Premier League Sunday: Tactical review

Shaun Botterill

Tim Palmer takes a look at how two managers managed to change the pattern of a match by introducing their best players.

Tottenham have struggled against Manchester City in recent years. You have to go back to December 2009 for Spurs' last victory in this fixture, and aside from an exciting goalless draw on the opening day of the 2010/11 season, it's otherwise been City domination - and until Andre Villas-Boas switched the format of his midfield to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 victory, that was the case here.

In a game featuring four narrow wingers and two out of form strikers, City's lead at half-time was indebted to the cleverness of Carlos Tevez. Out of City's three strikers the Argentine demonstrates the most variety of movement, able to shift between the lines to become a playmaker or play higher up and battle centre-backs as a lone forward.

It was the latter role he played to good effect in City's 2-1 win over Manchester United two weeks ago but the last two fixtures have shown he is better when deployed deeper, constantly pulling away from midfielders to find space in that crucial playmaking zone. Having already created a goal for Samir Nasri by jinxing away from Jan Vertonghen on the right flank, Tevez spent the first half disrupting the stability of Tottenham's back four by sitting in the space behind Scott Parker and feeding Nasri and Edin Dzeko with delightfully deft through balls.

The crucial moment came on the hour mark. Having reverted back to 4-2-3-1 for this fixture to accommodate Gareth Bale in a central attacking role, Villas-Boas switched to a 4-3-3 formation, moving Bale to the right. Lewis Holtby and Thomas Huddlestone came on and combined with Moussa Dembele to create a triangle in midfield. While Tevez works excellently when dropping into a central attacking position, he was not the right person to pick up the ‘spare' man in Tottenham's midfield. That was Tom Huddlestone, and by striding forward and hitting purposeful balls forward into the feet of the attackers he set the tempo of Tottenham's passing and helped his side take control.

Meanwhile, higher up in the midfield battle, Dembele engaged in direct confrontation with Yaya Toure, but Holtby benefitted from the fact Gareth Barry sat a little deeper, giving the German the freedom to spray long passes towards the flanks. His superb assist for Defoe's goal is the best and clearest example, but he had already illustrated his threat in that zone moments earlier with a near-identical ball for Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

When Huddlestone broke forward and slipped the ball in between two City defenders into Bale's path on goal, it summed up the improvement in Tottenham's play. The inevitable question, then, was why Villas-Boas hadn't got his side right from the start.

A similar question echoed at Anfield even in the controversial ending to Liverpool's clash with Chelsea. Neither of them should have still been on the field but Danny Sturridge and Luis Suarez combined to score and create both of Liverpool's goals, turning provider and scorer in equal measure.

In the first half, Suarez naturally came short towards the play as a false nine, looking to get on the ball in the spaces between Chelsea's midfield and defence. He was closely tracked by David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic, who were happy to follow him high up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that their inconvenient positioning would not be exposed - Phillipe Coutinho, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson all stayed deep, rarely moving forward into the space Suarez was vacating.

But that changed in the second half, with Sturridge's introduction. As well as threatening with his pace in behind the Chelsea back four, he flitted in and around the width of the pitch, helping to stretch the play both laterally and vertically - particularly down the left flank. Liverpool benefitted from simply having an extra attacking player, one always looking to get forward rather than constantly looking over his shoulder for the nearest Chelsea player. Although it might never feature again, the relationship between Sturridge and Suarez is particularly incisive, the two enigmatic talents benefitting from each other's presence which unsettles defences. Although the young Englishman is particularly inconsistent, Liverpool has looked particularly good in recent weeks with this bold combination of attackers.

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