An excellent encounter at White Hart Lane ended with Tottenham Hotspur coming from behind to win. A game that Man City took a grip of initially, eventually saw key tactical changes from Villa Boas which dragged Spurs forward and altered the complexion of the game.
Having recovered from injury, Villa Boas put Gareth Bale straight back into the Spurs side. Villa Boas also recalled Assou Eotto to left back and Hugo Lloris went back in-goal ahead of Friedel.
Spurs began the game in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Bale playing just behind Adebayor.
Mancini recalled Nastasic, Zabaleta and Clichy to defence following the slender victory over Wigan. Aguero was only fit enough to make the bench allowing Dzeko to get a start. Silva had recovered from injury only to damage his ankle in training and continues to miss out.
Spurs began brightly and tried to push forward, preventing Man City from developing any real rhythm but the opening goal after just four minutes altered this. Carlos Tevez moved towards the corner and despite being pursued by two Spurs players somehow flicked a pass trough to Milner who moved into the penalty area and cut the ball back from the goal line. Nasri was unmarked in the centre of the penalty area to score. Dempsey, who should have tracked back was still some way behind the Frenchman.
Spurs own game plan conspired to be their undoing. With Sigurdssopn and Dempsey in wide positions, both would naturally drift inward to a more central position. This clogged the centre of the pitch with Bale also operating centrally and unable to find any space to utilise his pace. It also suited the narrow approach of Man city perfectly.
With the centre clogged, it was reliant upon both Spurs full backs to push higher and offer width. Kyle Walker on the right did this and was presented with an excellent chance after 21 minutes but his effort was saved.
The graphic below shows just how narrow Spurs were during that first half with too many players attempting to occupy the same territory:-
Having taken the lead City continued to look dangerous through the work of Carlos Tevez who set up chances for both Nasri and then Dzeko which both failed to take. A 2-0 lead for City at half time could well have sealed the points for the Manchester club.
Tevez movement and ability to both hold the ball up and also play short quick passes releasing team mates was instrumental in Spurs creating chances. The graphic below shows Tevez creating three chances:-
Second Half Changes
Bale initially moved to the right at the start of the second half but was then faced with both Clichy and the Man City substitute, Kolarov as Dempsey was pushed higher to support the increasingly ineffective Adebayor.
The key element to this game was the changes introduced by Villa Boas in the second half. In the 60th minute Villa Boas made a double substitution. Parker and Sigurdsson were removed and Holtby and Huddlestone came one. Spurs moved from a 4-4-1-1 system which had seen Parker and Dembele operate centrally with neither really identified as a true holding midfielder, to a 4-3-3. Huddlestone was not the deepest midfielder and able to spray passes to the wings with Dempsey and Bale offering greater width now. The narrowness of the first half had been replaced.
The graphic below shows Huddlestone’s passes. He completed 13 from 14 attempted. In addition to the assist, he was also hitting longer passes as Spurs tried to stretch Man City.
Holtby and Dembele could push higher and press Man City. The time and space that Toure and Barry enjoyed was removed as Spurs pressed high and aggressively.
It was a change that needed to be made. Spurs could not afford to even draw this game if they wanted to maintain their European aspirations.
And yet, as important as these changes were, the failure of Mancini to attempt to alter the course of the game was perplexing. Mancini failed to react to the changes being made by his counterpart in the Spurs dugout particularly when the game was still very much in the balance. Indeed, in contrast to the animated figure of Villa Boas, Mancini was remarkably passive in the second half even as it became apparent that the game was moving towards Spurs.
It was interesting how the three Spurs subs were central to two of their goals.
The equalising goal may have been a tap in from Dempsey following a superb low cross from Bale but it really starts with Bale having time and space to deliver the ball. Man City were able to defend better in the first half as Spurs were narrow but the increased width helped provide the first goal.
City still had opportunities but similar to last week when they failed to kill the game against Chelsea and ended up hanging on to an extent, poor passes and decision-making on the counter again hindered them.
The introduction of Holtby had offered more dynamism to the Tottenham Hotspur midfield and he released his fellow sub Defoe quickly after gathering possession in the middle of the pitch. Kompany should have forced Defoe on the outside but allowed him to cut inside and the striker curled the ball into the far corner.
Bale scored the third goal in the 81st minute but another sub, Huddlestone instigated it. The midfielder was able to travel 20 or so yards unchallenged before slipping a pass through to Bale who moved diagonally inward and clipped the ball beyond Hart.
The Gareth Bale Effect?
Gareth Bale has now scored in the nine league games that Spurs have won since the New Year. Amidst the rightful praise for Bale who is taking his performances to the next level, are the somewhat predictable and idle jokes about Spurs becoming a one man team.
Instead of singling out Bale to the detriment of the remainder of the Tottenham team, perhaps consider how Villa Boas is able to maximise the quality that the Welshman possesses. Creating a system of play that allows him to operate in the final third where he can be so devastating. And consider the contribution of his team mates who help provide the platform upon which Bale can flourish.
As well as Bale is playing, he is also camouflaging the poor goalscoring form of Adebayor who has three league goals this season. If Bale was enjoying a lesser season, there would be greater pressure on the man from Togo to deliver.
Man City will secure second place barring a disastrous run of form in the league but the focus will now shift entirely to the FA Cup Final. Ensuring players are fully recuperated and in peak condition for this game will not be Mancini’s objective.
A game that Spurs had to win following Arsenal’s victory and with Chelsea playing after them. Securing the three points brought Spurs their first win in four games and helps to eradicate the memories of previous Spurs sides dropping off the pace as the final few weeks of the season approach. If Spurs secure a top four finish, there will inevitably by a list of the so called key games within the media at some point. The games that helped secure Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League slot. This game could very well be top of the list.