Of Tottenham’s front six players in the team that bullied Manchester City on Sunday, five were six foot plus. Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli are 6ft 2, Mo Sissoko is 6ft 1, Erik Lamela and Heung-Min Son are 6ft. Only Christian Eriksen dipped under the mark.
Of Manchester City’s front six only the midfielder Fernando reaches the 6ft mark. The other five, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling, are wonderful, fleet-footed footballers but they are little men; they do not intimidate opponents physically.
The difference in size and bulk was as noticeable as the speed with which the Tottenham players pressed the City defence and midfield, forcing them to panic and pass into tight areas or kick long or out to touch at White Hart Lane. Spurs sprinted 2,351m to City’s 1,813m at the Lane but it was not just the sprinting, it was also the strength.
It was in evidence all over the pitch all afternoon. The high press both managers, Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, are so fond of was put into brilliant effect by Spurs – “congratulations, they were the better team” as Guardiola graciously declared afterwards – which forced City to go long or to take risks. When that happened Spurs also had the power to win the ball back.
One example of many that proved a telling moment was when Wanyama flattened Fernandinho in winning the ball that led to Spurs’ opening goal in their 2-0 win. City were trying to play the ball out from defence but the press made them gamble with a risky short pass to the Brazilian. Then the power took over as Wanyama did his flattening legitimately. Fernandinho was simply outmuscled. The Kenyan, who signed from Southampton – Pochettino’s former club of course – for £11m in the summer looks like the signing of the window.
When City went long, to escape the sprinting press, to the head of Aguero it was easily gobbled up by the central defenders, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who were excellent in the victory.
The only time City had some joy was when Claudio Bravo, in the City goal, lifted a pass to Navas to beat the onrushing Spurs players. The accuracy of the pass was admirable – the rest of the afternoon Bravo looked like a cat on a hot tin roof – and it led to an Aguero shot that hit the post.
This is not to denigrate City. They will pick a path through other teams who are less mobile, less physical or less quick with the press. But as Guardiola admitted, they were outplayed on Sunday.
“We have some strong basics which help us to get confident in this type of game and I think we were rewarded because we worked so hard,” the Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said afterwards.
Spurs have now conceded just three goals in seven games – another sign of their ‘thou shalt not pass’ attitude. “Yes, we are strong at the back,” Lloris added. “It does not mean we are a defensive team. We try a lot and we take a lot of risks and we try to play as high as possible on the pitch. We try to put pressure on teams.”
It worked on Sunday in more ways than one.