Coming so soon after their clashes in the Champions League, this match gave Manchester City the opportunity to get their revenge and move back to the top of the league.
Both teams made a handful of changes, including some rarely seen youngsters. Pep Guardiola continued with his 4-3-3, although Phil Foden was given a rare start in midfield, whereas Mauricio Pochettino switched to a 3-5-2 formation, bringing in Paulo Gazzaniga (27 isn’t a “youngster” but his inclusion is definitely an oddity) and Juan Foyth.
City again took an early lead with a combination out wide. Kyle Walker spread the ball out to Bernardo Silva on the right then continues his run forward. Silva fakes to go down the outside but then cuts inside onto his left, as Walker’s run forward has dragged Dele Alli away to open up space for him, and crosses for Sergio Aguero at the back post. Aguero and Foden had doubled up on Davinson Sanchez then split as Silva shaped to cross – Aguero going down Sanchez’s blindside and Foden in front of him. Sanchez follows Foden, who is in the more dangerous position, only for Silva’s cross to go towards Aguero, who squares it over the head of Sanchez for Foden to finish. Toby Alderweireld hadn’t checked his shoulder throughout this move, meaning he was unaware of the tough decisions facing Sanchez and of Foden making a run in behind him, realising too late to react.
Unsurprisingly since they had so much success with it in mid-week, City’s attacking strategy was based around these combinations out wide, trying to get players down the outside of Tottenham’s centre-backs.
The goal aside though, Spurs generally dealt well with these attacks. Foyth struggled initially but settled into the game, while the addition of an extra centre-back from mid-week meant it was harder for City to stretch Spurs’ defence.
City looked at their most threatening when they picked up the ball around the area, with Spurs finding it difficult to pass the ball out from the back under City’s heavy pressure. While City perhaps didn’t threaten much, the early goal meant they didn’t really need to and they were undoubtedly in control of the game, aided by the fact that Spurs didn’t press a great deal, with Lucas Moura dropping off close to Ilkay Gundogan.
Spurs often tried to pass their way out from the back, but more often than not a misplaced pass or a difficult touch would hand the ball back to City. They looked much better when they sent a long ball over the top, as the pace of Son Heung-min and Lucas posed City’s backline constant problems – John Stones in particular really isn’t good enough defensively to be left two-on-two against players of such good quality.
Alderweireld was also returned to the centre of a back three so that he would be the deepest man on the ball, giving him more space to pick out long passes. This role has been given to Sanchez since his arrival, with the idea being that he is under less pressure, making it easier for him to play a simple ball out, however this switch would suggest Pochettino is more trusting of him now.
Although City controlled the game, the game’s best chances frequently fell to Spurs – long balls towards Son often put him through on goal. Ederson was excellent though, racing off his line to save City multiple times.
An injury to Kevin De Bruyne saw the introduction of Fernandinho and in the second half he and Gundogan played together in a double pivot. This took a man out of City’s attack but it gave more protection to their defence, helping to cut off Tottenham’s counter-attacking. Guardiola eventually brought on Leroy Sane too – the German’s pace helping to reignite City’s attacking threat.
Spurs changed little. Victor Wanyama replaced Eric Dier in a like-for-like substitution, then Danny Rose replaced the tiring Alli, but it wasn’t until the 78th minute that Pochettino really altered anything significant. Fernando Llorente was brought on for Alderweireld, switching to a 4-3-1-2. Llorente’s height should have made it even easier for Spurs to go direct, although removing Spurs’ most capable passing centre-back probably lessened this possibility. Llorente may have posed a threat at set-pieces just like in mid-week, however Spurs didn’t manage to win many while he was on the pitch.
Both teams looked tired after their testing mid-week clash. City perhaps seemed a little nervy, but they were quite capable of holding their lead, managing to maintain control over Spurs while expending as little energy as possible. Although their gameplan had them playing more submissively to City, Spurs often looked the better team and remained combative throughout the match – an early goal and a weakened squad tipped the scales against them though.