Prior to Tottenham’s 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City it was thought that this game would serve as a more-than-adequate barometer of both side’s title chances. Following a desperately poor performance from Tottenham, they should no longer be viewed as contenders whilst one must still wonder how City can be so good at home in contrast to their toilings away from the Etihad.
Man City are this season’s Jekyll & Hyde side
The contrast between the Citizens home and away performances is simply incomprehensible. The notion that a team can dominate at home and yet look clueless away is something that has always troubled me, and in this City side we have the perfect encapsulation of that concept; a ridiculous parody of the strong home side and weak away one.
Just to back up these thoughts with some stats: at home, City have played six games, won six games, conceded two goals and scored twenty-six. Away from home, Pellegrini’s side have won just once in six attempts, lost four and drawn one; conceding ten goals and scoring just eight.
Whilst there’s no doubt that City should be congratulated for their ruthless demolition of this Tottenham side, there is a nagging thought that no matter how good they are at home, the title is beyond them unless they can start winning on the road.
The Aguero/Negredo partnership is the best in the league
Pellegrini was quick to lavish praise on Sergio Aguero after another fantastic performance from the Argentine took his league goal tally to ten for the season; one more than the entire Tottenham side has managed. Aguero’s manager made the point that Aguero is now adept enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and on Sunday’s evidence, the Chilean’s got a point.
We’ve known that Aguero is a phenomenal player for a while now, but the impact that his new strike partner has had on his game cannot be undervalued. Alvaro Negredo was a potentially risky signing for City, but the gamble has certainly paid off with Negredo providing the perfect foil for Aguero.
With both men capable of outrageous feats of skill and both more than aware of how to find the back of the net, I believe that in Aguero and Negredo we are looking at the most talented strike partnership in the Premier League; perhaps in Europe.
Andre Villas-Boas may be running out of time
We all knew that however much money Spurs spent in the summer, the loss of Gareth Bale was going to have a massive impact on Tottenham’s ability to win football matches. Bale’s outstanding form in recent weeks at Real Madrid only serves to highlight the fact that Spurs did lose a truly world-class talent in August.
However, following the signings of Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli, Vlad Chiriches, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Roberto Soldado, it was felt that Tottenham could well be a force once Andre Villas-Boas had devised a plan that would get the best of the considerable talent available to him and allowed the players to bed in.
The trouble for the Portuguese tactician is that we are now nearly a third of the way through the Premier League season, and it doesn’t appear that the team has bedded in at all; nor is it even clear precisely what brand of football Villas-Boas wants to play.
Tottenham’s performances this season have been characterised by an ineptitude with the ball, ponderous passing in a congested midfield area and almost zero collaboration between the Spurs midfield and the isolated Roberto Soldado. Villas-Boas has implemented a high defensive line but without the energetic pressing and quick counter-attacking that usually comes hand-in-hand with such a strategy. In fact, the only thing that the high line has achieved is to highlight his captain’s severe lack of pace.
Tottenham were particularly poor at the Etihad, but unfortunately for the North London side, the result cannot be regarded as an anomaly. Whilst Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy no doubt intends to give Andre Villas-Boas time to address his side’s deficiencies, the Tottenham faithful are already getting more than slightly anxious about their lack of progress since August. With the best will in the world, it is difficult for a manager to keep his job if the fans no longer want him, and for that reason, Villas-Boas’s side need to improve quickly if he is to be the long term solution at White Hart Lane.
Tradition trumps modernity
One of the best things about this Manchester City side is the fact there’s more than a mere nod to the old school in terms of the way that they play. In a world of ‘false nines’, 4-2-3-1’s, 4-3-3’s, overlapping wingbacks, and ‘trequartistas’, City play 4-4-2 with proper wingers, proper strikers and proper midfielders.
The effect of this tactic is obvious: Man City are very good at scoring goals against other teams (let’s forget their abysmal away record for a minute). City’s swashbuckling and cavalier 4-4-2 formation allows them to play attractive, attacking football, and the system is in sharp contrast to Tottenham’s all-the-rage 4-2-3-1 with one isolated striker and two wingers who tend to drift inside and ostensibly become additional midfielders.
Pellegrini’s system gives him a real outlet in Jesus Navas down the right, and the Spaniard was sensational on Sunday as he enjoyed the space afforded to him by the woeful Jan Vertonghen. Playing a player like Navas is always going to have an effect as his pace necessitates that a team either allows him free reign down the right where he has the ability to outpace even the quickest of fullbacks or they double up on him, creating more space for his teammates to shine. One must question why Villas-Boas hasn’t utilised the dynamic Andros Townsend like this, with the Portuguese preferring to implement the left-footed Townsend on the right wing; forcing the winger to cut in onto his left foot rather than head for the byline like Navas.
Spurs and City now aiming for different things
Tottenham must now forget any talk of the title race and instead focus on getting their own house in order, and particular focus on trying to make their attacking game more effective. Prior to the City game, Spurs had only conceded six goals, and although their defensive performance at the Etihad was nothing short of shambolic, it was not typical of how they have defended so far this season.
The answer for Tottenham may lie in introducing a second striker to help bridge the gap between the midfield and the increasingly frustrated Roberto Soldado. The fact that Villas-Boas brought Emmanuel Adebayor on at halftime against City hints towards a first team return for the Togolese, which may help, but Villas-Boas must also work on providing service for his strikers. Putting Lennon back on the right and deploying Townsend down the left would give Spurs more width and create more crossing opportunities for Adebayor and Soldado; and this is surely something Villas-Boas must now be considering.
For City, this emphatic victory is confirmation that they can win the title. Tottenham were poor, but it takes special ability to humiliate a team in that way, and this City side have that ability in bucketloads. Pellegrini must now focus on improving his side’s away form. City’s poor away record is perplexing, but they will not win the league without improving it.