Tottenham’s performance in their 2-0 win against Manchester City was the apogee of everything manager Mauricio Pocchetino has achieved so far at the club.
His team displayed the power, pace, ruthlessness and fitness that has rarely been seen at such a high level at White Hart Lane. They blew the league leaders away and in the process, blew the title race wide open.
Pocchetino is aiming to implement a consistent high-pressing style at Tottenham, similar to Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy that proved so successful at Dortmund and is now working wonders and Liverpool.
The aim of the high pressing system is to put pressure on the opposition in key areas, even as high as their own penalty box. The system is becoming more frequent among teams these days, yet the difficulty is being able to perform it for the full 90 minutes, let alone a whole season.
Tottenham produced the ultimate high pressing display on Sunday. They did not give Man City, who are gaining a reputation as a slick passing side thanks to the influence of new manager Pep Guardiola, an inch as they inflicted the first defeat of the season on Pep and his team.
Pocchetino’s men ran 118.8 km in total during the match, compared to City’s 114.8km.
In addition, Tottenham made 647 total sprints, with City behind on 609, which emphasises the extra intensity that Spurs put into the game as City’s passing game was disrupted. The results proved fatal.
‘There’s no denying City are brilliant football side,’ said Dele Alli after the match. ‘But we knew if we could get in their faces and kept working hard we’d create chances.’
Those opportunities were forged by Tottenham robbing the ball off City in high areas of the field, therefore allowing their attackers to expose the opposition centre-backs before the City’s midfield could cover. It was a critical factor in Spurs creating more shots on target (7) than City (6), as well as more attempts (13) than their opponents (12).
Tottenham’s 118.8 km was the fifth highest distance run in a match by any team in the league this season and demonstrated that Pocchentino’s high-pressing philosophy is having an ever increasing influence.
The system is also allowing Tottenham to become more potent in attack. This campaign, Spurs are averaging six shots on target per game – the joint-third highest in the league, as well as being second in terms of shots per game (18.1).
Furthermore, Tottenham average 12.9 key passes per game, which is also third highest in the division.
The likes of Son Heung-Min, a player who was barely effective at all last season, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela have all benefitted from pressing high up the field and their rewards are there to see.
Another key aspect of Tottenham’s success so far this season has been their defensive solidarity. Against City, Spurs’ centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen were outstanding.
Alderweireld particularly impressed, making 14 clearances as the two Belgians made 24 clearances combined – more than the entire City team put together. It was a heroic performance.
What further enhances the improvement Tottenham have made is that Pochettino’s men have conceded only three league goals – the least so far this season. Also, Spurs average 18.7 tackles per game – the third-best average in the league and they rank seventh at least shots conceded per match (10.7).
This has partly been due to the excellent protection that summer signing Victor Wanyama is providing. The Kenyan’s power and athleticism as helped prevent his centre-backs from being exposed – a vital cog in any team, as N’Golo Kante proved for Leicester last season.
‘He (Wanyama) set the tone right throughout the 90 mins, he’s picked up every single loose pass,’ Gary Neville told Sky, who eventually gave Wanyama the man of the match against City.
The security Wanyama offered allowed his midfield partner Dele Alli, as well as Spurs’ other attacking options to go and inflict damage on City, to which they duly obliged. The 25-year-old made six successful tackles against City, more than any other Spurs player, in an imperious display.
However, as impressive as they were on Sunday, the challenge for Tottenham now is to continue to play at this intensity throughout the season. Whether they will be able to or not is up for debate.
It will require a very high level of fitness and squad rotation, yet Pochettino’s men must now believe that they are a match for anyone. And if they manage to maintain their manager’s implemented philosophy of the high-press, then their chances of winning the title this season won’t get any bigger.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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