The first half was played out by two teams who were happy to sit deep and wait for the other side to make the first move, but after the break both sides put on fine attacking displays and it was left to City to win it with an added time penalty. Here are my observations…
Dzeko gets the nod
The biggest talking point over City’s selection was who would partner Sergio Aguero up top and Edin Dzeko got the nod ahead of Mario Balotelli who still had a knock. Elsewhere it was as expected with Stefan Savic partnering Joleon Lescott, James Milner playing in a deep midfield role next to Gareth Barry and David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri all starting.
Defoe replaces Adebayor
Jermain Defoe replaced Emmanuel Adebayor as the Togolese striker was not allowed to play against his parent club. Aside from that this was Tottenham’s strongest possible eleven with Ledley King in the side partnering the increasingly consistent Younes Kaboul. Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale both played wide with Rafael van der Vaart in the hole. Tottenham were expected to play a 4-4-1-1 for a number of reasons. Firstly, playing two up top would require van der Vaart playing out wide where he is less likely to track the runs of Gael Clichy or Micah Richards from full back, and secondly as the away side playing in a stadium where City have a 100% record it was important to win the midfield battle and there would be an obvious disadvantage if Spurs had two midfielders to City’s three.
Both sides are reluctant to press
Neither side really pressed the opposition in their defensive third earlier on. At times City were so reluctant to press that van der Vaart was forced to drop deep to find some space – often receiving the ball alongside his two central midfielders and well in front of Gareth Barry and James Milner. City were less negative without the ball but Aguero did still drop deep, forming a 4-2-3-1 formation. Tottenham had a lot of initial success out wide, particularly up against Clichy but were limited in terms of delivering the ball into the box as Defoe playing as a lone striker wants balls played into the channels and not to be challenging for headers with Savic and Lescott.
City start to go up the gears
Not much happened during first 25-30 minutes as both sides waited for the other to make the first move. City were too congested in attack (more later) and Jermain Defoe struggled to hold the ball up for Tottenham and allow his side to create any meaningful attacks or spells of possession. Eventually David Silva started to get on the ball more, creating a good chance for Aguero who was stopped by his strike partner Dzeko from connecting properly with the ball, and later the Spaniard had a chance for himself, flashing a shot wide after some good skill by Aguero after a quick free kick.
0-0 at half time
Aguero continued the run of good City chances forcing an instinctive block from Friedel but in truth neither side player particularly well in the first 45 minutes. Both sides played at a slow tempo, sitting deep with formations that countered the others. Typically, City kept the ball and then Tottenham tried to counter and the away side deserve particular praise for how they kept their shape throughout the half – never easy considering the fluidity City have in their front four.
City score two quick goals
Initially the second half started at the same slow pace but City had the upper hand. Mancini’s side were more negative than usual today. The full backs weren’t as willing to go forward (a direct result of playing against out and out wingers like Bale and Lennon), the defence sat deeper than usual with the ball (mindful of Defoe’s pace) and Milner very rarely broke further forward than Barry. But by the hour mark City were 2-0 up. Silva dropped deep and threaded an excellent through ball for Samir Nasri to run inside and finish emphatically (see diagram) and then three minutes later Lescott doubled the lead from a corner.
Tottenham get two for themselves
Suddenly the game had come alive and after a long ball from Kaboul was poorly headed backwards by Savic - the defender failed to adjust his feet - his attempted flick was pounced on by Defoe who forced Hart off his line, dragging the keeper wide before slotting into the net from a relatively easy angle. Five minutes later Tottenham had got their rightful equaliser after Lennon cut inside and teed Bale on the edge of the box. The Welshman wrapped his foot round the ball and curled it over Joe Hart and into the far post.
The game opens up
Balotelli replaced Dzeko and Jake Livermore was brought on for Rafael van der Vaart and the game began to open. Barry and Milner’s partnership in the centre continued to impress for City but the home side’s wingers didn’t provide any width and so a lot of their attacks became very compact and easy to defend. Tottenham’s wingers both try to beat their man and send in a cross but City typically opt for inverted wingers with the right footed Nasri on the left and the left footed Silva on the right. Therefore it is essential that City’s full backs get forward to stretch the play laterally, but today they were less willing due to the threat of Lennon and Bale in behind. As the diagram above shows, Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Dzeko all tended to play within the same 20 yard area and the yellow boxes highlight the space available for Richards and Clichy to move into and support attacks.
Defoe starts to stretch the game
As the game became more open one of the individuals to have the most success was Jermain Defoe who instead of having to hold up the ball, was now allowed to run into the channels onto through balls. With Livermore coming on, Modric was allowed to play in a more advanced role but there was quite a big gap between the midfield three and Bale, Defoe and Lennon – it could almost be described as a 4-3-0-3. But as much as Defoe posed a threat in behind, City’s passing was becoming increasingly slick and fluid and they still posed a threat.
Balotelli gets a winner
After a Savic error Bale was played through in a 2v1 situation and squared for Jermain Defoe who failed to convert into an open goal from no more than 2 yards. Tottenham had looked the more likely team to get a winner, they had a better defensive shape and looked more of a threat in attack but a foul from King gave Balotelli the chance to seal all three points from the penalty spot and the Italian duly obliged. The first half was slow to get going but after the first goal it came to life. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that it was Tottenham who deserved to be the winners – they stayed compact in defence and attacked with real urgency.