Manchester City continued their fine and unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. In my tactical analysis today, I will pay particular attention to the performances of two of Manchester City’s left-sided players; Raheem Sterling and Benjamin Mendy. One was on hot form – the other, well, perhaps not so much.
Benjamin Mendy has been growing and growing as a player so far this season at Manchester City. He provided an extremely mature performance against Liverpool at Anfield and has been one of the leagues leading attacking forces. But something was not quite right on Monday Evening in this Premier League encounter. The main thing that will stand out from Mendy’s performance against Tottenham will be his wild attempted Hayemaker at the end of the game but things had already been fairly bad before that.
Mendy appeared to be late to the team press for the majority of the 1st Half. Above we can see an example of this. Mendy has attempted to press Sissoko while Kieron Tripper (off camera) has the ball. Trippier, instead of passing into Sissoko, plays the ball into Lamela. Mendy should follow the white dotted line back towards his goal in order to track Sissoko who is making his run along the white dotted line. This would force Lamela to play the ball backwards and would slow down the counter-attack (solid white arrow). However, Mendy decides to press Lamela along the red dotted line, leaving Sissoko to stride up-field unmanned. Lamela then plays the ball along the solid red arrow and Sissoko is away.
Again, in the example above, Mendy arrives late to the press. The Manchester City left-back gets caught in no man’s land between pressing the Tottenham full-back or holding his position in the back four. Raheem Sterling had Trippier covered and there was really no real need for Mendy to step out and press. Eric Dier plays the ball over Mendy and into the space he has vacated. Below is the continuation of the move.
The ball landed at Lamela’s feet who can now drop the ball off to Trippier. Ayermic Laporte has probably been a bit too aggressive with his press on Lamela but Mendy’s recovery run should prevent there being any serious danger. Moussa Sissoko is again breaking in behind Mendy who initially has stuck with his man. However, at the last second Mendy turns his body and stops tracking Sissoko and in fact, he follows the red dotted line and steps up slightly. Fortuitously, Mendy’s position actually turned out to be an okay one as Trippier miss-kicked the ball and if not for Mendy completely missing the ball the attack would’ve been stopped. Had Trippier not miss-kicked the ball, however, Sissoko would’ve have been clean through on goal and this is due to Mendy’s poor positioning and decision to turn his body and abandon his tracking. This is a fairly familiar position for Mendy to be in as many Manchester City fans will tell you. What’s different this time is that Laporte has been caught out up-field and isn’t there to protect his compatriot. Mendy has to realise this and track his man.
Positioning in a Back Four
When Mendy didn’t find himself attempting to press Kieron Trippier on the edge of Tottenham’s box he was alongside Laporte in a back four. However, at times he didn’t have much joy here either. Harry Kane has the ball at his feet and one of Spurs’ main attacking outlets, Kieron Trippier is making his trademark run into the final third. Benjamin Mendy is poorly positioned. He is ahead of the defensive line and is also extremely narrow. He looks half-concerned with Moussa Sissoko’s positioning and half-attempting to predict where Kane is going to pass the ball. The Manchester City left-back should have dropped his position here along the red dotted line and force Kane to pass the ball along the solid red line. If Kane had been forced to play this pass then Mendy could’ve recovered and gone to press Trippier when he received the ball. Instead, Kane can play a dangerous ball in behind the Frenchman and Trippier found himself in a dangerous position on the edge of Manchester City’s box.
Above is a much better example of Mendy’s positioning. He is in line with the rest of the defence and has an open body shape. Again he is wary of Sissoko’s position but is ready to sprint out to press Tripper (off-screen). Mendy’s good defensive positioning this time forces Kane into a more difficult pass, which he plays directly into touch.
Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy is the best crosser of the ball from left-back in the Premier League. Looking at the above image you would think that this is a perfect position for Mendy to have the ball. He has plenty of time and plenty of players to pick out in the Tottenham penalty area. On that wicked left-foot of his, he can cross to the near post, where City have a 3v1, to the middle where the smallest of touches could result in a goal or to the far-post where again are goal-side and have a 3v1. The Mendy of every other game this season would drill the ball into the box and more than likely a goal would be scored. But Mendy of Monday Night instead tries to drive to the by-line against Spurs’ best 1v1 defender in Sanchez and instead runs the ball out of play. This sort of decision summed up his night as did the fact he attempted only one cross into the box and it was unsuccessful.
