At this point in the season, we can predict with near certainty how Mauricio Pochettino will set up his side to take on Manchester City. The lineup will resemble last week's, aside from injury replacements, and the strategy will be the same high-pressing game we have seen all season.
In this series, we ignore Mauricio's predilections and select the players and tactics we would prefer to see. The only constraint is that injured players and players who are completely out of favor (Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue) are inelegible for selection. With that in mind, here is this week's proposed lineup:
- One of the key tactical battles of the reverse fixture was Sergio Aguero against Tottenham's high line. Aguero had no trouble darting behind Younes Kaboul and Federico Fazio, both of whom lack pace. Spurs had trouble playing a high line against Southampton at the weekend and it would be risky to try it again here. Consequently, Spurs should sit deep, compress the space between midfield and defense, and counterattack at pace when possession is regained.
- An injury to Ben Davies means Jan Vertonghen slides into his favorite position, left back. Vertonghen does not have the pace to overlap in attack and get back to defend against quick wingers like City's Jesus Navas, which puts Spurs at risk of becoming very narrow if Nacer Chadli or Christian Eriksen start at left wing. Playing Andros Townsend in this position mitigates this problem. Townsend can cross from the left and his pace may deter Pablo Zabaleta from joining City's attack.
- Spurs' midfield, especially Ryan Mason, played poorly in the Southampton match, so Mousa Dembele partners Nabil Bentaleb in midfield. Dembele's ability to keep possession under pressure and counterattack at speed could be very valuable against a City side that has been quite open in recent weeks. Dembele and Bentaleb played well together in the New Year's day victory over Chelsea and it is perplexing that Pochettino hasn't paired them together more often in big games this season.
- DeAndre Yedlin is a better choice than Vlad Chiriches at right back purely for attacking reasons. David Silva, City's nominal left winger, tends to drift all over the pitch, meaning Spurs' right back will not match up with him for large parts of the game. The upside for Spurs is that in attack there will be opportunities to double up against City's left back. Yedlin's pace and crossing ability make him the best candidate to take advantage of these opportunities.