Tottenham 0-0 Man City: Spurs on top but Hart keeps it level

August 15, 2010

The starting line-ups

An excellent game to get the new Premier League season up and running. No goals, but tremendous entertainment and some interesting tactical elements too.

Tottenham lined up with ten of the eleven who were involved in the penultimate game of last season against City – Vedran Corluka in for Younes Kaboul was the only changed.

Roberto Mancini chose to field new signings Aleksandar Kolarov, David Silva and Yaya Toure, in a defensive-minded 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 that essentially featured three holding midfielders.

The key to the game was all about who could control the tempo. The two sides had completely different approaches – Spurs played quick balls to the wingers who looked to run at the City full-backs, and they played at an incredibly high tempo as they dominated the opening period.

Spurs had a host of efforts on goal in the first 15 minutes but found Joe Hart in excellent form – he made multiple outstanding saves to deny Tottenham. Most of the chances came when Spurs got the ball wide and got crosses in – direct balls to the front two were dealt with reasonably well by Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany.

City struggled to maintain possession of the ball early on, despite their three central midfielders, and therefore were unable to slow the pace of the game. Hart hit a couple of hopeless long balls towards Tevez upfront, where he had little chance of getting the better of Michael Dawson and Ledley King in the air. Tottenham were defending with two solid banks of four, but City rarely looked to get their midfielders or full-backs into attacking positions early on, so they were often faced with a 3 v 8 situation when trying to break down the Spurs defence.

City improve

Eventually Spurs had to drop the pressure slightly after their frantic opening to the game, and City gradually grew into the contest – the more they had possession, the more their shape had an interesting look to it. Tevez played possibly the most exaggerated false nine role possible – picking up the ball in incredibly deep positions and letting Silva and Shaun Wright-Phillips attempt diagonal, out-in runs in behind the Spurs defence.

Meanwhile, the three central midfielders had one clear job – to keep the ball. The amazing pass completion rates of Gareth Barry (56 out of 59), Yaya Toure (68 out of 70, below) and Nigel de Jong (55 out of 59) demonstrate that, and the more they kept the ball, the better defensive job they did (remember, Sid Lowe believes Spain’s tiki-taka style is a better defensive tactic than attacking one).

by Guardian Chalkboards

The primary reason for this was that they forced Tottenham into abandoning their two-striker formation, as one of them (generally Defoe) was forced to drop back deep into midfield and help out. Often he would try and get goalside of one of the City’s midfielders, but on another occasion he found himself tracking Kolarov’s run from left-back – with City outnumbering Spurs 3 v 2 in the centre of midfield, Aaron Lennon was sometimes forced inside and left Kolarov free.

Spurs still on top

That said, Spurs were still creating the better chances, and it’s difficult to understand what they were doing wrong other than not providing the finishing touches to some excellent moves. This was seemingly what Harry Redknapp thought too, for he chose to remove the ineffectual Crouch-Defoe partnership in favour of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Robbie Keane midway through the second half, rather than actually changing the formation as a whole, or substituting players involved in build-up play.

Kolarov’s half-time injury may have helped City, because his replacement Pablo Zabaleta dealt far better with Aaron Lennon. This seemed to allow Micah Richards to push on on the opposite side (in the first half, Kolarov had been the main attacking threat) and he started to push Bale into more defensive positions.

In the second half both sides became slightly tired – maybe to be expected on the opening day of the season, and considering the nature of the first 15 minutes. City’s ball retention meant the pace of the game slowed and it became a more static contest, although Barry took up more advanced and wider positions, playing almost as a carrilero rather than a basic central midfielder.

No goals

What both sides lacked was a central midfielder looking to connect with the strikers – City’s central three were conservative, whilst Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone combined only completed two passes to any of the four strikers that featured for Spurs, partly as a result of being up against a three, partly because that was Spurs’ gameplan.

The game deserved a goal, but on the opening day, a draw between last season’s 4th and 5th-placed sides was perhaps to be expected.


Little to talk about from a tactical point of view about Spurs, though they were the better side, creating more chances. Hart was the best player on the pitch by some distance, and on a few occasions Spurs lacked a little luck.

Mancini’s defensive-minded formation will come in for some criticism, but one suspects he got the result he was looking for. The three central midfielders actually did their job rather well, but Tevez dropped too deep considering neither Silva nor Wright-Phillips were comfortable in becoming the temporary centre-forward when he did. Wright-Phillips wasted City’s best chance, through on goal with a bouncing ball, but he didn’t even manage to get a shot away.

With so many new arrivals it’s difficult to predict City’s formation, but this 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 might be Mancini’s preferred system for ‘big’ games, particularly tricky away trips. It needs some refining, but he’s not too far away from something that works quite nicely.

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