In my tactical overview piece at the end of last season I explained how Pochettino, like many modern managers, organises his team to attack the opposition across the five horizontal divisions of the pitch. The wings, the channels and the centre. This spreads the opposition defence wide and opens up space to attack in the middle. Spurs achieve this in a growingly common method. We drop Eric Dier between the centre-backs, bring our wingers inside and push the full-backs into high positions.
Pep Guardiola is an adamant practitioner of juego de posicion which also encapsulates occupying these five zones but he achieves this through a different method. Instead of pushing his full-backs up the pitch he keeps them deep and moves them in centrally. His wingers stay very wide and his central midfielders push-up to so that City can have four attacking midfielders behind their striker.
This extremity has been reserved for games City have expected to dominate
This worked incredibly well for him at Bayern Munich and has already turned in very impressive results at City but the personnel remain imperfect. Despite Kolorov’s outstanding passing range City’s full-backs aren’t ideal inverted full-backs as they aren’t up to the technical and tactical level that Lahm and Alaba were at Bayern.
This leaves them somewhat vulnerable to pressing. And history has taught us the best way to play against Guardiola teams is to prevent them from developing quality build-up play from the back via pressing – especially their deepest midfielder Busquets/Alonso/Fernandinho. Celtic, Swansea and to a lesser extent Man United have caused City issues with their high-pressing.
In total contrast, Pep teams also want to be pressed. By deploying creative passers all the way back to, and including, the goalkeeper City look to invite and pass around opposition pressure to attack the space in behind, essentially counter-attacking without having lost the ball.
But we won’t be the only pressing team, Pep teams are renowned for their ability with the ball, but their ability to win it back with high-pressing is similarly impressive which means once again, because of his unmatched ability to resist opposition pressing, so much balances on whether or not Dembele is fit enough to start.
In at least our last two games we’ve used a 4141/433 shape to increase our midfield presence, to make up for the lack of Dembele and this has worked fairly well but I think we should persist with it regardless of whether or not Dembele starts.
Adding to our deep midfield again will help us against City’s attacking midfield overload which has caused several teams marking issues already. This will also make it easy to move to a back 3/5 which will allow our full-backs to mark the opposition wingers tightly and prevent them from running at us with the ball at their feet.
Christian Eriksen has come under some criticism recently and I remain one of his biggest fans. While I think a lot of what he does goes unnoticed that doesn’t also mean he is immune to having an off day. I think Eriksen should be rested on Sunday and that’s not a reflection of his overall quality or recent performances. Eriksen’s greatest ability is in helping us pick the lock of tight defences. As we’ll mostly be playing on the break, pressing with intensity and, I hope, playing a three-man midfield this game is less suited to his skill-set and the I think the fact that he has started our last three games supports the idea that Poch may be thinking similarly.