Manchester City travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday in a heavily anticipated match between two of the Premier League’s current front-runners. The Citizens have recorded a pristine 100% record from six matches played and top the table, while Spurs - the only other undefeated team in the league - sit in third with an impressive 14 points. In this piece, I analyze how Pochettino will look to set his side up tactically in a crucial match-up with the potential to impact both sides’ current momentum.
The changes to Spurs’ starting line-up are heavily reliant on players returning from injury at 100% fitness. Harry Kane, Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko all stayed in England, avoiding a lengthy trip into European wilderness for the 1-0 win in Moscow on Tuesday night, and although Kane will be out for a little longer, I’d be surprised if Dier and Dembele didn’t return into the holding midfield roles in Pochettino’s favoured 4-2-3-1.
This formation is more defensive than the 4-1-4-1 that Spurs played against Middlesborough, but I think this can be forgiven given the attacking prowess of the opposition! Pochettino has said that he wants to press high, and with main man Kevin De Bruyne out for City, perhaps the more adventurous formation will be chosen - but with such pace in behind, with Sergio Aguero fit and Raheem Sterling in the form of his life, the extra cover is the safer bet. 4-2-3-1 it is.
The only other controversy has to do with who plays up front - Janssen was poor in midweek, but must fancy his chances against John Stones, who I maintain doesn’t deserve to be rated so highly. The other available choice is Heung Min-Son, whose direct running, pace, and eye for goal could all trouble both Stones and Claudio Bravo, who is yet to impress at City. I’ve gone for Janssen to start the game, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Korean start up top either.
Lloris; Walker, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Rose; Dier, Dembele; Son, Eriksen, Lamela; Janssen
Tactics and Key Players
This will be an interesting duel, for sure. Guardiola has spoken of his admiration for Spurs, and Pochettino has already talked about how his high press neglected Guardiola’s system in his time at Espanyol. As the home team, Spurs will look to get on the front foot early, and test City in wider positions like Celtic did midweek. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lamela and Son, who I consider wide players, to be used with their strongest foot on the outside, as Guardiola’s formation uses inverted fullbacks playing almost as central defensive midfielders (what has football come to?).
Utilising wide space - which could also be achieved by the fullbacks bombing on - could be key; Janssen looks a physical presence in the air and will test Stones at the back. Spurs don’t tend to differ too much in terms of tactics, but in terms of key players, Toby Alderweireld will have to be on top of his game to deal with the threat of Aguero, while Eric Dier will be key in breaking up attacks before they really get going. However, I’ll also pick out playmaker Christian Eriksen, whose incisive passing will have to be used to full effect to break down a stubborn City back line.
Part of me hates saying it for fear that it’ll come back to haunt me, but I really think Spurs could win this. De Bruyne’s absence will be huge; Alderweireld is good enough to deal with Aguero, Walker with Sterling, and Rose with Nolito. It’ll be a much tighter affair than the same fixture last year, but I still fancy Pochettino’s side to come out on top. 2-1 Spurs.