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UEFA Champions League 2018/19 Tottenham Manchester City tactical analysis

How can Tottenham even the odds against Manchester City?

When Tottenham Hotspur were drawn with Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals, a stark realisation occurred: they would play each other three times in 12 days. The first match will take place in the brand new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a 62,062-seat venue that includes the largest single-tier stand in the country.

Spurs played their first match in their new home last Wednesday. A Son Heung-min strike followed by a Christian Eriksen goal saw them record a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace, their first win in their last six league matches and first since their Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund in early March. Manchester City meanwhile have won their last 14 matches, including wins over Arsenal, Schalke, and Chelsea in the EFL Cup Final.


When it comes to the possible starting XIs for these two clubs, both will be relatively healthy. Spurs will be without Serge Aurier, Eric Dier, and Erik Lamela, though none of those three have been consistent starters this season. Kieran Trippier has been starting recently at right-back, while Moussa Sissoko and even Harry Winks may have a chance of starting in midfield. In attack, Son, Lucas Moura, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli all could start as key contributors in sending or carrying the ball forward to Harry Kane.

As for the Manchester club, both Kyle Walker and Sergio Agüero, who were uncertain of their match availability, are expected to be fit, with Agüero fully rested after sitting out the last two matches. Just about everyone else in the squad is available, and the number of attacking options for Pep Guardiola won’t make it easy for Mauricio Pochettino.

City in control

The previous meeting between these two top-six clubs took place back in late October. Manchester City took advantage of Spurs’ press and aggressive positioning by playing the ball forward to the front three of Riyad Mahrez, Agüero, and Raheem Sterling. Brilliant performances by midfielder Fernandinho and Sterling led Manchester City to a 1-0 victory.

Tottenham Manchester City Tactical Preview Tactical Analysis
On an Ederson long ball, Agüero dropped inward towards the centre of the pitch, drawing Davinson Sanchez in so Sterling could battle one-on-one with Trippier.

Manchester City were effective at utilising the space behind the Spurs’ press. They worked as a team to give Sterling space on the left side, which created a number of attacking opportunities.

Defensively, with Fernandinho tallying a match-high five successful tackles and four interceptions, Manchester City limited Spurs’ counter-attacks to just one shot on target. Controlling possession, they progressed play around the Tottenham threat with typical Pep Guardiola build-up from the wide full-backs into the midfielders occupying the half-spaces. The result damaged Spurs’ race for the Premier League title.

Spurs’ tactical adjustments

It is likely, as it has been all season, that Manchester City will control most of the possession. The biggest issue for Spurs may come from the same issue they had in their previous match against Manchester City. With Aurier, the stronger defender of the two right-backs, out with injury, the opponents may look to take advantage of that side of the pitch via Sterling or Leroy Sané, who have both been in excellent form in the competition. It may be near-impossible for Tottenham to stop Manchester City’s attack completely, but there is a potential way to limit it.

With Fernandinho clogging up the middle of the pitch and preventing counter-attacks centrally, Spurs should try attacking the wide areas of Manchester City’s half by getting behind the full-backs. Discipline and rigidity in defence will be key in their ability to do this.

If the back half of a formation defends deep successfully, this can lure the possessing team into a false sense of security. This can create space behind the opponent’s possession into which penetrating long balls or through-balls can be attempted. This is usually how Liverpool have managed to consistently challenge the defending Premier League champions.

Tottenham Manchester City Tactical Preview Tactical Analysis
In a quick transition from the back, Liverpool quickly progress the ball to the open full-back. Many Manchester City players are occupying areas in Liverpool’s final third.
Tottenham Manchester City Tactical Preview Tactical Analysis
The full-back sees the lack of numbers and organisation at the back for the opposition, and boots a long ball forward to the running attacker, who finds it easy to receive the ball in plenty of space.

Another vital part of this tactic is the progression from the back going forward. Wingers Lucas and Son, along with Eriksen, are capable of getting into attacking spaces behind back lines. If Manchester City’s possession from the back takes the back four too far forward, the London club may be able to create more chances on goal than their last meeting.

Tottenham Manchester City Tactical Preview Tactical Analysis
The Spurs’ lone goal against Liverpool was the result of quick possession progressing out wide and Lucas sneaking past right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.


 “We missed home a lot and we can show them tomorrow night it’s different from Wembley at our new stadium.” – Son Heung-min

Wingers Lucas and Son, along with Eriksen, are capable of getting into attacking spaces behind back lines. If Manchester City’s possession from the back takes the back four too far forward, the London club may be able to create more chances on goal than their last meeting.

Even with Manchester City’s form, Tottenham will prove to be a tough test. The atmosphere of the new stadium has already proven formidable, and Spurs’ players will be motivated by their supporters and their renewed energy, not to mention how they controlled and defeated Borussia Dortmund in both legs of the Champions League round of 16, keeping clean sheets in both matches.

That said, Guardiola’s side will be extremely difficult to defeat. The Catalan manager’s tactics have been challenging for Spurs to overcome, with the Sky Blues winning their last three meetings. Having already won the EFL Cup, secured their place in the FA Cup Final and regained their fighting chance at a second consecutive Premier League title, Manchester City are highly motivated to win an unprecedented quadruple.

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