Oct 2, 1 year ago

Tottenham have the best chance of stopping Manchester City

Tottenham have the best chance of stopping Manchester City

Beating the champions on their own turf will always draw plaudits. The praise for City’s performance is largely deserved, yet to assume that Pep Guardiola’s team are unstoppable is a mistake.

The Catalan underlined this after the match with a Freudian Slip. He referred to Tottenham Hotspur as “the Harry Kane team”.

The 46-year-old exudes the kind of arrogance that comes from having coached a great Barcelona side. On occasion — often after setbacks — he gives the impression that even if he didn’t invent football, he was there at the meeting when the game’s creation was discussed.

He radiates a certain scorn for English football’s ways and rolls his eyes at the sort of questions asked by the British media.

Manchester City are quick. There are times when they seem impossible to catch. On Saturday night at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were often chasing shadows.

Manchester City are quick. There are times when they seem impossible to catch. On Saturday night at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were often chasing shadows.

Even so, the description of Spurs did not seem to be a joke or an insult; it’s likely it was just an indication of where Guardiola sees danger.

Guardiola wants to play in a particular way. The Catalan instructs his defence to keep a very high line. That makes sense. There are enough mistakes in John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi to want to keep them as far away from their own goal as possible.

City are only able to operate in this way if the front men press the opposition back four high up the field. Jesus, Sane and Sterling did this effectively against Chelsea. Sergio Aguero has suffered his manager’s displeasure for his relative lack of effort when closing down defenders. Guardiola’s system works more effectively without the Argentine. The downside is that City will score fewer goals without Aguero. For all the domination and pretty approach play, there was a curious lack of real chances for the visitors at the Bridge.

City are good, especially going forward. Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are an effective front three and Kevin De Bruyne has had a spectacular start to the season. The Belgian was brilliant in the first part of last year’s campaign but faded. This season, he looks stronger, physically and mentally.

The Manchester club deserved their victory over Antonio Conte’s team, but the scoreline — 1-0 — did not reflect the away side’s domination. They let Chelsea stay in the game right up until the final whistle.

Some of the praise heaped on Guardiola and his side was over-extravagant. For all the possession, there were few real chances. Superb approach play is worthless without a cutting edge. Chelsea, with injuries and an undermanned squad, did well to hang on. Conte would probably set up differently in hindsight, because City are vulnerable.

There is a void between attack and defence in Guardiola’s side. City started against Chelsea with only one proper midfielder, Fernandinho. Their full-backs came inside to supplement the midfield, but there was still a lot of space between the back line and the forwards.

These are the areas where Spurs thrive. Conte did not have the players to make the most of the situation. Cesc Fabregas was under par and was never going to block De Bruyne’s run for the goal. Other teams are more robust.

The City manager namechecked United as well as Kane as dangers. Certainly, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino will be scrutinising City and imagining the possibilities. Spurs and United are more balanced sides and operate with more pragmatism and physicality.

Kane does not have the sheer pace to exploit City’s high line, but he has the intelligence to unnerve defenders. The Tottenham striker can find space where others cannot and his speed of thought gives him a yard’s advantage.

The way Guardiola’s team set up, Dele Alli and Christian Erikson will also get room to play. When the teams meet at the Etihad in mid-December, the Catalan might get a reminder that Spurs are not just a one-man team.


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