Xtra Tactics: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City (UEFA Champions League)

The UEFA Champions League quarter-final draw has been relatively kind to Manchester City. The English giants have avoided the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Juventus and Lionel Messi-led Barcelona in the quarter-finals after they were drawn against Premier League counterparts – Tottenham Hotspur.

The quarter-final draw comes with a lot of complications for the defending Premier League champions as they will now be facing the North London club three times in ten days – two matches in the Champions League and one game in the Premier League – as the Pep Guardiola’s side fight tooth and nail to achieve the unachievable: ‘The Quadruple’.

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Given the recent success of Manchester City against Tottenham Hotspur, fans might be optimistic about winning all three games and continuing their hunt for the Premier League and Champions League. But Pep, his backroom staff, and the players will certainly know that it won’t be a walk in the park in any of the three matches, especially when an away game against Crystal Palace falls in between the European encounters against Spurs.

Pep Guardiola’s reaction to the draw:

Reacting to the draw, Pep said he has huge respect for Tottenham and zeroed in on four of the most dangerous players from Mauricio Pochettino’s side – Hueng-min Son, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen.

“(They are a) top side, so it’s 50/50. ​Tottenham, huge respect because I know them quite well. They can use different systems, how good they are up front with Son (Heung-min), (Harry) ​Kane, Dele Ali, with the quality from (Christian) Eriksen. It’s a tough side but any other team in the Champions League would be the same. Any team has its strong points and weak points, the same as us. We must try to discover that,” Pep said at a press conference after the draw.

FC Schalke 04 v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 20: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between FC Schalke 04 and Manchester City at Veltins-Arena on February 20, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images)

For Mauricio Pochettinho, there is a chance for his London side to rectify a season slowly going off the rails, after sputtering out of the title race and now flirting with European qualification for next year. Tottenham do not have anything close to City’s squad depth though, so to both knock Pep’s men out of the Champions League and give them a setback in their hunt of the Premier League trophy is going to be a tough ask. But given the fact that Spurs will be playing their home leg of the Champions League tie at their new stadium, anything is possible.

Tottenham Hotspur – Most used formations

Talking tactically, Spurs have found a new way to play two strikers, one in the form of Harry Kane who is then flanked by either Son or Lucas Moura playing in the role of the supporting striker. However, it is yet to be seen whether Pochettino goes with the same tactics against Manchester City.

Against Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park, Pochettino went with both Kane and Son up top with three midfielders in Eriksen, Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks. Their five-man defense was completed by Vetronghen, Alderweireld and Sanchez at the back while Davies and Aurier played as wing-backs in a 5-3-2 formation.

Spurs

Given Spurs’ recent record against Manchester City, the chances of Spurs going with wing-backs look bleak, especially with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling occupying the lines for Manchester City. A 4-3-3 looks more likely for Spurs against City, with Son and Alli taking the wings and Eriksen playing the advanced role in the three-man midfield.

Tottenham Hotspur – Strengths

Spurs’ most dangerous quality is how they switch gears in transitional play. Eriksen with his quality on the ball can easily capitalise on the pace of Son and Alli during counter-attacks, and Kane being the striker he is, has the ability to finish the tightest of chances.

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Beyond this, it is obvious that Spurs’ main strengths lie with Harry Kane. On his day, the Englishman can be the deadliest man on the field, a modern breed of the classic goalscoring number 9. Whilst he has not quite looked himself since rushing back from injury to Tottenham’s aid this season, Kane is far and away the most potent threat to City given that he could easily slot a chance home even on an off night.

However, this season has seen the emergence of Heung-min Son, or rather the South Korean has finally been able to receive some recognition when rescuing points for the North London side in Kane’s absence. Son’s fluid movement from wide positions is a massively underrated aspect to Tottenham’s game, darting through on goal with close control that is not entirely dissimilar from City’s own wide players.

