Manchester City got back on track against Tottenham, winning 3-1 and preventing the depressive spiral we’ve all experienced recently from continuing any further. The Sky Blues didn’t let any self doubt hinder them at Wembley Stadium and showed the quality that has propelled them to the top of the Premier League.
Pep Guardiola inserted Aymeric Laporte along his backline in place of Nicolas Otamendi and was forced to deal with the suspension of Fernandinho due to yellow card accumulation. Ilkay Gundogan entered in his stead and did a more than serviceable job as the deep midfielder, even converting a penalty opportunity expertly. Gundogan does lack the defensive aptitude that Fernandinho has and Pep accounted for this by pulling Fabian Delph into the midfield from his left back position for much of the game.
We’ve seen this positioning from Pep many times this season but it felt more forced against Tottenham than it normally does. Delph was tucked inside when City possessed the ball anywhere on the field and Laporte was flaring out wide behind him. This gave the Sky Blues an interesting look, especially when right back Kyle Walker was in advanced positions, where the backline was reduced to Vincent Kompany and Laporte with two defensive midfielders sitting in front of them.
This structure presented an opportunity for Tottenham to exploit on quick turnovers as City’s transition defense would be challenged with any wide attacks. The absence of Heung-Min Son definitely made it easier as he may be Tottenham’s most dangerous wide attacker at the moment and this may have played a role in why Pep felt comfortable doing this. Having Ederson behind the backline also helps when the backline gets disjointed as he covers a tremendous amount of ground on clearing long balls over the top.
Pep reverted to a more defensive setup in the second half with the lead in hand, bringing on Nicolas Otamendi for Leroy Sane and resetting his fullbacks to standard positioning. This move coincided with Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino bringing in Son, though this revamped backline did a good job containing him.
These moves also changed City’s attack by removing a winger and moving Raheem Sterling centrally. With Sterling playing in behind Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City had multiple attacking options down the spine of the pitch and were able to take advantage of the spacing between Tottenham defenders. Overall, I though City’s attack was much more direct than we are used to seeing. Tottenham did a good job early on pressuring City players on both the giving and receiving end of passes and it disorganized the attack.
City started to play more balls through multiple layers of Tottenham’s defense to act as a pressure valve on the press. This was incredibly effective and the first goal was a simple ball over the top from Kompany to Jesus, who timed his run perfectly and was able to beat Tottenham centerback Davinson Sanchez for pace. Similarly, Sterling got behind the backline that ultimately led to the foul in the box from Hugo Lloris and the second goal.
This was a great win on the road against a very good team and City made it look relatively easy. Manchester City now is one win away from the Premier League title and Saturday’s match was a crucial step towards that goal in addition to re-instituting the good vibes that have surrounded this team for the whole season last week aside.