Tottenham preview: time for Pellegrini to rethink his midfield
After last week’s debacle, the last opponent City need is another hard working, well organised, title challenging side in excellent form. With injuries to Sagna and Delph reducing Manuel Pellegrini’s options still further, there’s little optimism around. True, Kompany and Silva are available but one has to wonder how fit they are for such a demanding fixture.
Still, City have had a rare full week to recharge and prepare for the game. So have Spurs, but with the older squad City probably needed it more. There’s been plenty of time for Pellegrini to come up with a plan, and central to his thinking should be the setup of the midfield and how to combat a flying Spurs side.
Pellegrini rarely deviates from an attacking, possession based philosophy, but without a win against a top six side this season, a little more caution may be required to yield a better result.
Team suggestion (4-2-3-1): Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Yaya, Sterling, Iheanacho, Aguero
It’s time to overcome the reluctance to play with two central midfielders without one of them being Yaya as a deep lying playmaker. The fragile defence needs more protection and without Delph, the obvious pair are Fernandinho and Fernando. Two sitting midfielders would give Otamendi less incentive to charge forward and leave space behind.
A role for Yaya
Judging from his recent substitutions, it appears Pellegrini is finally recognizing Yaya’s struggles. Getting up and down the pitch in a midfield two is beyond the Ivorian now, while playing him in a deeper role doesn’t protect the defence as opposition runners aren’t tracked. That leaves an attacking role, where Yaya could press Dier and seek to play in Sterling and Aguero. Yaya revising the role he played when he first arrived would also make the midfield more compact – useful against this Spurs side.
The danger is in Aguero being isolated, but it’s probably a risk worth taking.
Less possession, more directness
Pochettino likes to press and Pellegrini likes to play with a high line. The risk of a repeat of the Liverpool game is high. Hopefully the injuries will force Pellegrini into a more pragmatic approach, allowing the defence and midfield to sit deeper when Spurs have the ball. Worry less about possession stats and draw Spurs on. They don’t have the quickest back line, so winning the ball from deep, a quick transition and space could open up for the pace of Sterling, Aguero and Iheanacho. Our usual possession focused approach play is less likely to pay dividends with a half-fit Silva and no De Bruyne.
Guarding the flanks
Sterling’s dilligence in tracking back is a valuable trait and playing him wide would enable Trippier to be tracked. Iheanacho could do the same against Davies. Silva on the other hand offers little protection to his full-back even when fully fit. There’s an argument for Silva and Yaya sharing the number 10 role over the course of 90 mins, leaving the wide and defensive midfield roles to others.
What I’ve offered here is a pragmatic setup that goes against Pellegrini’s nature. On occasion he allows it, as we saw in the draw at Old Trafford. Injuries, the form of Spurs and the hurt from last week may see similar again.
Pick a side to match the energy of Spurs, allow little space for the opposition to attack, then let Aguero do his thing – aided by the pace of Sterling and goal threat of Iheanacho. City could yet pick up a win against a fellow challenger.