Champions League: How Mauricio Pochettino won the tactical battle against Pep Guardiola
In a thrilling battle, Tottenham Hotspur were able to beat Manchester City in their first Champions League game at their new stadium on Tuesday night. Heung-min Son was able to score the only goal of the game past Ederson, following some shambolic defending by the City's back-four.
Without a doubt, the goal was a great individual performance by the Korean, but the game was already decided tactically. Mauricio Pochettino prepared his side better than Pep Guardiola, something which is not often said about coaches who face the Spaniard.
The following are the three major tactical advantages that allowed Spurs to already have one foot in the semis.
#1. Shutting down the right side
Tottenham right-back Kieran Tripper had to face one of the best left-wingers in the world right now in Raheem Sterling. To prevent the attacker from blooming and possibly contributing to a goal, Son was tasked to work back a lot. The goalscorer event attempted four tackles in his own half and was able to intercept one pass.
Sissoko was also dictated to help there. He was often found wide, where the Frenchman tried to block the City player from dribbling into the centre. He managed to do this with two important tackles in the box.
Another aspect that helped the home team was the fact that Guardiola decided to play Fabian Delph in the left-back position. He may be more experienced, but Benjamin Mendy is a bigger threat going forward and could have helped their frontline more.
#2. Forcing errors in City’s build up
The key to win against City is to press them early on, but still maintain enough defensive balance in the midfield. If not pressed, City will outplay any team, whereas when a team miss the midfield cover, the Skyblues are able to outplay the first pressing line easily and find a lot of space behind it.
Tottenham managed to do both in an interesting and efficient way. Harry Kane usually tried to press the whole defensive line, while one of the wingers, who helped him to close the gaps, supported him. Dele Alli and one of the other attackers always doubled the two holding midfielders. Sissoko and Harry Winks, on the other hand, were tasked with covering their frontline, with the ex-Newcastle star being in a more of a sweeping role.
This pressing allowed them to force the Citizens into making many errors. City lost 7 balls in the area of around 40-yards to their box. This is the highest number since their first loss of the season against Lyon.
3. Using Sissoko as a pure destroyer
As one of the best players in the 2016 European Championship, Sissoko often has many eyes on him. He failed to regain his form and was called a waste of money, considering his hefty £31.5 million transfer fee.
But on Tuesday night, Sissoko showed his true worth as he was able to use his biggest strengths to stop Manchester City's attacks. The Frenchman is an amazing and aggressive tackler, equipped with some enormous stamina. This is shown in his numbers as he made five tackles and three interceptions on both sides of the pitch.
Due to his lack in passing and shooting, Sissoko was also less involved in the build-up as Pochettino probably wanted to not take a risk of losing the ball in his own half. He only had 38 touches. In comparison, the other deep-midfielders on the pitch all had more than 50 touches.
The versatile player tried to fill the gaps, win his tackles and prevent counters as good as possible. His role was one of a pure destroyer, which he managed to succeed in a solid manner.
For any team, it is very hard to play against City. They are always very good and disciplined both on and off the ball, which combined with the coach's tactical understanding, often is a deadly combo.
Pochettino managed to stop the side from scoring any goal, which only Chelsea and Liverpool managed to do so far in this season. He did this with tactical changes and was not dependent on individual performances. Tottenham’s biggest advantages were the high pressing and defensive contribution on the right side.
It will be interesting to see if Pochettino is able to do so in the second leg, especially considering Kane will most likely miss the game due to an injury.