Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical decisions allowed Spurs to outperform an on form Manchester City side. With City winning all of their league games previous to the clash, Pep Guardiola’s side looked as if they would storm the title race this year. However, The Sky Blues were stopped in their tracks by the North London team. Spurs played City at their own game. A high intensity game, quick intricate passes and a forceful press from Tottenham strangled City out of the first 45 minutes as well as giving them a 2-0 lead. A solid defensive performance in the second half meant that City could not find their way back into the game no matter how hard they tried.
Tottenham started the game with their typical 4-2-3-1 formation. Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama took up the double pivot in the absence of Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele, while Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Mousa Sissoko formed the attacking three behind the on-form Heung-Min Son. However, as the game progressed Spurs changed to a 4-1-4-1 formation which saw an interesting development in Christian Eriksen’s role during the game.
Eriksen is a vital player to Spurs. The Dane acts as the metronome for the team, he controls the rhythm and tempo of the game. As seen in the past, Tottenham are a completely different team without the playmaker or when he dips in form. Eriksen’s favoured position to play is behind the striker in the number 10 role, however as Dele Alli thrives in that hole behind the striker Eriksen has been forced out onto the left wing. While this hasn’t massively affected Eriksen’s game overall came he still has more control from central positions. If anything Eriksen’s position on the left hinders the team slightly when he drifts into the center of the pitch and stays there too long. This creates a more narrow midfield and sometimes leaves the team unbalanced.
Against City, Eriksen took up a role which we have never seen him play in before. Alli continued to play higher up the pitch behind Son, even though he originally started alongside Wanyama, and Lamela and Sissoko occupied the left and right wing respectively. Eriksen on the other hand took up a Luka Modric-esque role, controlling the game from deep and doing so without restricting his creativity. With both Alli and Eriksen playing in central roles Spurs got the best out of both players. The move also helped Spurs implement their high press as by playing Lamela and Sissoko out wide it put pressure on City’s full backs, who were intent on playing out from the back, as the two players stayed out wide, unlike Eriksen who often drifts in.
With Spurs playing with a false nine and four attacking midfielders they had an extra man allowing them to press in groups of twos or threes, forcing City’s defence into numerous mistakes that the Lilywhites would capitalise on.
On top of this Eriksen’s partnership with Wanyama throughout the game allowed the Tottenham to break onto City quickly. With Wanyama providing a flawless performance in breaking up Guardiola’s team’s attacks, Eriksen would quickly pick up the second ball and recycle it back out to an attacking midfielder and consequently start a new attack on the back of City’s. Eriksen has come under criticism for his lack of defensive abilities. While Eriksen doesn’t put in numerous tackles every game he does win second balls as well as intercepting play and gaining back possession through pressing opponents and this is just as important, if not more, for Tottenham’s style of play.
With Pochettino hinting in his post match comments that Tottenham may only play with one defensive midfielder in the future, will we see Eriksen in this role more often? With Mousa Dembele still to return to the squad it is difficult to tell, but I would not be surprised to see Eriksen progress into this deeper role.