After Jesús Navas slotted in Manchester City’s sixth goal of the day, to seal Tottenham’s fate and Howard Webb blew for full-time, you needn’t have put a lot of time into wondering what the papers were going to say about the match the following morning, or even what the boys on Match of the Day were to say about it.
I’m writing this at 6pm on Sunday afternoon, before Match of the Day and before I’ve seen any of the Monday morning papers, but I can already comfortably tell you what they’ll say :
- City were fantastic
- Sergio Agüero is fantastic
- City will be serious title contenders
- Spurs were utter rubbish
- Spurs were poor defensively
- Spurs were light in midfield
- Spurs were out of ideas going forward.
Now, on the face of it, much, if not all of the above is true. But there’s a big story here which I fear will not be told by the British press. And that is that Spurs weren’t actually that bad. Of course when anyone is beaten by a 6-goal margin it’s usually the case that a four or perhaps 3 goal margin would have probably been fairer. But while City deserved every inch of their victory, Spurs didn’t deserve a hammering.
All of City’s goals pretty much came from defensive errors made by Spurs. As I said before, I’m not taking anything away from Man City, they were terrific, they were potent and they were extremely effective. To score six against a very good side without playing particularly brilliantly says a lot. But this is about defending Spurs.
André Villas-Boas changed his team around this week in an attempt to score more goals. He had obviously been working with all the players who hadn’t been away on international duty on his new system. Hence why the likes of Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado, Lewis Holtby, Erik Lamela, Michael Dawson and Younès Kaboul started the game and the likes of Andros Townsend did not. It was clear from the get-go the Spurs had deviated away from the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation used by most clubs these days, and opted for a 4-3-3 formation, which seems to be AVB’ favourite, with a midfield 3 of Holtby, Paulinho and Sandro sitting, and a front three of Soldado, Lennon and Lamela.
People can take one look at the score line and scoff at the notion that Spurs weren’t that bad, but they really weren’t. Despite having a disastrous first 14 seconds, Tottenham came back out of the blocks and controlled the game. They bossed possession at the home of Man City, a respectable achievement; especially considering that City hold the only 100% home record left in the league.
While they didn’t create an awful lot in the way of goal scoring chances, Spurs were quietly impressive. Particularly when you consider that their two wingers (Lennon and Lamela) have hardly featured at all this season, and that their best centre back was playing at left back and that one of their centre backs (Kaboul) was making a return from a long-term injury.
4-3-3 made a big difference for Spurs. It was just unfortunate that they conceded so early on. A few more defensive errors later and their fate was sealed. The 6-0 scoreline is extremely misleading with regards to Spurs’ performance.
However, one mistake you could argue AVB made was how he positioned his full backs. He had obviously instructed his fullbacks to push high up the pitch in order to press City’s midfield. A wise idea, and one used by Brendan Rodgers very effectively against Everton on Saturday. The only problem was, given the effectiveness of City’s counter attacking and the fact that Hugo Lloris had something of a torrid time clearing the ball out of his box, it left his centre backs (who aren’t exactly the most athletic of players) very exposed, and City punished that.
For City’s second goal, three players managed to get back into the box to defend, two of them were Holtby and Sandro (who scored an own goal). Vertonghen and Walker were heavily advanced up the wing and were continuously leaving the centre of the pitch very exposed to the attacking prowess of the likes of Agüero, Negredo, Nasri and Yaya Touré.
That is probably something which will need addressing, especially against the better teams, but on the whole Spurs haven’t got an awful lot to worry about, besides the ugly score line.
The media were mocking the fact that Villas-Boas praised his team’s response after conceding after just 14 seconds, due to the fact that they went on to concede five more. But I thought he was absolutely right. Spurs’ response was magnificent. They had 60% of possession in the first half, and went in 3-0 down at the break. This was not some disastrous wake-up call for Spurs reminding them that they’re well off the pace, not at all. They were terribly unfortunate to lose by such a score line.
Erik Lamela looked very bright as well. His price-tag might have people calling him a flop, but that is far too premature. He has found it tough settling in England, but at the Etihad he showed glimpses of his brilliance. He seemed to be the only one who was spotting the clever runs made by Roberto Soldado, who must be growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of service he’s getting. But Lamela just might be his shining light.
Lamela started out on the left but began to drift into the centre as the game went on and that’s where he looked his best, as a number 10. His vision and close control are superb, and despite looking rather light-weight, he showed he can work hard and force the ball off the opposition. Give him a year or two and he will be one of the best in the league.
The switch to 4-3-3 might not have paid off for Spurs against City, but the score line really doesn’t reflect Tottenham’s performance. Spurs fans, if you can get around the fact that you got hammered 6-0, you’ll begin to appreciate that things weren’t actually that diabolical for you against City.
I fear a slaughtering in the papers but it’s not something Tottenham really deserve. Looking at the stats alone, possession, shots, corners etc, you’d have thought the game finished 1-1. So don’t let your heads drop too low Spurs fans, it really wasn’t half as bad as it looked.