Tottenham were once again very predictable in their play against Manchester City as City recovered with two second half goals to take the points. Last weekend, Wigan Athletic denied Spurs at White Hart Lane knowing that if they prevented Tottenham from having space and time on the wings, there would be little threat from any other area of the pitch. They achieved that successfully with a combination of hard word and playing five in midfield.
Spurs have used the pace and direct running of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to good effect in the past with added support given by Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen from the full back positions. When it works it is very effective but when teams adopt an approach which denies these players the space they crave, Spurs are at a loss to find an alternative way to goal. In the match at Old Trafford, Spurs took a lethargic United by surprise with their early direct approach. Tottenham’s pace troubled the United defenders throughout that half as Spurs took a two goal advantage into half-time.Spurs managed to hold on in the second half for a famous 3 – 2 victory.
City weren’t going to be caught out in a similar manner and put Spurs under early pressure with their possession and attempts to get behind the Spurs defence. It didn’t bring any immediate reward but it was a warning to Spurs. Bale and Lennon obviously had the pace to worry the City defenders but any early attempt by the wingers to get away from their markers were abruptly ended with a foul. It was from a foul against Lennon that Tottenham took the lead, Tom Huddlestone taking the free-kick which Steven Caulker headed home. Through the rest the half City were in disarray and in disharmony with themselves. Tottenham held the advantage at half-time with fans considering two wins in Manchester in a matter of weeks. Benoit Assou-Ekotto tweeted at half-time, his thoughts echoing the feelings of Tottenham supporters around the country.
In the second half, with limited possession, rarely did Bale or Lennon get an opportunity to run at their full backs, instead City forced Spurs to defend with their own full backs looking to get forward, forcing the Tottenham pair into defensive duties. Tottenham were trying desperately to hold on to what they had but the introduction of Maicon who played wide on the right, with thirty minutes to play, increased the pressure. Vertonghen was isolated against the Brazilian and as City switched to a back three, the Belgian struggled to cope against Maicon while Bale provided him with no cover or support. It also restricted Vertonghen in his forward movement as he was aware of the threat posed by Maicon if Spurs lost possession and he was in too advanced a position. With this pressure, City wore Spurs down and eventually scored the two goals they required to take the three points.
Manchester City, as Wigan had done a week earlier, prevented Tottenham from attacking in their normal pattern and Spurs were unable to find an alternative way to make any impact on the game. Emmanuel Adebayor worked hard and was a constant nuisance to the City defenders especially in the first half but it was always in midfield and rarely in the City area. Many have clamoured for Adebayor to replace Jermain Defoe as he can hold play up so much better and he certainly did that but where were Spurs going to get their goals from? It was from set-pieces and corners that Spurs looked most dangerous as without the surging runs of Bale they offered very little as a forward threat. Even on a quiet day, Bale forced Joe Hart into the best save of the game in the second half but that was about it for Spurs going forward.
Predictability is not a term that Tottenham supporters want to hear used to describe their team but at the moment it is playing into their opponent’s hands and making life uncomfortable for Spurs and Andre Villas-Boas who has been hampered by injuries as he tries to get the team playing effectively as a unit. This season Spurs best results have come away from home where they have been able to counter-attack with nine of their 17 points coming away from White Hart Lane. In those games, however, there has been the need for much rearguard defending as the team has had to withstand considerable pressure when their forward momentum has been checked. The team lacks a balance and a variety which is often needed when a change of approach is required during a game. Hopefully, a north London derby will provide the additional inspiration to bring that extra something from the team next weekend.