Talking Tactics

How Ederson can help Man City overcome Spurs' high press

By Adrian Clarke 1 Dec 2023
Man City Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke says goalkeeper's accurate passes to Haaland can quickly turn defence into attack

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 14.

Manchester City

Man City are accustomed to facing low defensive blocks week after week, so it will be fascinating to see how they fare against Tottenham Hotspur’s renowned high line at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Very few opponents are brave enough to press City high inside the champions' half, pushing their defenders into advanced positions to congest space. But Spurs are expected to go toe to toe with City in this manner.

Ange Postecoglou has stated he will not change his tactical approach, even without speedy first-choice central defenders Micky van de Ven and Christian Romero.

So, how will Pep Guardiola approach this very different tactical challenge?

Runs from Haaland and Foden

The most obvious way to unlock teams who are happy to risk a high defensive line is to release through-balls in behind for attackers to sprint onto.

Erling Haaland, one of the quickest and most powerful strikers in world football, should in theory relish facing opponents who will leave space for him to run into and latch onto passes.

The Norwegian has made 363 off-the-ball runs this season, the seventh-highest figure among Premier League players, with his team-mates targeting him with 32.5 per cent of those movements.

Phil Foden also makes an extraordinary number of off-the-ball runs, so the Spurs defence will be tested greatly by City’s movement.

Most off-the-ball runs 23/24
Player Total
Dominic Solanke 444
Ollie Watkins  439
Abdoulaye Doucoure 429
Bryan Mbeumo 400
Nicolas Jackson 397
Dejan Kulusevski 382
Erling Haaland  363
Son Heung-min 351
Phil Foden 351

Spurs’ defensive players must work overtime to pressurise Julian Alvarez and Foden when they drift into central areas between the lines.

If they fail to get tight enough, both players are good enough to combine sharply with each other before sending Haaland clear.

Haaland's goals against Fulham and RB Leipzig (below) provide a clear indication of how City may look to play in their top scorer beyond the last man.

These triangular scenarios could occur higher up the pitch than in these examples on Sunday, but wherever they take place, Guardiola would be pleased to see the pattern of these attacks replicated.

Erling Haaland 1
Erling Haaland 2
Keeping the play wide

Spurs are an outstanding pressing team under Postecoglou.

No one has fashioned more shot-ending high turnovers or scored more goals, with five, from those situations.

But Spurs will have to press exceptionally well in this match.

When Arsenal decided to press Man City aggressively in all three of their meetings last season, losing them all, they encountered several issues.

One is that City’s wide players will hug the touchline and make the pitch feel huge.

If Spurs' press is bypassed and they have multiple players ahead of the ball, City will be able to slide long-range vertical passes down the middle for Haaland to run onto, as shown below against Arsenal last campaign.

City's wide play

It is imperative that Spurs block up these passing lanes, so we could see more space freed up on the flanks for City to counter via their wingers instead.

When the visiting full-backs are caught inverted inside midfield, look out for City’s defenders picking out Jeremy Doku, Foden or Jack Grealish with long-range diagonals.

Ederson’s accuracy

City are also capable of missing out Spurs' press with passes from goalkeeper Ederson.

Guardiola encouraged his No 1 to hit Haaland with one direct pass in those matches against Arsenal, and it is a move which City use as a weapon from time to time.

Turning defence into attack and forcing opposition defences to face their own goal, Ederson’s long-pass success rate is an impressive 52.8 per cent.

If Spurs' back four squeeze too high, Ederson is good enough to release Haaland or one of City’s other forwards with a single long pass over the top.

'Keepers with most successful long passes 23/24
Player Succ. long passes Accuracy %
Jordan Pickford 118 38.7%
Thomas Kaminski 114 33.5%
Wes Foderingham 99 35.7%
Mark Flekken 92 41.1%
Ederson 85 52.8%
Risk and reward

Spurs' bold, aggressive style has potential to cause the champions plenty of problems in this encounter, and their style means they are likely to create chances.

But at the other end, goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario could be in for a busy afternoon.

Playing a high line against a team with as much tactical intelligence as City, who are excellent at varying their points of attack, has to be considered dangerous.

If City get their service right, Haaland undoubtedly has the skillset to make Spurs pay for using this tactic.

Also in this series

Part 2: Can Onana and Maguire stand up to Newcastle test?
Part 3: Iraola's vision starting to shine at Bournemouth
Part 4: Why Van Hecke can fill leadership void in Dunk's absence

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