Tottenham Hotspur defeated the reigning champions of England on Sunday to keep themselves firmly in the race for a top-four spot.
Samir Nasri put the visitors ahead in the first half after phenomenal work from Carlos Tevez and James Milner, but Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale hit back late on to secure the three-point haul.
At the halfway mark, Spurs looked a little lost. Down 1-0 and without much of a clue going forward, it really was difficult to see where a much-needed goal was coming from.
But Andre Villas-Boas deserves great credit, as it was his two tactical changes that won this game for Spurs.
Said Villas-Boas after the game, via Sky Sports:
"I must praise the team for their fighting spirit and it was great to see them turn it around in the second half because the first half was not to our level.
"We improved dramatically and the players were fantastic to get this result. It comes down to the character of the players. All three that came on showed that desire and ambition to help the team, and in the end we were able to punish them."
The visitors were playing a compact 4-2-3-1 formation, and rather than maintain a consistent presence on the touchline, their game was built on darting outward and overloading the wide areas in the blink of an eye.
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Carlos Tevez was exceptional in his movement, drifting left or right of his No. 10 role with regularity and helping his "central wingers" create two vs. ones with the full-backs.
He found a weak link in Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who had an awful day, and consistently picked on him; Samir Nasri's opener was a direct result of James Milner and Tevez bullying BAE with great movement.
At this stage, Bale was playing centrally but appeared locked out of the game despite a poor showing from Gareth Barry. The Welshman went into halftime having only touched the ball 22 times, and none of those touches were in dangerous areas.
Early in the second half, AVB made his first change: He brought on Lewis Holtby and Tom Huddlestone for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker.
It was an unappealing substitution personnel-wise, but the critical factor was the change in shape. Spurs shifted from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, putting Bale on the right, Dempsey on the left and giving Mousa Dembele a little more license to roam.
Consequently, Spurs won the midfield battle. Dembele bettered Yaya Toure on several ocassions to get the crowd gushing, while Bale had now found a tonne of space.
In the post-match interview on Sky Sports, Bale spoke of how AVB had told him to be ready to shift wide at halftime, citing City's lack of a true winger as a reason for the abundance of room to work in.
City's major strength—good movement into the wide areas in the first half—became their Achilles' heel.
This helped, but it didn't crack City's defence—Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic were still pretty comfortable, so AVB brought Jermain Defoe on to replace the largely useless Emmanuel Adebayor.
Within minutes, it was clear the game was about to change. Adebayor had cut a frustrated, lazy figure on the field, and it appeared he was trying to hide behind Nastasic rather than actually break free and offer for the ball.
Defoe came on and simply did what he does best: run at the defence, get them on the half-turn and make life very, very difficult.
He was found by some very positive through-balls—the likes Scott Parker would never play. The 4-2-3-1 is a nice, safe formation, but it has become clear that Parker's obsession with the sideways ball hinders what could be a ridiculously fast attacking lineup.
The switch to 4-3-3, moving Bale to the right, Defoe's movement, Huddlestone playing forward balls, Dembele dribbling and a distinct lack of Adebayor was too much for City to cope with.
Sunday was set to go two very different ways for Spurs—lose and it's over, win and and it's euphoria time. Well done AVB, who is bold enough and brave enough to win a true tactical duel.
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