Tottenham Hotspur did not play very well in their match against Manchester City on Saturday. Manchester City outshot spurs 15 to 7 and won in xG, 2.9 to 0.6, per FBREF.
Of course, there’s no shame in getting outplayed by Manchester City. Since losing to Spurs in the reverse fixture in November, City have outscored their Premier League opponents by a combined total of 36 to 3. More damning, however, is that City seemingly didn’t need to shift out of second gear in order to beat Tottenham. And nowhere was that more evident than in the buildup to the second goal.
So, with great self loathing, let’s turn to the tape to figure out what went wrong and where blame lies.
Breakdown of the second goal
We pick up after a scramble in midfield where Bernardo Silva has just passed the ball wide to Raheem Sterling on the right wing. Sterling is isolated against Ben Davies, an obvious speed mismatch.
Davies recognizes this. Take note of his body position. He shapes his hips and feet in such a way as to be ready to sprint with Sterling towards the touchline
Sterling cuts inside, turning Davies inside out. Pierre Emile Hojbjerg tracks Joao Cancelo, who sprints into the space vacated by Sterling.
As Sterling moves centrally across the box, Eric Dier picks him up…
But Sterling keeps going, forcing Davinson Sanchez to pick him up.
So far, so good. Davies, Dier, and Sanchez have successfully picked up Sterling in their respective zones without leaving any gaping holes.
But things start to get messy here. Sanchez tracks Sterling all the way across to the right back zone, without handing him off to Japhet Tanganga. Look closely at the below image - it’s hard to differentiate Tanganga and Sanchez because they are right on top of one another.
Spurs recover their shape, with Tanganga coming inside and Sanchez stepping into the right back zone. Phil Foden is forced to pass back to Ilkay Gundogan…
…who quickly circulates the ball back to Sterling. As Sterling faces up Sanchez, Foden makes a run to the outside, dragging Tanganga with him and out of the right center back zone....
As Sterling cuts inside, Gundogan spots the enormous gap between Tanganga and Dier and begins making a run behind Sissoko, who doesn’t see him.
Dier and Hojbjerg react too late and Gundogan is able to squeeze the ball past Lloris.
Here’s the sequence in full:
So, who’s to blame for this mess?
Dier and Sissoko stand out. Despite having plenty of time and no other attacker to defend,, Dier fails to recognize the danger and shift across to fill the gap. Sissoko, meanwhile, completely misses Gundogan’s run and fails to meaningfully impede Sterling. An in-form Hugo Lloris likely stops Gundogan’s scuffed shot, so some blame rests with him, too.
But looking at this goal in isolation misses the larger point. Spurs rank 10th in expected goals against despite employing as negative an approach as you’ll see from any top-six contender.
And while the options at center back are not top drawer, it’s not as though Spurs play measurably better elsewhere in the team, where they have more talent. Whether in build-up play, counter-attacks, or static offensive possession, Spurs play like a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive whole.
There’s been no noticeable improvement for over 12 months despite significant investment in the squad. No evident philosophy or tactical edge, the kind you might see at Leicester or Brighton. Instead, all too public feuds with talented players.
The blame for all of that, of course, rests with Jose Mourinho, and by extension, Daniel Levy. Levy won’t going anywhere; for Spurs’ sake, let’s hope he moves on from Mourinho soon.