Talking Tactics

How Man City can counter Spurs' threat on the break

By Adrian Clarke 17 Jan 2023

Adrian Clarke explains what Guardiola's champions must do to rediscover their defensive solidity

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Manchester City

Man City are defensively fragile at the moment, and Tottenham Hotspur have exactly the playing style to exploit those weaknesses.

Pep Guardiola’s side have paid a heavy price for being caught by fast breaks.

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Both of Manchester United’s goals in their 2-1 home win against City last weekend stemmed from their runners exposing City's high line.

City regularly left their full-backs high while squeezing up to press in advanced areas, leaving them vulnerable to passes played in behind their full-backs and centre-backs.

They were also punished in the recent 1-1 draw against Everton, when they lost possession with multiple players ahead of the ball and Demarai Gray scored with a fine solo goal on the counter.

Before that, prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022, Brentford broke the full length of the pitch to get a late winner after City had pushed too many players forward for a corner.

Only one team have faced more shots from fast breaks than Man City this season, and that is a Liverpool side who are out of sorts themselves.

Shots faced from fast breaks*
2022/23 Shots*
Liverpool 16
Man City 15
Chelsea 13
Everton 13
Aston Villa 12

*Including goals conceded

Antonio Conte's Spurs will be bruised from their own derby loss to Arsenal last weekend, but they pose a serious threat on the counter.

Spurs and Harry Kane both lead the rankings for the most shots from fast breaks.

If City’s full-backs get drawn too far forward, or their centre-backs are lured towards the ball, Spurs possess the quality to hurt them.

The champions must be careful not to give the ball away in midfield without a solid structure in place behind them.

Most shots from fast breaks 22/23
Team Shots Player Shots
Spurs 15 Kane (TOT) 7
Liverpool 13 Johnson (NFO) 7
Man Utd 12 Salah (LIV) 6
Fulham 12 Nunez (LIV) 5
Nott'm Forest 12 Barnes (LEI) 5
West Ham 12 Gray (EVE) 5

Guardiola has always heavily rotated his starting XI, and his defence have arguably experienced too many changes across the last 10 matches.

The Spaniard switched to a back three at Chelsea and Liverpool, but left-sided centre-half Nathan Ake was the only defender to feature in both encounters.

In fact, since their 6-3 victory over Man Utd in October, City's defence have stayed the same for the following match on only one occasion.

Overall, Guardiola has made 14 defensive personnel changes in the last 10 matches.

Defender changes last 10 matches
Man City Total
Defender team changes 14
Defender changes of role 21

Individuals have also been asked to perform different roles within City’s defensive framework.

Ake plays at full-back or in the centre, while Manuel Akanji regularly switches between being the left and right-sided member of a pair, and has been used at right-back too.

John Stones also flits between right-back and central defence.

The constant shuffling has arguably impacted on-pitch relationships between team-mates, affecting their chemistry and decision-making.

Tough going for Ederson

City’s last line of defence has also experienced a dip in form.

Ederson has always been a hugely reliable No 1, but according to Opta's "Goals Prevented" metric he has conceded 2.2 more goals than he should have done this term.

This puts him in the bottom third of Premier League goalkeepers.

Ederson's season-by-season stats
Season Save % Save % in box Goals prevented
17/18 68.3 64.9 0.4
18/19 71.6 63.8 0.9
19/20 70.8 70.4 3.4
20/21 70.2 60.7 2.3
21/22 68.7 61.1 -0.3
22/23 60.9 58.8 -2.2

The Brazilian’s save percentages are also the lowest they have been since he signed for City in the summer of 2017.

Ederson's 60.9 per cent save ratio ranks him 18th of the 20 goalkeepers who have made 10 or more starts this term.

If Spurs can get into City’s half to test their defence and goalkeeper, they could have success.

The form book suggests Guardiola's defending champions are not as stable as they have been in the past.

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