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Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City – tactical preview

The final international break in 2020 finally finished. It’s also marked the return of club football, including the Premier League. This special weekend will host a couple of interesting matches to spice up the title race. One of them is Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City.

The last time both teams meet in the league was back in February. That time, José Mourinho’s side defeated Pep Guardiola’s team two goals to nothing. Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min came home smiling after putting their names on the scoresheet, while the Sky Blues’ Oleksandr Zinchenko had an early bath due to his expulsion. How will the match unfold? This tactical analysis will give you a preview on that.

Potential lineups

The home team will come to this match with their strongest armada. Indeed, Matt Doherty is not available due to the coronavirus he has, but he’s the only absentee of Mourinho’s men. Speaking about structure, we believe Mourinho will use his preferred 4–2–3–1 in this game. The predicted lineup is as follows:

Hugo Lloris; Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Sergio Reguilón; Moussa Sissoko, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg; Lucas Moura, Tanguy Ndombélé, Son Heung-min; Harry Kane.

IOn the other side, Man. City have more injury problems than Tottenham. Their talisman Sergio Agüero, as well as their new recruit, Nathan Aké, are ruled out due to their hamstring issues. Former Liverpool player, Raheem Sterling, is in doubt after missing both England games this week. However, he can still start this Saturday if the problem is not as severe as predicted. We predict Guardiola will set his team in 4–2–3–1, with the starting lineup as follows:

Ederson; Kyle Walker, Rúben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, João Cancelo; Rodri, İlkay Gündoğan; Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling; Gabriel Jesus.

City’s positional play

This analysis will start by dissecting the Citizens’ potential attacking tactics. Many predict that they will enjoy a lot of possession as usual. However, it’s not only about possession. We must also take into account City’s tendency to attack through the flanks. The statistics show that 72% of their attacks come from wide areas. So, how will Guardiola set his team up?

First, we think that Guardiola will ask both of his full-backs to bomb forward. By doing so, the full-back pairing will be positioned in advanced areas and play closer to the attacking line. However, the vacant space left by the duo should be covered properly.

We predict that Guardiola will ask one of his midfielders to drop alongside the centre-backs. It means that City will have three men at the back, with the centre-back duo to move accordingly. From an attacking perspective, this helps City to access their wing players easier because they will have two centre-backs playing in the half-spaces. From a defensive point of view, this can add more protection as City will have more bodies to counter Tottenham’s forwards.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
City will probably use this attacking setup. Notice that one defensive midfielder drops alongside the centre-backs while the full-backs go forward.

What can they do in the flanks?

Their most-tested approach is to overload in one flank and then switch the ball to the opposite side. The overload will most likely be played in the left side with De Bruyne moving freely from the central space to help. After that, City will try to send a diagonal ball to Mahrez in far-right. The Algerian then will be allowed to play his favourite one-versus-one duel against Tottenham’s defender.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Mahrez isolated in the far-right. The image above taken from both teams’ last meeting.

Their second approach is by focusing the attack through one flank and then send one player in behind to make a cross. Usually, in this setup, City will directly play the ball from the outside centre-back to his side’s winger. The winger then will be followed by the opponents’ full-back, which opens space inside the defensive block. This space then can be attacked by various players.

First, De Bruyne. As mentioned before, De Bruyne will have the freedom to roam across the pitch as an attacking midfielder. He can also use this freedom to make darting runs in behind to attack the space between Tottenham’s defenders before making a cross. Second, the full-backs. This is a bit more unlikely due to the high level of risk, but still a possibility for City.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
De Bruyne’s freedom and mobility can help City in the final third.

The last alternative will be early crosses. This type of crosses is usually provided by De Bruyne. To do so, he would drop, drift, and play almost like a full-back. The objective behind that is to allow himself space to make his crosses, as he will send them from a deeper area than usual.

The Belgian is also capable to make accurate early crosses.

Tottenham’s potential defensive strategy

Structure-wise, we probably will see Tottenham defend in a mid-block 4–4–2. In this shape, they can achieve two things. First, they will not allow City to play in between the lines. Second, this also allows Spurs’ quick forwards to be positioned in a more advanced area to make counter-attacks.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Spurs may defend in a compact mid-block 4-4-2.

