned method of playing lefties on the left, righties on the right and telling them to get the ball into the box is often the more effective tactic in a tense, scrappy game like this one.
Three Chalkboards. Firstly, the two target men compared in the air. Peter Crouch won a far higher proportion of challenges than Emmanuel Adebayor:
And the other side of the coin, the centre-back match-up; Michael Dawson v Kolo Toure. 11 out of 12 against 7 out of 14:
Lastly, Carlos Tevez seemed to fade as the game went on – in the first half he was key to City’s play, in the second he looked disinterested and showed little of his famed work ethic as City collapsed.