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Manchester City 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Match Analysis: This Game Was Weird

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As I sit here writing this, I have had the benefit of some time off. The reactions immediately after this match were...disturbing. I'm not sure how I feel about some of the things that were said in the match thread yesterday and hopefully, given the advantage of hindsight, some of you are a little ashamed of the things you said. I know I am.

Now that the catharsis is out of the way it;s time to take a much more objective look at the match. As I mentioned last week you won't get anything about what might have been had the officiating been different from me. That's totally irrelevant to these statistics and this analysis. What you will see is that, this game was pretty exciting, at least in the second half.

On to the analysis.


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Figure 1: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur formations, 1/22/12. Data: Guardian Chalkboards. Powered by Tableau.

What's the first thing you notice about the formations here? The first thing I notice, something that we hadn't seen in games past is that Tottenham Hotspur got pinned back pretty deep. Ledley King and Younes Kaboul played much deeper, primarily due to the fact that City simply had the ball in the Tottenham half more than teams did in the past few games. City's attack minded midfielders also account for Scott Parker, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker all playing much deeper than they have in the past. Even Rafael van der Vaart found himself sucked into a deeper role than he is perhaps comfortable playing.

To counteract this, Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, and Jermain Defoe each pushed a little higher up the pitch. You can see that it seemed like much of Tottenham's attackers got sucked to the left side of the pitch, with really only Lennnon operating on the right. This makes the formation look odd and unbalanced when seen next to that of Manchester City.

The major disappointment was how little impact Tottenham's center backs had on the game. Their passing was very good, but neither made a tackle and each had only one interception. This seems especially odd when one considers that City had the ball deep in Spurs territory on several occasions. King of course made the high-profile error at the end of the match, but both he and Kaboul were largely anonymous in defense for most of the game. The real key to the Tottenham defense was Scott Parker. Despite an off day passing the ball, the midfielder broke up play well and helped put a damper on the potent Manchester City attack. You could, perhaps, place some blame on him for the Lescott goal, but I don't believe he was Lescott's original marker so I hesitate to do so.

Say what you want about Roberto Mancini, but, when it comes to tactics, his players no what they're doing. Mancini's system is much more rigid than Harry Redknapp's just run about philosophy. Despite dominating possesion, Gareth Barry and James Milner both occupied deep-lying holding roles in the midfield and they played those positions perfectly. The gap between the holding players and attackers looks, on this layout, a bit large, but with no one on either side really occupying that space it never became an issue.

Up front City's attacking four played fairly close to the middle. Samir Nasri and David Silva both like to cut in from the flanks and where very effective doing so. Those two "wingers" both put in man of the match quality performances for Manchester City. Nasri has gotten a lot of stick lately, but for some reason, he always seems to step his game up against Spurs. As far as Silva goes, it's been said by Kevin before, and I'll echo the sentiment, he really is the best player in the world that doesn't play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. The third attacking "midfielder" in the formation, Sergio Aguero, played in as a sort of trequartista behind Eden Dzeko's target striker. Aguero looked dangerous, and was probably the biggest threat to Spurs, despite the numbers here not reflecting it. Nothing is perfect I guess.


Figure 2:Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur passing, 1/22/12. Data: Guardian Chalkboards. Powered by Tableau.

So from this chart we can see that...uh...we can see...well, you see, what this shows is...this game was weird. The first half was really awful for both sides. Spurs often had more of the ball, made more passes, etc. but as we all know they didn't do much with it. It's weird to go back and look at this now because I distinctly recall feeling like we were on our heels to start the match and that City were really taking it to us. This would seem to refute that observation. The second half evened out a little more. Manchester City dominated play for the most part and they got three goals for their efforts.

In terms of individuals, the Citizens had the three top passers in terms of number of completions. Gareth Barry, David Silva, and Samir Nasri really bossed the game for them. For Tottenham Hotspur, Modric, Rafa, and Bale had the most passes. This is much better than previous weeks, when Kyle Walker was near the top in passes completed. It's always good to see your three best players heavily involved in the game, but I continue to worry about Aaron Lennon's lack of involvement. Lennon completed 19 of 21 attempts, but as one of Spurs main attacking threats 21 is not good enough. I understand that Lennon's game isn't to be a distributor, but he should have seen much more of the ball after Gael Clichy picked up an early card.

As you can see, the left sided players for both teams were heavily incolved in the game, much more so than their counterparts on the opposite flank. For further confirmation on this see the figure below. For Tottenham, this was simply a matter of attacking using your best player. Gareth Bale, who played mostly on the left, is very good and getting him the ball is a good thing. Additionally, Luka Modric tends to drift to the left when he is in possession. For City, it was partially due to the strength of the left sided players, but more than likely it was due to a perceived defensive weakness in the pairing of Lennon and Walker.


Figure 3: Attacking Direction for Manchester City (left) and Tottenham Hotspur (right) 1/22/12. Via Who Scored.

I don't think I can say that either Lennon or Walker did a bad job defensively. Neither were at fault for the second two goals and the opener from Nasri originated from the left side of the pitch. So, the defensive weakness that I was worried about didn't end up being an issue and I feel pretty comfortable saying that Walker didn't look like a liability in defense. He did make some careless plays with the ball at his feet and had a couple of silly turnovers, but his defending wasn't bad.


In the end this all paints a pretty odd picture. Neither team truly dominated. The second half was very open and back and forth. In the end I have to agree with Harry Redknapp and say that Spurs proved that they can play with anyone. Tottenham were not played out of the park, but they didn't really show enough to say that they deserved a victory. A draw would have been a much more fair result for both sides.

I'm not sure what this does to Spurs tittle chances, but I'm sure that it will be discussed ad nauseam on the site and in the press. 8 points is a pretty healthy gap, but not one that is insurmountable. I share Kevin's view, which many of you have voiced strong disagreement with, that I will be more than satisfied with third or second. Simply having guaranteed Champions League football next season will be amazing. I'm not advocating we give up on winning the whole thing, but let's not get our hopes up too much.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Spurs proved to many people that they are in the same class as Manchester City. With time still left in the transfer window it will be interesting to see if the club acts in an attempt to really go for it or if they stand pat and hope for the best. I'm not holding my breath for any moves, but I do know that Tottenham have what it takes to hang with the big boys.