However, we must also consider Mourinho’s tendency to sit deeper in big games. Even more, City’s flank players are one of the most dangerous in the league. How will Spurs defend the flanks?

Their first approach will be sending the ball-side full-back to immediately press the City’s wide player. This immediate press is important to limit the opponent’s time and space with the ball. Unfortunately, it has a structural issue. That is to open space between the full-back and the nearby centre-back. To counter this, usually, Mourinho will ask the ball-side defensive midfielder to cover the space. The midfielder will do that by dropping from his position and follow the opponents’ runner in behind.

The full-back steps up from the backline to press. Yet, Spurs still have Højbjerg to cover the gap.

Mourinho can also ask his men to sit back and defend deeper. In the process, they will defend very compact and close the central lanes tightly. This means that the defensive midfielder pairing will stay in their positions rather than covering the flanks.

To cover the wings, Mourinho can ask his wingers to drop really deep and play alongside the defenders, meanwhile, the full-backs stay inside. By doing so, Spurs can still dominate the box to defend the crosses while having players to protect the flanks.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Erik Lamela drops to help defend the flank. Also, observe the compactness of Spurs’ defensive department.

City’s defensive tactics and its issues (part one)

This season, Guardiola’s City have used a new defensive approach. Instead of defending zonally, Guardiola asks his men to defend in a man-oriented manner, especially in the midfield. Previously, he only asked his troops to defend in a man-oriented fashion when pressing high. But now, the approach is also used when defending deeper.

As we know, man-oriented defending focuses more on closing the opponents in one-versus-one situations. In one side, this is an effective approach against opponents who can’t play against aggressive pressure. However, this system has the potential to backfire since it can open space within the defensive block.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
City’s man-oriented midfield can be a huge problem.

Guardiola’s tendency to ask his midfielders to defend man-to-man can open huge space in between the lines. This is an advantage for Spurs. They can exploit the issue in various ways, as follow:

First, by utilising Kane. Under Mourinho this season, Kane has become more an attacking midfielder rather than a fox in the box. This means that he has the freedom to drop in between the lines, away from the rivals’ defenders. Even more, Kane can also drop very deep into the halfway line whenever the opponents deploy a high press. By doing so, Kane will help his midfielders to overload the area before continuing the attack.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Kane drops deep from his position.

Second, by utilising the narrow wingers. Mourinho also likes to tuck his wingers inside, while allowing the full-backs to overlap. In the process, this allows Spurs at least three players in between the lines. Even better, they have good needle players in Ndombélé and Højbjerg who can make accurate passes amid intense pressure around them.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Kane receives a vertical pass from Højbjerg. Notice the number of players in between the lines.

City’s defensive tactics and its issues (part two)

The Citizens’ defensive problem is not just that. Another issue they have is their tendency to commit a very high defensive line. Indeed, it can be effective as they also deploy disciplined offside traps in every match. However, it can also provide a backlash if they lack focus when doing that.

This issue is, unfortunately, supported by Walker’s tendency to go forward but being slow to drop back. This will open a huge space in City’s right flank. This is bad for them, as Spurs have Son at their disposal. The Korean has averaged 2.5 shots in every 90 minutes in the league. On top of that, he also has eight goals and two assists to his name.

Premier League 2020/21: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City - Tactical Preview Analysis Tactics
Notice Fernandinho and Walker’s positioning. If this happens again this weekend, surely Tottenham can hurt City badly via Son.

City had faced the problem before. It was against Leicester City, when Walker, Fernandinho, and Eric García were the right-sided the defenders. That time, City conceded five goals, in which some of them started from Leicester’s counter-attacks in that side. Indeed they have Dias and Gündoğan available this weekend, but City will still have to keep their focus on Son’s threat in the wing.


Interesting. That will be the proper word for this game. Both teams are looking for three points, as Tottenham bid for the top spot while City are trying to bounce back to the UEFA Champions League zone. We think that Spurs will have a slight advantage as the analysis above suggests, but as they said, anything can happen in football.

So, who’s your money on?