Pep Guardiola and Manchester City seem to still be suffering from a missed Messi hangover, as Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur frustrate City in a 2-0 win.
It is still early to be talking Spurs title only ¼ of the way into the season, but Tottenham Hotspur dropped a statement of intent with a Mourinho masterclass win over Manchester City. Tottenham were the more alert side scoring early off a simple dead ball. Afterwards the team maintained their concentration defensively for a full 90 minutes, countering enough to add a second and to see out the win. Through better tactics and more clinical attacking Tottenham dominated without needing much of the ball.
Tottenham’s Tactical Advantage
Conceding possession against the Manchester City of 2020 is not the same as conceding possession against City teams of the recent pass, as the Sky Blues could not find a way to pass through the Tottenham lines. The game plan was not new for Tottenham, we have seen it before, and Leicester City used similar tactics to also beat Manchester City. The approach was to bend but do not break defensively and to not give space between the defensive lines for combination play.
Tottenham continued to use their two holding midfielders to help provide cover for fullbacks Serge Aurier and Sergio Reguilón, who worked to push forward and keep City’s fullbacks honest defensively. Between, the fullbacks trying to push and the pace of Son and Steven Bergwijn – with Bergwijn a somewhat surprise starter – the fullback pair of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo were nullified in attack.
Given the support Aurier and Reguilón had on the fullbacks from the midfield duo of Moussa Sissoko and Pierre Højbjerg, the pair found themselves in the right position more often than not to thwart the repeated attacks of the City front line. Reguilón and Riyad Mahrez had a particularly good battle most of the day, with the Spaniard getting the better of the match-up and continuing to show he is more than a cross.
Essentially, what the compact and flexible Tottenham defense did was cut out the passing lanes and forced City to try to find a new way to score other than tiki-taka on the edge of the box. While Kevin De Bruyne found more space in the second half and is always a threat, few other City players really put Spurs on their heals on the day. It was De Bruyne free kicks that led to the two best chances for City, but Lloris bested both header attempts.
On a day when City were dominating in many of the offensive categories, such as possession (66%/34%), shots (22/4), and corners (10/0); Tottenham were rarely threatened and Hugo Lloris really only made one big save, on a 90th minute header off a City free kick. Technically, City did score once in the first half, but after a VAR check and Mike Dean went to see the monitor, it was correctly ruled that Jesus had used his arm to control the ball in the box, which led directly to the goal and it was disallowed.
Ultimately, Tottenham tackled – 25 as a team – and cleared – 30 clearances – their way to a defensive masterclass and Spurs got their third shutout in four games in league. All this defense paid off, as Tottenham were also clinical enough in the attack to score twice and win.