With Christian Eriksen’s quality on dead balls and overall chance creation proving a lethal weapon to many sides this season, Manchester City should carefully study Spurs if they want to maintain their Champions League run.

Tottenham Hotspur – Weaknesses

Having conceded just 32 goals in Premier League, second after Liverpool (18) and Manchester City (21), Spurs are clearly not an easy side to break down. However, their recent lapses in defense are sure to make Sergio Agüero’s eyes water. Recently, Spurs have conceded 2 against Southampton,  1 against Arsenal, 2 against Chelsea and 2 against Burnley and with Sergio in red-hot form right now, he would be gunning to hurt Spurs with his goalscoring ability.

Spurs’ midfield is also something which is not among the best in the world. Apart from Christian Eriksen, none of Eric Dier, Sissoko, Harry Winks or Victor Wanyama possess the ability to outplay the City midfield of David Silva, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gündogan or Bernardo Silva (whichever trio plays during the game). With City doing their heavy lifting in the middle of the park both in and out of possession, it would not be surprising to see Pochettino try and pack his midfield to try and avoid being overrun.

Finally, City may find a subtle but crucial weakness in Spurs’ mentality. This is not any sort of dig at the childish comments about the London side’s amount of ‘bottle’, but more in relation to City’s own history in European competition. In recent seasons, City have struggled when they fail to prioritise their own game plan over trying to contain the opposition, losing their way of playing and consequently losing in the process.

Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gestures during the UEFA Champions League first leg quarter-final football match between Liverpool and Manchester City, at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north west England on April 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Anthony Devlin (Photo credit should read ANTHONY DEVLIN/AFP/Getty Images)

You need look no further than last year’s shock 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield at this very same stage of the competition. With Pep choosing to try and overrun the midfield by playing Ilkay Gündogan as an extra man, City lost their identity in both phases of play, looking disheveled when trying to bomb forward and not urgent enough in their pressing.

If City truly want to dominate this year’s quarter-final against Spurs and advance to the semi-finals, then the evidence is there that they need to do it on their own terms. With Spurs struggling to overcome City in recent meetings, the signs are there that Guardiola should stick to his guns and allow Pochettino to play into his hands by abandoning their own principals, rather than the other way around.

Last 10 Head-to-Head results:

  • 30.10.18               PL           Tottenham         Manchester City               0 : 1 W
  • 15.04.18               PL           Tottenham         Manchester City               1 : 3 W
  • 16.12.17               PL           Manchester City               Tottenham         4 : 1 W
  • 30.07.17               ICC         Manchester City               Tottenham        3 : 0 W
  • 21.01.17               PL           Manchester City               Tottenham         2 : 2 D
  • 02.10.16               PL           Tottenham         Manchester City               2 : 0 L
  • 14.02.16               PL           Manchester City               Tottenham         1 : 2 L
  • 26.09.15               PL           Tottenham         Manchester City               4 : 1 L
  • 03.05.15               PL           Tottenham         Manchester City               0 : 1 W
  • 18.10.14               PL           Manchester City               Tottenham         4 : 1 W

The Xtra View – “Triple Bonanza”

Three games on a trot against Tottenham Hotspur might sound extremely tricky and that’s because it is! But with the injured players (hopefully) returning after the international break, Pep will almost have his full squad under his command, which could become decisive for the sky blues going into the quarter-finals and the final part of the league season, too. Spurs might knick a draw in one of the legs of UCL clash, but Pep will leave no page unturned for the triple bonanza against the North London club.

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I predict Manchester City to go through to the Champions League semi-finals with a 1-1 draw in the away leg and a 2-0 win in the home leg at the Etihad, giving City a 3-1 win on aggregate.

With the Premier League fixture coming days after, it will be a game of fine margins, but a scrappy 1-0 win will be enough to give City the three points that they so sorely need.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @SubhayanTweets 

You can follow us on Twitter for more Manchester City content: @City_Xtra

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