If any of you read my article about the Swansea City match, you’ll remember that I said I thought Tottenham Hotspur were the second best team in England and they would be City’s toughest test this season. Well that still may be true, but if it is then the gap between first and second is the size of the Grand Canyon.
Manchester City just laid the smackdown against Tottenham for 90 straight minutes. This game was an absolute master class by Pep Guardiola’s boys and City are so good right now that they may be underrated even with all the praise they are getting among football pundits.
City’s recent run of 2-1 victories prior to crushing Swansea lulled the world into thinking that there was a possibility any team could reasonably stop City this season. This game was a stark reminder to put that conversation to rest. Obviously, anything is possible but the Blues just made Tottenham, a team that won a Champions League group including Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, look like a U-19 team.
(Disregard the scoreline in this video’s title, it’s from the right game.)
Manchester City and Tottenham play a similar style, molded by the philosophies of managers Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino. It is very safe to say now that Pep is better at strategizing with and against this style, and Manchester City are better at executing it (not a controversial statement, I know). This game was ultimately a contest between two heavy pressing teams that like to build out of the back. City looked comfortable on the ball as always while Tottenham struggled to cope with a press that was intelligent and consistent.
City used attacking midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan as active participants in the press while Tottenham possessed among their center-backs and defensive midfielders. This was accompanied with Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling pinching in behind them, forcing Tottenham to play the ball out wide to full-backs Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose. City would then funnel the ball down the flanks by flooding the weak side towards the ball. This would clog the middle of the pitch and force Tottenham to generate attacks through the wings with their full-backs.
Tottenham are blessed with a plethora of attacking talent in Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, though they all tend to operate through the center of the field. City’s press pulled the attack from their preferred areas of attack and invited Spurs into low chance opportunities to play the ball into the box.
With the ball out wide, City would tuck the opposite full-back, Fabian Delph or Kyle Walker, tight into the backline exposing the defense for a diagonal ball over the top. These opportunities looked promising at first glance, but it primarily prevented Spurs’ best players to flex their skill and put trust in Ederson to make aggressive plays and thwart these crosses.
Speaking of Ederson, this game was a testament to the difference a goalkeeper with his abilities can make. Ederson is so skilled on the ball that City’s ability to play out of the back and break the press is like including another outfield player. Furthermore, he is more than able to read an aggressive defense and drop a ball over the top onto an attacker’s foot. Ederson creates chances with his distribution, which cannot be said about Spurs’ keeper, Hugo Lloris.
The French goalie is without doubt an excellent shot stopper, but having the ball at his feet is not a strength. Lloris’ distribution weaknesses were on full display against a City side that knew this and attacked it relentlessly. Pep’s press made Lloris uncomfortable in every opportunity, knowing that Pochettino prefers to play out of back as well.
Lloris often passed the ball to teammates in bad positions which disrupted Tottenham’s flow in possession and allowed City to turn the ball over deep into their defensive third. Both Ederson and Lloris were able to create chances with their feet, but both did it for the same team: City.
On the ball City were as lethal as ever, pinging it around with quick one-touch passes that left the Tottenham press scrambling to recover. The Blues made midfielders Moussa Dembélé and Harry Winks look very normal in this game, easily outmatching them for skill, pace, and stamina. City’s press was often the first step in the attack: turning the ball over in the midfield with space to run was the start of numerous chances.
Kevin De Bruyne was magnificent in this game in every single way, maintaining solid defensive presence while orchestrating attacks and counter attacks with precision. The goal he scored minutes after being recklessly tacked by Dele Alli (Tottenham should arguably have gotten two red cards in this game) was astonishing and it was only one of many special moments from the Belgian.
All City needed was one Tottenham player to step out of position and they were off. Defenses need to play perfect against this team to have any chance because they attack spaces and gaps between defenders with insane efficiency.
It’s difficult to say the exact game plan City approached this game with in regards to attacking the Spurs defense. Pep just has this team thinking on another level where they are never locked in on a certain tactic, but actively reading and reacting to the game. Even the best defenses can’t defend every inch of the pitch and there is always a weakness that can be exposed, and Manchester City are amazing at identifying this and attacking it. When the defense adjusts accordingly there is a different weakness that opens up and City are able to exploit that just as capably.
I’m really running out of ways to describe how great this team is. I almost feel guilty trying to explain the nature of their greatness because the genius of Pep and this team is far beyond my comprehension. Either way, as a fan of Manchester City I am loving every single minute of witnessing this squad wipe the floor with every opponent they come up against.
I had a lot of friends who support other big teams in England tell me how this match was going to be the one to turn the title race around. Well, I don’t even need to say anything in response to that now. Manchester City are habitually dropping the mic on the Premier League.