Analyzing Manchester City vs Tottenham; Premier League Tactics Corner, Gameweek 8

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Sergio Aguero is fast off the ball and perhaps even quicker with it at his feet. He skips by defenders in and around the 18-yard box weekly and evades them to find the two inches of space he needs to punish the opponent with a sublime finish. If he doesn’t get off a shot, he’ll get fouled to draw a free kick, which could be finished by any of the world-class players on the Manchester City roster.

The danger for Tottenham on Saturday was quite obvious. Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs play with a high line – a tactic susceptible to the pace of a speedy striker.

This is a high-risk tactic, but all tactics have pros and cons. Playing with a high line is no different. Ideally, it squeezes the game and makes life harder for the opponent to work the ball up the pitch. Byproducts include winning the ball closer to the goal and the occasional offside call. When combined with pressure on the ball, it can work wonders like it did for Pochettino’s team against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago.

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Against Manchester City, the line was broken on multiple occasions. Part of the reason for that is Aguero’s speed. Even if a long ball were to be forced up the pitch, the Argentine would get onto end of it. In addition, Aguero’s movement would force Younes Kaboul and Federico Fazio to track back. Spurs’ defensive pairing on Saturday was new, as Jan Vertonghen was left out of the starting XI.

It was surprising that Kaboul and Fazio were able to hold it together for so long. Kaboul was even able to track an Aguero run at the start of the second half, though City’s in-form star will regret not making the most of the chance.

Playing with the high line was not necessarily a bad move from Pochettino. Squeezing City would stop its buildup from the back and restrict its playmakers, including David Silva, from getting on the ball in advanced positions. In addition, if a team in the Premier League, especially in the top half of the table, has a style they tend to feel the need to roll it out each weekend to assert themselves. Pochettino has made pressing and an aggressive defense his trademark style.

But with the game at 2-1, City was able to break it open when Navas got behind the back line. Part of the goal is the result of an individual defensive mistake, though it still leaves Kaboul and Fazio chasing the ball. Tracking Aguero is hard enough outside of the area, but try tracking this guy for half the length of the field. At the end of Aguero’s run, Fazio pulls down the City striker in desperation.

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Spurs’ life does not get any easier though, because Aguero bursts past the line again, beating Vertonghen this time, for his fourth goal of the match. A quick set piece is taken and within seconds, the Argentine is one-on-one with Hugo Lloris. A forward with his finishing abilities, and the confidence that results from having already scored three goals in the match, was never going to miss the chance to hit a fourth past the Frenchman.

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What is concerning for Spurs is the lack of pressure applied to the City players. In the second half they may have tired out, but then Pochettino would have to make some sort of adjustment. The Tottenham boss doesn’t, as he sticks with the high line, even though his players fail to press. If you watch the GIFs that show the build up to both City goals again, you can see a lot of black shirts jogging around. That’s not the ferocity and chaos of the press that shackled the Gunners.

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