How Man City defeat showcased Ange's Tottenham tactical flexibility


Finally, some tactical flexibility! But, perhaps, not the sort that fans had actually been asking for.


A segment of Tottenham fans have been calling for Ange Postecoglou to tweak his approach, as pursuing with the same entertaining, but flawed, system has seen them leak goals in 2024. For the record, the two conceded against Manchester City on Tuesday night made it 32 in the Premier League this calendar year, and just one clean sheet in their last 20 matches. Their habit of not only shipping goals, but often conceding first, has consistently created difficult gamestates to navigate. 


Throughout this period, Postecoglou has refused to back down on his principles. He coaches his style of football, no matter what; as the noise surrounding his approach has intensified, it’s felt like he’s dug his heels in even more. Headstrong or stubborn? Opinions vary. 


All of that made Tuesday night a bit of a shock to the system, and City looked just as surprised as everyone else tuning in when Spurs lined up in what could be described as any number of things: a false-nine system, a 4-4-2 box, a quasi-diamond shape. Whatever it was, it was different - and it caught Pep Guardiola on the hop. 


Spurs flooded the midfield with bodies, dropping the “striker” in to make it 4 vs 3 in the centre. As a result, City really struggled to move the ball through the middle cleanly, with Rodri in particular looking incredibly human. The wide forwards, Son Heung-Min and Brennan Johnson, were touchline wide, hanging on the edge of the defensive line and looking to make runs into the space behind. 


Further back, Micky van de Ven stepped into the gaping hole at left-back, ushering in Radu Dragusin to play alongside Cristian Romero in the centre. Nowadays, you expect that to morph into a back three, with Pedro Porro given licence to go from the right, but in reality Van de Ven played a fairly traditional-looking full-back role. 


All of this, combined, was enough to give the reigning champions a serious scare. On another night, the stars align for Son and Dejan Kulusevski in front of goal and we’re facing the prospect of a very, very different final day of the Premier League for City and Arsenal. 


It wasn’t a fundamental tactical shift from Postecoglou. It was not "more defensive" as some fans have called for; City’s xG of 2.26 on the night puts paid to that idea. But it was a shift within Ange’s principles and beliefs: the core values of his football remained, but the execution, shape and personnel looked different. 


How Man City defeat showcased Ange's Tottenham tactical flexibility


Ange figured out a way to quash City’s midfield dominance - they out-possessed them 53.4%-46.6% over 90 minutes - and made things very difficult in the centre of the pitch. They set up their attack in a way that could release their quickest players into space, resulting in 3 huge chances that were squandered. They accepted they’d have to leave space in behind in order to squish the midfield, but played three excellent recovery defenders - one of which, Van de Ven, is ludicrously fast - in order to try and mitigate that; and in allowing Kyle Walker to be the free run, they gambled that he’d be the least threatening player in the final third, which was correct. 


"Where’s this been all season?" came the cry from some quarters, and it’s a fair question. You cannot expect Postecoglou to relent on his principles, but you can ask for some movement within them. Tottenham found a way to nullify a lot of what City offer and pose a serious threat at the other end - that’s good tactics, good game-planning.  


How useful is this specific gameplan over the course of a campaign? Perhaps not very, as few play like City do. But right at the end of the season, as the pressure has cranked up to maximum, Ange has flashed something many believed wasn’t there: Enhanced flexibility, almost resulting in a win that would have been talked about for decades. 


All Spurs fans can ask for now is that it serve as a building block for the future.

How Man City defeat showcased Ange's Tottenham tactical flexibility