Talking Tactics: How Manchester City beat Tottenham to win their 4th League Cup in a row

The outcome of the game

Manchester City made their fourth consecutive League Cup final when they trumped Manchester United 2-0 in the semi-final. As for Tottenham Hotspur, this was their big chance to win their first bit of silverware since 2008. But things derailed for Spurs just a week before the final when Daniel Levy decided to give Jose Mourinho the sack.

Spurs went into the final with a new manager. The match was tight and the performance from City was dominant, but they weren’t their usual self in the final third. There was just the single goal and that too came from a set-piece. But it was enough to land them the title.

And what frustrated the Spurs fans further was the fact that Tottenham were second best all game. Let us analyse how this League Cup final was played out and what factors contributed to the output coming in the favour of the Premier League leaders and resulted in the 1-0 full-time scoreline.

The formations

Manchester City, who usually go with a 4-3-3, went with a 4-2-3-1 for this game. Spurs, on the other hand, have preferred a 4-2-3-1 throughout the season but their new manager, Ryan Mason, field a 4-3-3 for the all-important game. The main debate about the line-ups revolved around the No.9s – if Gabriel Jesus and Harry Kane would play.

The Englishman recovered from his injury to play the full 90 minutes in the final. Jesus was benched for a returning Raheem Sterling. But the set-up on the field was different. Foden started as a centre-forward but was hugging the left flank. In his place, Raheem Sterling was playing up front most of the times.

Image A. (SofaScore)

The heatmaps in Image A shows how Foden generally played down the left-hand side, and how Sterling was seeing more action inside the box. The average player positions in the game in Image B also goes on to show how City also operated with 4-2-4 largely against a Spurs side that sat back.

Image B. (WhoScored)

Tottenham’s timid approach

Spurs came to this game to defend and keep a clean sheet. That is irrefutable considering the stats and images that will now follow. While Image B shows just how deep they sat for the majority of the game, Image C adds another grim picture with regards to their overall statistical performance throughout the match.

Image C. LEFT- Manchester City, RIGHT- Tottenham Hotspur. (SofaScore)

It is now clearly visible how Spurs were approaching this match. They had just 38% possession and completed fewer passes with poor accuracy as compared to City. Not just that, but they made more than double the clearances than Manchester City.

The impact on their attack

And obviously, more concentration on defending and trying to keep a clean sheet means less focus on the attack. This was even direr in the case of Spurs, who had some shockingly bad attacking statistics in the game. Image D puts their poor attacking display into numbers.

Image D. (SofaScore)

Image E further shows that they did not have a single shot from the 48th minute, while City bombarded their box completely. This stat becomes even more shocking considering Spurs still had 10 minutes to score after Aymeric Laporte’s opener in the 82nd minute.

Image E. LEFT- Spurs, RIGHT- City. (WhoScored)

Just look at Image F to get a better picture of how the game went down. You can see all 10 outfield players for Spurs in the image with their main attacking threats, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane (both in yellow circles) also playing incredibly deep.

Image F.

Playing like this not only invites pressure, but also takes away a lot of potential for launching counter-attacks considering City were well guarded at the back and no Spurs player was playing in-line with City’s last man.

Keeping Harry Kane and Son Heung-min quiet

Touching upon the previous paragraph, it was important for Manchester City to silence Son and Kane. Little did they know that Spurs themselves would help City in neutralizing the duo’s attacking threat. Kane has 31 goals while Son has scored 20 times in all competitions this season. That is a mouth-watering goal-scoring tally.

But both of them had 0 shots the whole game. And it was not just that the service wasn’t there but both of them were made to defend so much that their heatmap (Image G) makes it look like they were playing as midfielders in the game as they saw no action inside the box.

Image G. (SofaScore)

Image H gives you an idea. There are no Spurs players that can challenge City’s clearly high line. That is something you can take advantage of, especially with midfielders who can pass the ball long with good accuracy. But Son and Kane (both in red circles) were just playing too far back.

Image H.

Purposeless defending

Spurs were getting men back, but they were just not picking up City’s attackers. It seemed as if it was their plan to just overload the box and hope every shot is blocked. Image I shows how easily Sterling (red circle), who isn’t even a number 9 by trade, is outfoxing multiple Spurs defenders to be left so free inside the box which looks overloaded with green shirts.

Image I.

Image J then shows Ilkay Gundogan (red circle) and Kevin de Bruyne (yellow circle) being left completely unmarked despite Spurs having men at the back. The midfielders were also losing track of runners and that is the reason why Manchester City, as shown in Image D, had a staggering 21 shots (16 inside the box) all game.

Image J.

New manager for Spurs

Ryan Mason is inexperienced. That’s the bottom line. The 29-year-old managed just one game before the final and he was now up against a City side that had won the League Cup final 3 times in a row. The Englishman was installed in place of Jose Mourinho, an experienced manager who knows his way around trophies.

Just consider this for a second. As compared to Mason’s one game managed before the final, Mourinho has taken charge of 694 matches, where he won 517 times, landing 24 trophies. Those are amazing numbers. And yes, he did have a poor few months at Spurs, but if anyone could beat Pep Guardiola, it was him.

Image K. (Image Credits: Sky Sports via Express)

And that’s not just our views, Jamie Redknapp spoke to TalkSPORT (h/t Mirror) about something similar. Mason clearly set up to defend and seemed to have no new tactics at all. What fans saw was a typical Mourinho defensive performance deployed by a man who is not anywhere near the Portuguese’s level.

“Who sacks Jose Mourinho? He’s a man that wins titles and finals, only Spurs would do that. Only Spurs would sack a manager that can beat Pep Guardiola in a final a week before the final! It’s unheard of. It was a Jose Mourinho performance without Jose Mourinho on the side. I was hoping to see something different.”


It was a deserved loss. The Cityzens played like they always do but their finishing was largely off the mark in what was an uncharacteristic display up front. But all they needed was that one header from Aymeric Laporte in the 82nd minute to win it.

And just when the goal went in, you could tell it was going to be the winner. Spurs players’ heads dropped. They had no shots attempted after Laporte scored. Tottenham’s season is over when it comes to competing for trophies and their only saving grace that now remains is that they are still somehow in the hunt for a top-4 finish in the league.

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