Tottenham Hotspur had previously conceded just six goals in eleven games prior to this fixture, but Manchester City matched that total in the space of ninety minutes, after Andre Villas-Boas's surprisingly open approach left his defence woefully exposed. The opening goal was an incident of disastrous individual defending but even if that increased the onus on his side to attack there was no excuse for the way City's front four could be so devastating on the break.
At times it felt like the home side were simply attacking with four players, with the front quartet all comfortable carrying the ball forward on the counter at speed and thriving on the open spaces to either side of Tottenham's central defence. After the early goal -- just 14 seconds in, there had barely been time to register the start of the match, let alone the pattern -- there were three main reasons why it seemed City could tear Tottenham apart at will.
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First, Villas-Boas's side dominated possession. This was in fact a clash between the league's second and third biggest ball-hoarders this season but Spurs comfortably controlled the majority of the ball here, bringing it out from the back to move attacks upfield. Manuel Pellegrini has often espoused the virtues of controlling matches through possession but he would have been happy to allow City to spend long periods without it here, because it naturally opened up space for them to exploit, with Yaya Toure's powerful forward burst for Aguero's second after the interval a great illustration of City's potency on the break.
The second and third reasons stemmed directly from Tottenham's possession play. Their centre-backs were under clear instructions to split wide in possession, to stretch the field of play and create angles to work around City's front two of Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. Yet Tottenham were repeatedly made to pay for the occasions when this transition from defence to attack didn't run smoothly - for the first goal, Dawson and Kaboul are in the process of moving wide as Hugo Lloris fluffs his first-time pass to Aguero, then, in perhaps the game's key moment, City's second, as Lewis Holtby, suddenly a third centre-back as a result of the central defenders splitting, failed to pick up Aguero as the striker burst through the middle. Having somewhat regained their composure after Navas's early goal, all of Tottenham's momentum was immediately quelled by Negredo's close-range finish.
Thirdly, Tottenham were keen to push their fullbacks high up the pitch, to provide the width made absent by the movement of Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon inside, and Kyle Walker provided a fine chance by overlapping swiftly down the right and hitting a low cross across goal that Lamela failed to grasp. Yet as Jan Vertonghen and Walker pushed forward, space opened up in the full-back position they left behind and Dawson and Kaboul were frequently dragged out across to the channels to cover.
Sandro, too, was positionally vulnerable, with Paulinho's forward bursts into the penalty box meaning at times the Brazilian was effectively covering the entire width of the pitch in front of the back four on his own, when City attacked powerfully on the break. Sandro's troubles were exacerbated by his yellow card in the 20th minute, which handicapped his ability to make last-gasp tackles like the one that had remarkably denied Nasri in the penalty box early on.
Had Nasri converted that chance it would have been 3-0 inside twenty minutes but as it eventuated City eventually doubled that tally, with a sublime attacking performance made possible by Tottenham's naive approach.