Tottenham travel to the Etihad stadium to face the Premier League champions and they would do well to take note of their opponents' flaws, particularly in Europe.
Tottenham travel to Manchester City toay and they will do so with an air of optimism. Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t have picked a better time to face the reigning Premier League champions. City’s Champions League run has all but concluded with only a mathematical possibility of their progress past the group stages offering them little comfort. City have stuttered their way through the start of this season and their European shortcomings serve as an indication of several problems that could see them suffer on the domestic front as well, particularly in their next encounter with Tottenham.
City's defending from set-pieces is atrocious:
City have been quite poor and susceptible from set-pieces this season. They aren’t a lacking in height and apart from Matija Nastasic, their defenders are all fairly experienced. Yet they seem to lack the organization required to deal with these dead-ball situations. Roberto Mancini’s insistence on constantly shuffling his defenders has contributed to their porous nature. Micah Richards was the only long-term absentee in defence but Mancini still neglected to field the same back four on a consistent basis. Disrupting the central defensive pairing of Joleon Lestcott and Vincent Kompany has perhaps been his poorest decision yet this season.
STAT: 1 in every 3 goals City have conceded in the Premier League and Champions League this season have come from set-pieces.
De Jong was allowed a free header
The Citizens conceded both goals against Ajax from corners and their marking on both occasions was atrocious. The second goal in particular exposed City’s lack of organization as Siem de Jong coasted through to the near post unmarked which afforded him a free header. Tottenham have players who are competitive in the air. Should City choose to employ the zonal marking system they used against Ajax again, deliveries from the likes of Gareth Bale would be a nightmare to defend.
Quality sides can hurt them:
Manchester City are the only remaining unbeaten team in the Premier League but in spite of that, they haven’t been the most convincing. Arsenal are the only top six team they have faced in the league so far and they were fortunate to salvage a point from that game despite being second-best for most of the game which was played on their home turf. They endured a difficult trip to Anfield as well and were gifted an equalizer courtesy of Martin Skrtel’s misplaced back-pass.
The quality of opposition has proved too much for City to handle in the Champions League. They may have been able to grind out narrow victories against Fulham, QPR and West Bromwich Albion but Europe is a completely different kettle of fish. Throwing on Eden Dzeko, flooding the opposition’s penalty area and whipping crosses into the box isn’t always the answer against top sides. The weaker teams will enable you to do that because they have the tendency to settle for what they have and then defend deep towards the end of the game. Better sides will do you no such courtesy.
Real Madrid were too good for City
Although the efforts of the QPRs and West Broms of this world are admirable, they inevitably lack a clinical nature in the final third and won’t always expose you for your defensive frailties. City drew the Spanish, German and Dutch champions in their Champions League group, forcing them to learn the hard way that teams of that calibre will make you pay for your defensive shortcomings. Unless of course, Joe Hart is in impeccable form like he was against Borussia Dortmund.
Tottenham do have the quality to take advantage of the defensive flaws that are now embedded into every City performance. Jermain Defoe bagged a hat-trick in the Europa League to take his tally for the season to 11 from just 15 appearances. It’s that kind of clinical goal scorer who can make City pay for their poor defending.
A strong midfield dynamic is not in place:
Last season, City’s midfield pretty much picked itself. Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry would play in centre midfield with Samir Nasri and David Silva drifting in from the flanks. At the most, Nigel de Jong would be deployed to partner Toure in the middle of the park instead of Barry. This season however, Toure has had three different midfield partners. Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell and Barry have all played the part. Meanwhile, Nasri and Silva haven’t been as regular and their form hasn’t been anything like last season.
Yaya Toure has been the only midfield regular
Perhaps it’s this instability in midfield that has kept them from creating chance after chance this season, something that was almost effortless from them last year. Their attacks have lacked the decisive penetrative ability this campaign.
The Blues have been blunt in attack:
When you are struggling to keep clean sheets, you have to make it a point to take your chances in order to out-score your opponents. Given City’s embarrassment of riches in the striking department, that shouldn’t be a problem for them. Sergio Aguero is their lynchpin as far as goal-scoring is concerned but he hasn’t featured regularly since his injury on the opening day of the season. Mario Balotelli has probably been the chief culprit in failing to bury goal-scoring opportunities.
David Silva hasn't looked himself
The creative abilities of Nasri and Silva are yet to come to the fore this season and the longer the duo take to get back into their stride, the longer their strikers will have to feed off scraps. Between them, they have managed just three assists and one goal so far.
Width can trouble them:
Tottenham played their first choice wingers in the midweek Europa League clash and it was no surprise that they looked very threatening down the flanks. Gareth Bale in particular was sensational and sent in quality crosses all night, two of which resulted in goals. With the way City shape up, they are always vulnerable against natural width and Tottenham have that in abundance.
Whether Mancini decides to set up with three or four in defence, the width in the side is inevitably provided by either the wing-backs or full-backs, depending on the formation. With a 3-5-2 formation, it’s pretty clear how the wing-backs would be the main source of width in the side but even when playing with a back four, Nasri and Silva cut in from the flanks to get involved and rarely go down the outside to deliver crosses into the box. They outnumber the opposition in the middle and if they can’t find a way through, they spread the ball wide for an onrushing full-back to stretch the play.
Bale can terrorize them down the flanks
The downside is that when they are faced with a side like Tottenham who have two outstanding wingers in Aaron Lennon and Bale supported by attacking full-backs, Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen. City may not have the cover in wide areas to deal with the threat they pose. When Spurs decide to attack, they will invariably do so down the flanks and City’s full-backs could be left isolated. Pablo Zabaleta is likely to feature against Bale and the Welshman will definitely cause him plenty of problems.
Will City falter or can they see off Spurs? Leave your comments below...
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