From the moment the starting XI for Tottenham was announced on the TV screen, I looked over to the old man sitting to my left, who asked me what I thought about the match.
I was fairly blunt. The lineup told me to expect a loss. Not that Andre Villas-Boas had consulted me beforehand or anything.
What was troubling is not anything that the head coach can really fix at the moment. Anybody who watched the match, however, knew by the end what problem Spurs faced against Manchester City.
That problem lies directly in the middle of the park.
Since Mousa Dembele’s hip went on the AARP plan for a month, Tottenham have been lacking a presence in the middle of the park to do much of anything.
Though they got away with that against Southampton, the other three matches they have had in the Premier League, as well as their away trip against Maribor in the Europa League, showed what the current game plan is against Tottenham.
To wit: the strategy is to take the flanks away. Offer them a passage down the middle of the park the size of the Seven Sisters Road and see if they can take it.
Spurs, I’m sure, would be more than happy to take the expressway given to devastating effect. But to do so, there must be someone there to take the wheel and drive.
Roadway puns aside, Dembele was being praised for his ability to drive through the opposing defenses, and it was his ability there that forced other clubs to defend the middle of the park.
Once the gate closes, the attack stalls and Tottenham are often seen running back on defense.
Unless there is a credible threat through the middle, do not expect to see this changing anytime soon.
This is why Dembele’s absence has been such a killer in terms of the attack. Without a suitable backup who can deliver in a similar form to the Belgian's, there is no threat from Tottenham’s center.
Sandro is not a passer like Dembele can be, and his attacking forays have dried up because of a need to keep the center of the pitch locked down.
Tom Huddlestone has all the pace of a gentle sea breeze but is making up for it with a lack of cutting passes.
Collectively, there is no threat from the midfield in the attack. The inability to hold onto the ball or use it effectively in that zone is currently making Spurs a shell of the attacking squad they can be.
And, again, it is not something that Tottenham have the ability to fix without a couple of bodies returning from the physio’s table.
Some might have complained that Villas-Boas was too conservative in selecting only one forward against City Sunday.
A Problem with Wide Men?
One thing that instantly raised the flag of commentator quality was in the period right after Maicon was introduced into the match.
Having been complaining about City’s lack of wide men, the commentating team seemed baffled when the hosts began playing with four fullbacks on the pitch.
While they suggested that Gareth Bale might enjoy seeing the Brazilian on the pitch, it did not occur to them that this was as big a tactical masterstroke as any this season.
Concerned only with the offensive implications, they did not notice that now, on the flanks, it was a consistent two versus two on the wings, with two fullbacks for City tracking the fullback and winger combination of Spurs.
Nullifying the threat from the wing completely cut Tottenham’s attack off from any direction and meant that the flow of the football only went one direction from there on out.
Given that City were given the midfield with the only obstruction being the body of Clint Dempsey from time to time, it was a brilliant move by Roberto Mancini.
And it was that midfield domination that allowed City to eventually get both of their goals and take the three points in the race near the top of the Premier League.
The Obligatory "French Whine" Segment
Of course, while all this is going on, the rumblings of discontent from the general direction of France continued as their No. 1 goalkeeper Hugo Lloris continues to play backup custodian to a seemingly age-defiant Brad Friedel.
Neither Villas-Boas nor Didier Deschamps wants to admit that they are both rather churlish in their continued efforts to win the “Nana, Nana, Boo, Boo” Cup, but neither man is willing to concede the race to the other.
As the Daily Mail points out, the two have been trading barbs as to who has more ears to let unkind words go in and out of.
While this is some of the more amusing talk in world football, Deschamps’ timing is not quite as hot as it could have been should Lloris and the rest of the defense not have conspired to create one of the worst goals of the season against Maribor.
It is not completely Lloris or Kyle Naughton’s fault. Though both play key roles, Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen should get some credit for also hanging Naughton out to dry.
Surely, one of the two noticed Naughton being pressed from two angles, and one should have dropped back, if only to give Lloris a passing option.
Collectively, it was an effort only Benny Hill would have been proud of.
It did nothing to hurt Friedel’s stock, either.