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article imageSpurs' Pochettino makes timely subs to vanquish Manchester City

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 15, 2016 in Sports
An improved Manchester City performance was expected at the Etihad Stadium following a crushing defeat against Leicester last weekend, but Pellegrini’s men failed to impose their authority against a well-drilled Spurs side
Pellegrini’s approach was fairly conservative with the inclusion of Fernando in the starting XI, but City risked being overloaded in wide areas with Raheem Sterling and David Silva deployed on the flanks. This meant that Yaya Toure started behind Sergio Aguero, but the Ivorian’s influence was minimal despite Spurs’ poor midfield structure.
Spurs were superb in a 1-0 victory over Watford a week prior due to width provided from their adventurous full-backs, and here, Danny Rose surged forward whenever space was available. Kyle Walker, on the other hand, was cautious with his positioning considering he was up against a direct runner in Sterling.
Pochettino’s men still encountered difficulties creating legitimate goal scoring chances from open play. Fernando offered City improved structure in midfield, and committed early fouls on Dele Alli when he received possession between the lines.
Spurs’ main issue involved their three attacking players aiming to receive possession in a congested midfield zone, whilst neither Kane nor Alli were keen on running beyond the City defence. Christian Eriksen dropped deep to receive the ball, but Spurs’ chief creator was reluctant to play penetrative passes, and opted to provide service to the full-backs.
Despite retreating into their base shape to allow the away side to dominate possession, Toure found pockets of space to receive the ball behind the Spurs midfield — however, the Ivorian’s forward passing was severely underwhelming. City’s main threat surfaced when Silva drifted towards the left flank and combined with Sterling, as both men charged into half space but played a poor final ball.
In ways, both sides were lacking the source of attack that their opponent excelled at. City lacked quality crosses from the flanks, whereas vertical penetration was non-existent in the away side’s play, despite their convincing possession dominance. Still, the defining moment of the match involved Spurs winning a penalty following Sterling being harshly penalized for blocking Rose’s cross.
"Before the penalty we had more clear chances. There were not too many in such a close game but the penalty was very important," Pellegrini told Sky Sports.
"The shot hits the back of Sterling then his elbow slightly. I don't think the referee can decide the game in that way. That action in such a close game was absolutely decisive.”
City began to push players forward subsequent to Harry Kane’s opener, but their passing in the final third — mainly to play balls into the isolated Sergio Aguero — were poor. Pellegrini summoned Kelechi Iheanacho for Fernando for an additional attacking threat, but while City didn’t necessarily improve, they managed to grab an equalizer through their sole attacking threat.
Clichy located Silva in a pocket of space, and with no central options available, he slid the ball back to the City left back, whose cut-back cross saw Iheanacho equalize. Afterwards, Toure evaded a few challenges to test Lloris from distance, indicating that City were likely favourites to claim a winner.
Pochettino also turned to his bench replacing Alli for Erik Lamela, sacrificing the former’s appreciation of space and direct off-the-ball runs for the latter’s dynamism. With Toure moving deeper into midfield, this was a positive change considering Lamela’s pace, and it was fitting that both men were involved in the winner.
Toure was dispossessed at half, and Lamela received the loose ball and stormed towards goal before sliding a pass to Eriksen, who neatly placed his shot past Joe Hart. City’s attack remained blunt subsequent to Eriksen’s winner, as Spurs dropped deeper towards their box to cope with a late onslaught from the hosts.
"We delivered our plan perfectly," Pochettino said. "We were very calm and played the way we wanted to play. We have a very young squad against a team with world champions so you have to give full credit to the players.
"We were calm at 1-1 and played well. We defended well and our mentality is to try to score and win the game."
Pochettino reacted to City’s attempt to win the match, and punished the hosts by placing his faith in an energetic ball-carrier in Lamela, who offered the required penetration to foil a back-line lacking a natural holding midfielder. City’s defensive issues were evident prior to kick-off, but with so many players unavailable due to injury, their current attack is severely bland.
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