I feel that it is important to highlight negatives in performances, even when City are on the right end of a result. This is exactly what Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff will be doing. I know that this appears to be somewhat of a Benjamin Mendy hit-piece but that isn’t the case. The French full-back has been one of City’s star men and I think this performance will only be a blip and he will continue to grow as a Manchester City player.
On the flip side, however, a performance I can’t stop smiling about was that of Raheem Sterling. Sterling really is cementing himself as one of City’s most important players under Pep Guardiola and his 200th appearance in the Premier League was one to remember. Operating from the left-hand side, he had a hand in City’s goal and generally gave Tottenham’s back four, in particular, Kieron Trippier, a torrid time all evening. Sterling tends to go under the radar a little. Many people see Leroy Sané as the player with the higher ceiling and that may well be the case, but at this point in time, he can’t displace the England man.
A clear tactic of Manchester City early in the game was to try and isolate Sterling 1v1 against Kieron Trippier. Trippier is a solid defender but perhaps lacks in pace and agility, things which Sterling has in abundance – this tactic was clear from the goal.
Ederson had the ball at his feet and City had relatively comfortable possession. Raheem Sterling has, however, positioned himself on the shoulder of Trippier, some 60-70 yards up the field. Ederson noticed this and drilled the ball towards him. We can see that Tottenham’s backline is somewhat disjointed and there is a lot of space behind them. Sterling pressurises Trippier into the error and from that point onwards there was only one outcome.
Again from the image above, we can see Manchester City manoeuvring themselves into a similar opportunity to get Sterling running 1v1 against a Tottenham defender. Trippier has come over to press Mendy who plays the ball into Agüero who quickly knocks the ball in behind the Tottenham defence for Sterling. Sterling latched onto the ball and this eventually leads to a snapshot from Agüero that went narrowly wide, but the idea was clear.
Sterling is becoming the master of seeing a picture developing in front of him and knowing when to make his move.
When Laporte has the ball at his feet as above Agüero drops off and pulls Davinson Sanchez with him. As this happens, David Silva moves wide and attract the attention of Kieron Trippier, Sterling immediately knows where space is and drifts into the middle, in the space previously occupied by Agüero and Sanchez. The result is below.
Agüero flicks the ball around the corner for Silva, who plays the ball into Sterling who is again in behind the defence. If not for a brilliant recovery tackle by Alderweireld then this would almost certainly have resulted in another City goal. Sterling does this all over the pitch and in many different nuanced ways.
Above is a classic scenario. Mendy has dropped the ball into David Silva and before he has a chance to take a touch, Sterling has already made the dart in behind Trippier, who has begun to press Silva. Unfortunately, Sanchez (who was excellent all evening) has read the danger and comes across and covers well.
Sterling isn’t the kind of player who is contempt to play the ball and admire his handy work. In the picture above, he has dropped the ball off to David Silva and in a split second is on the move down the line and in behind Trippier again. Like the previous example, unfortunately, the imperious Sanchez covers across well and dispossesses Sterling.
The sentiment about not standing and admiring his passes is again on show above. Sterling has played the ball into Mendy’s feet but the pass has bobbled and is a weak one. This has encouraged Tottenham’s attackers to press the City back line. Sterling realises his pass may have put the team in trouble, so he quickly pulls away from his marker into space and Mendy can simply play the ball into Sterling who opens up the pitch and can dribble forward.
All in all a very successful night for City. The blues got what they wanted from The Capital and after having played on a pitch that was more reminiscent of a cabbage patch than a football pitch, they will be content with their day’s work. City can and will play better than they did against Tottenham. But, it is very pleasing to know that even when players, such as Mendy, have relative stinkers they can still restrict a top side like Spurs to just five shots with one on target.