Man City vs. Tottenham Tactical Preview: Spurs’ Flexibility Can Be the Difference
- Manchester City are slight favorites on the road against Tottenham in their Champions League match.
- Will Pep Guardiola overthink this matchup and open the door for Spurs to pull off the upset?
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur Betting Odds
- Manchester City moneyline: -120
- Tottenham moneyline: +315
- Draw: +275
- Over/Under: 3
- Time: Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET
- TV: TNT
Having already lifted the Carabao Cup, City are attempting to win an unprecedented quadruple. On Tuesday, the Blues turn their attention to the Champions League Quarterfinal, where they’ll face Tottenham Hotspur in what is the first of three meetings over the course of 11 days.
If there’s any manager in the country who should relish a chance to stand toe-to-toe with the mighty Pep Guardiola, it’s Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine famously beat Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009 when the former was saving Espanyol from relegation, and his Spurs were the first team to beat City under Pep in the Premier League.
Pochettino’s strengths lie in the way he’s drilled his team to be so tactically flexible. Spurs boast defenders equally comfortable playing as center-backs or wing-backs, and forwards who can play wide, centrally or by themselves up top.
Part of this chameleon-like strategy is based on need; Tottenham haven’t bought a new player in more than a year. But whether for form or function, it’s not uncommon to see Spurs switch formations fluidly throughout a game — a mid-game tactical twist in the Round of 16 versus Dortmund freed Jan Vertonghen up to score one goal and assist another.
Pochettino will need every ounce of tactical nuance he can gin up to hope to match Manchester City’s midfield. First choice holding midfielder Eric Dier is only just coming back from injury, and deputy Victor Wanyama been limited to under 300 minutes in all competitions this season with injuries of his own.
Mousa Dembele was sold in January to somewhere in China, Harry Winks is probably a lovely guy to get a beer with, and Moussa Sissoko tries very hard. That’s it: that’s Spurs midfield.
They’ll be up against David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fernandinho. Oh, and Kevin de Bruyne is finally back fully fit.
Under normal circumstances it’d be hard to see Spurs getting much of this game. City are absolutely flying and their starting lineup is unrivaled in terms of individual accolades and sheer quality, and their depth is their biggest asset. City have been made favorites by the bookies to win each of the remaining three tournaments they’ll play in.
And yet. The Sky Blues are beginning to show signs of tiredness as they hit the meat of a schedule that sees them player every three days for the next month.
The first leg will be played in Tottenham’s brand-spanking-new state-of-the-art stadium, which should surely be a boost to the players. And Pochettino has proven he knows how to beat Guardiola before.
And therein might lie the key to Tottenham’s chances Tuesday. Guardiola is indisputably one of the great footballing minds of our time; he’s can also be his own worst enemy. Playing Spurs three times in two weeks might bring out the worst of Pep: the tinkerer, the over-thinker.
It’s thoroughly within the realm of possibility that Pep tries to set long-term traps for Spurs, implementing some new look to City’s team that will only make sense in two weeks. And it’s just as possible that it will blow up in his face. It’s happened to him before: at this stage last season City played a domestic foe in the Champions League Quarterfinals.
There, Guardiola worked himself into such a lather about how to play through Liverpool’s high press that he somehow ended up with Gundogan, a defensive midfielder, playing right wing. Liverpool romped through City en route to a 3-0 victory.
With the history of animosity between Pep and Poch, the flexibility Spurs have to change styles in an instant, with the boost of the new stadium and the fans at their backs, and with the chance that Pep talks himself into doing something silly, there’s good value on Spurs at these odds.