Mancester City's trip to Tottenham Hotspur was extremely important for both teams, but for completely different reasons. Manchester City had the chance to go top of the Premier League, while Tottenham Hotspur had to get three points to avoid falling behind in the race for the top four. The game was also expected to have a significant effect on how we are going to judge the two managers come the end of the season. Manuel Pellegrini was chasing for his first European league title, while Tim Sherwood could prove those wrong who considered him a tactical novice. The 6-0 loss to City was a major nail in AVB's coffin, Tim Sherwood could have legitimised his tenure with a win against Manchester City.

football formations

The formations

 Tottenham started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Bentaleb started alongside Moussa Dembélé, with Eriksen playing in central attacking midfield. Sigurdsson started as an inverted winger on the left side, Aaron Lennon played as a straightforward winger on the right side.

 Manchester City started in their regular 4-4-2 formation.  Agüero started with Dzeko up front, while the injury of Nasri meant that Jesus Navas started on the right wing. Gael Clichy played on the left side of the defence.

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Manchester City dominate possession

 Manchester City were dominating Tottenham for the majority of the first half with what could only be called a masterclass in possessional football. Their movement was remarkable. Their movement included a few patterns that I would like to use to show you the philosophy of City's way of keeping possession.

Dzeko drifts to the wings

 Edin Dzeko's movement creates space on Tottenham Hotspur's right wing. Dzeko pulls Walker out of position, Bentaleb is slow to anticipate. This creates a snowball effect, allowing Manchester City to use the space between Tottenham's lines. 

 Dzeko drifted towards the left wing frequently, becoming the third player in a triangle that involved Silva and Clichy as well. These movement not only stretched the Tottenham defence horizontally, but pulled at least one defender out of position, creating channels for Agüero to run into.

The heat map of Dzeko.
Image from Squawka

Horizontal movement

 Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City are masters of creating space with their movement. The video above demonstrates a move that they have used to keep Tottenham guessing if the build-up will be concluded with the triangular play on the wing, or a long ball, that puts the emphasis on the other wing. In this case Zabaleta played a long ball to Agüero, despite of Dzeko coming towards him asking for the ball.

Vertical movement

 Manchester City have used this move to relieve the pressure when the ball was in a central area, and it would have been impossible to get it to the wings due to the pressing of Tottenham. 

 The vertical movement of the forwards and Navas plus Silva pulls apart the lines of Tottenham. Even if the defenders can clear the long ball, Clichy or Navas will likely collect it thanks to the space created.

The problems of Tottenham in central midfield

 Neither Bentaleb nor Dembélé dropped closer to the centre-backs to provide additional protection, so Dzeko and Agüero were playing two against two with Dawson and Chiriches. It is never a good idea to let your central defenders play one-on-one so close to the gal with the strikers. Agüero enjoyed these encounters, he hit the post in the fourth minute after dribbling away from his marker in the box.

Dembélé and Bentaleb didn't get close enough to Touré or Fernandinho when the City players were in possession. Touré was allowed to play balls forward to the strikers. Spurs should have put more emphasis on cutting out the supply to the strikers given that they have let them play in equal numbers against the defenders.

 Sigurdsson sometimes came into the middle when the ball was in central midfield to double up on the player in possession. This left Zabaleta free on the wing, allowing the full-back to run into space if he got the ball.

Manchester City spoil Tottenham's build-up

 Spurs were unable to play the ball out from the back. City defended one-on-one against them, which wouldn't have been a problem, but Dembélé and Bentaleb did little to get on the ball.
 If they are pressured, the holding midfielders drop between the central defenders or a centre-back and a full-back. Their marker is faced with a hard decision. Either stay and let the midfielder receive the ball, or follow him, and leave the space open for other players to run into, and receive the ball.
 Dembélé and Bentaleb failed to play themselves clear, the build-up of Spurs was static and unsuccessful in most cases. Usually one of the defenders ended up dribbling out of defence, his marker forced him towards the line, where he would run out of space and loose the ball.

 It was not a surprise that Tottenham's best chance came after Rose won the ball in midfield, instead of a conscious build-up from the back. Rose won the ball and played a long pass to Adebayor right away, taking advantage of the slow transition of Manchester City. The attack ended up with Rose winning a free-kick on the left side of the box. Eriksen drove the free-kick across the face of the goal for Dawson to tap in, however the goal was ruled offside.

 Tottenham's shape wasn't optimal for keeping possession in the half of City. Dembélé and Bentaleb didn't make horizontal runs, which restricted Totenham from moving the ball in any direction other than vertical. The player in possession had no options to make short passes inside. The only option was forward, and eventually crossing it into the box. It didn't help that Sigurdsson moved inside anytime Rose dribbled the ball forward, withdrawing all options from Rose other than crossing the ball. Even if Tottenham didn't want to overcommit on the attacks, some support has to be given to the player in possession, otherwise the attacks will become one dimensional.

Credit: The Independent

Substitutions, and the sending off

 Sergio Agüero had to be substituted at the end of the first half, Stevan Jovetic came on in his place. Dembélé had to come off as well, Capoue was sent on. Neither substitution led to a change in formation, however Danny Rose was sent off in the 50th minute, giving away a penalty, and sealing the fate of Spurs.

 Manchester City scored the third goal shortly after. Tottenham couldn't cover the whole width of he pitch in midfield with their 4-4-1 formation after the sending off. City had to play the ball sideways in front of Spurs quick enough so that the Spurs players would fail to adjust their positions. City could play to a numerical advantage on the left wing of Spurs in the 53d minute, the situation gave Manchester City their third goal.
Tim Sherwood sent on the more defensive Naughton for Sigurdsson.

Demichelis moves to central midfield

 Etienne Capoue pulled one back for Spurs after a corner in the 59th minute. Pellegrini took off Touré and sent on Nastasic, moving Demichelis into central midfield. One would consider this to be a risky move. Demichelis is not the quickest player by far, and one would wonder if he is going to be exposed by Bentaleb and Capoue. What happened showed once again why keeping possession is so important. Demichelis only played the ball sideways, he didn't attempt any risky balls forward, or penetrative passes. Demichelis was never forced to chase quicker players, as the ball was in City's possession. The sideways passing of Demichelis made City build their attacks on the wings.
 Manchester City scored two more goals, however the game was over by the 60th minute.

Demichelis' passing after moving to the midfield.
Image from Squawka


 Manchester City took a major step towards winning the title. Their great movement troubled Tottenham and it isn't surprising that the visitors finished the game having 60% of possession. Dzeko and Agüero dominated Dawson and Chiriches, while the movement of Silva and Navas conributed to the fluidity of City's game. Even though Tottenham played almost half of the game with ten men, City were dominant in the first half as well.

 Although the scoreline might seem harsh on Tottenham, they were outplayed by Manchester City. Spurs couldn't keep possession, while their defending in midfield was poor. This made it impossible for them to win enough balls to threaten City with counter-attacks on a consistent basis. 
 It is fair to say that Tim Sherwood attempted to bulk up the midfield by moving to a 4-2-3-1, but the interpretation of the system was far from optimal. There is not much point in playing with two holding midfielders if the space between the lines will be so big, the defenders are not going to be helped, and the team can not keep possession. 

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