Spurs keep their Champions League hopes alive as they score three goals in seven minutes to come from behind to defeat Manchester City.
Andre Villas-Boas made three changes to his side that crashed out of the Europa League against Basel. Hugo Lloris replaced Brad Friedel in goal, Benoit Assou-Ekotto started at left-back over Kyle Naughton, and Gareth Bale returned from injury to push Lewis Holtby to the bench.
Roberto Mancini made five changes to his lineup that defeated Wigan mid-week, introducing Edin Dzeko, Gael Clichy, Matija Nastasic, Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner. Like Spurs, City played in a 4-2-3-1 that saw Carlos Tevez, Milner and Samir Nasri play behind Milner, while Yaya Toure partnered Gareth Barry in the midfield. David Silva was still sidelined due to injury, while Sergio Aguero was fit enough to play on the bench.
AVB’s tactical change with 30 minutes to play was the difference maker, as Spurs keep pace with Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for Champions League football. City was the better side in the first half, but they strolled through the second, and were punished.
Carlos Tevez was City’s most influential player in the first half, playing behind Dzeko. Tevez’ performance was identical to his first half performance against United; he found space in behind Dembele and Parker and he exploited it. The Argentine was the mastermind behind the first goal, which virtually came out of nothing. He played a pass to Milner between Scott Parker and Jan Vertonghen, and the English winger picked out Nasri, who tapped the ball into the open net.
Tevez was drifting from flank to flank creating overloads with the wingers, running at defenders from deep positions and linking play with advancing runners. Tevez played in Nasri, and the Frenchman nearly doubled City’s lead but he slipped his shot wide of the net. Tevez was a man on a mission on the first half, and if he had kept playing at this level, City might have picked up three points.
City’s Shape vs. Spurs attack
Both sides pressed cautiously and allowed their opponent’s centre backs to push forward. Spurs occasionally pressed the City defenders, but it was mainly Emmanuel Adebayor and Bale who were looking to close them down.
AVB’s men enjoyed lengthy spells of possession throughout the match, and City was content with dropping into two banks of four and forcing Spurs to break them down. Nasri and Milner pressed Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker when they had the ball, as well as tracked their runs when they decided to push forward. Milner was another bright spot for City going forward, as he troubled Assou-Ekotto early on in the match, constantly skipping past him.
Spurs struggled to create chances because both sides played quite narrow, leaving the centre of the pitch congested. When City won the ball they aimed to play through Dzeko, but the Bosnian striker was unable to cope with Vertonghen and Michael Dawson.
With Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey drifting centrally, Assou-Ekotto and Walker were left to provide the width. Milner, known for his defensive work, did a great job on his flank, as did Nasri for the first 30 minutes, tracking superbly. Towards the end of the half, Walker was relishing 1v1 situations with Nasri and he provided a great ball that nearly led to the equalizer. Players such as Bale and Dembele were unable to find space to penetrate, and they struggled to create goal-scoring chances in the first half.
City made one change at half time, introducing Aleksandar Kolarov for James Milner, who picked up a knock. Late in the first half, Bale moved to the right flank, while Dempsey played behind Adebayor. The pattern of the first half continued at the start of the second, as Spurs held possession, with City sitting back. Mancini’s men were complacent on the ball and looked willing to contain their one goal advantage.
AVB introduced Holtby and Tom Huddlestone as Spurs switched to a 4-3-3. Huddlestone sat deeper, providing a passing outlet, while Dempsey and Holtby took turns dropping into the midfield. Space opened up in the midfield for Dembele to dribble into, and it left more space for Bale to attack higher up the pitch. Defoe’s movement off the ball also created space for the midfield three, Dempsey and Bale to exploit. Defoe’s introduction was logical, as the Englishman provided pace, and intelligent runs in behind defenders, something Adebayor failed to do.
Huddlestone and Dawson were now able to spray diagonal balls without pressure from deep positions, Holtby could thread passes into tight spaces, and Dembele’s dribbling led to more chances for Spurs. Huddlestone also did a better job in tracking Tevez’ runs, as the Argentine had no significant impact in the second half Dempsey’s goal was down to a great ball from Bale, but Dawson’s cross-field diagonal led to it. The final two goals stemmed from Spurs winning the ball and finding that decisive pass, due to the space available. Kompany should have gotten closer to Defoe on his goal, as the Englishman fired a superb strike past Hart.
Mancini introduced Scott Sinclair for Dzeko and Joleon Lescott for Clichy in the final minutes, but his side was unable to fight back into the match. Mancini faced the same problems with Dzeko as AVB did with Adebayor, but he chose not to react, nor do we know if Aguero was fit to play.
AVB’s tactical switch and substitutions paid off, facilitating Spurs’ comeback. City was in control of the match, but their intensity levels dropped, and Mancini was unable to react when Spurs went to a 4-3-3. Defoe provided movement and pace upfront, Holtby and Huddlestone provided positive passes going forward and the tactical change suited Spurs, whereas Mancini’s men were unable to cope.
The win sees Spurs stay in the hunt for European football, as a loss would have dented their chances. They again struggled to break down teams that sit deep and minimize space in central areas. AVB’s tactical switch changed the game, and has now made their encounter with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge massive. Spurs can only win their games and hope their opponents drop points, if they intend on playing Champions League football next season.
City’s loss ensures that a Manchester United victory against Aston Villa will clinch the Premier League title. During Mancini’s tenure, City has struggled to get results away from home, and have lost many matches in this manner. Questions will arise about Aguero’s inclusion on the team sheet as he wasn’t fit enough to get into the game. City failed to maintain their intensity for 90 minutes, and AVB tactically outcoached Mancini, in what may be the nail in the coffin on his time in England.
1. Jan Vertonghen
2. Gareth Bale
3. Clint Dempsey