For the second time in as many games, City were forced to defend as their opponent controlled possession while dictating the tempo for much of the match. It was an especially sloppy start that could (should?) have seen Tottenham take the lead on at least three occasions. Eventually City settled, but never really found a way to control proceedings.
Without Yaya, Pellegrini opted for a 4-2-3-1 that saw Fernando and Fernandinho play in a two-man pivot with Lampard in front of them. This midfield, while offering strength and tackles, lacked the technical ability to dictate or control from the deeper positions that City consistently found themselves in. The result was an increased number of long balls lumped up to Aguero – one of which should have earned City a penalty (perhaps followed by a red card) for an incidental-yet-crucial trip from Fazio.
In the early stages of the match, Fernando was found guilty of leaving far too much space between himself and his centre-backs he should be shielding. Eriksen and Kane both found space between the lines, and with better finishing might have had Tottenham out of distance before City even settled. Kane’s best chance came in the fourth minute after Bentaleb disposed Aguero and found Lamela behind Fernandinho and played a perfect through-ball that split the centre-backs and put Kane through on goal. As you can see, City’s defensive shape as Lamela plays that pass is all wrong.
Mangala and Demichelis are too far apart and Fernandinho and Fernando were caught too far up the pitch. Lamela actually has two options for a defense splitting through-ball as the outside right channel is as wide (approximately) as the Red Sea if he had chosen to play in Eriksen. Hard to say Lamela made the wrong decision as Kane was through on Hart before shooting wide, but the mere fact that he had two proper options speaks to the defensive frailties City showed early on.
The lack of on-ball influence from City’s midfield three probably can’t be overstated: in total, Fernando (28/35), Fernandinho (40/50) and Lampard (20/29) completed just 88 of their already small 114 attempted passes (a completion percentage of 77%). Compare this to Silva, who himself managed 50/53 (94%) while playing in a more advanced position, or Bentaleb (59/66), who controlled the play and dictated tempo from a deep position, and you see just how poor City’s central midfield performed from a possession stand point. This, more than anything else, is where City so obviously miss Yaya.
On the wings, Tottenham fielded two inverted wingers with Chadli cutting in from the left and Lamela in from the right. This forced both fullbacks, Zabaleta and Kolarov, to track them inside leaving large amounts of space in both of the channels outside of the centre-backs. Danny Rose didn’t find much space to move into on City’s right because of what seemed like a one-on-one match with Milner, but Dier found more room on City’s left behind Kolarov. Kane’s off the ball movement specifically targeted these larger than usual channels, and on another day might have had two or three goals.
Heat maps obviously have their short-comings, but the image below shows the pitch positions of Tottenham’s fullbacks (on the left) and Milner and Silva (on the right). It seems almost impossible to believe but Rose and Dier really did combine for more touches than Milner and Silva, and as a result, Tottenham repeatedly found themselves in dangerous positions on the pitch.
As you can see below, Dier’s delivery into the box ultimately cost Tottenham, as he managed to complete just one cross while failing to find a teammate on most of his long diagonal balls into the central danger areas. Dier’s a good young player and has the potential to become very good, but presently he appears to be a player stuck between being a centre-back and full-back.
Back to City's midfield now: is it any surprise that City's only goal came when Hart, Silva and Aguero managed to string together a move that bypassed the central midfield altogether? When the midfield struggles to impose itself on a match, City have typically been unable to get positive results (see: United 4-2), but on Sunday Hart's quick distribution, Silva's pass and Aguero's deft movement and absurd finish proved all City needed for a three point away day.
In closing: a special shout-out to City's Man of the Match, Samir Nasri who put in a performance for the ages.