Tottenham Hotspur travel to the Etihad this Sunday to face a talented but mercurial Manchester City side. If the Lilywhites are to return to London victorious, then Andre Villas-Boas' side will need to rectify recurring tactical deficiencies—chiefly, Roberto Soldado's lack of goalscoring opportunities.
Despite the Sky Blue’s recent erratic form, their redoubtable home record persists unmarred, having lost just two games at home in the last three seasons.
Couple this imposing statistic with Spurs’ profligacy in front of goal, and you’d be forgiven for suggesting that a home win is a foregone conclusion.
Furthermore, lest we forget, Tottenham were agonisingly close to a 3-2 victory at the Etihad two years ago, thwarted only by Jermain Defoe’s not-quite-long-enough legs and Mario Balotelli's thoroughly undeserved spot-kick.
Let’s explore three things that Tottenham must do if they are to prevail over Manuel Pellegrini's men.
Sandro should be the first name on the team sheet after Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham's centre-backs will be preoccupied with the combative Alvaro Negredo, allowing Sergio Aguero to drift into pockets of space, link up play and latch onto through balls. In such scenarios (teams that field two strikers) Sandro's industry and aptitude at man-marking is invaluable.
Although Aguero is a slippery, elusive character that will inevitably dictate play regardless, the Brazilian's presence should ensure that Aguero finds himself in fewer one-on-one situations with Spurs centre-backs—as solid a defender as Dawson is, he's never going to win a foot race against the diminutive forward.
AVB may even elect to play three midfielders in a 4-3-3, eschewing his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation to counter City’s powerful central partnerships. There are numerous permutations that could work (Etienne Capoue/Sandro/Paulinho etc.), but Sandro must form the nexus in each.
Exploit City's weakened central defence
With the talismanic Vincent Kompany scheduled to be out of action for a further two weeks at the very least and Matija Nastasic a doubt for Sunday's game, Martin Demichelis and Joleon Lescott will likely partner up in central defence.
Manchester City are a different proposition sans Kompany.
How many points will Tottenham leave Manchester with?
Granted, they still possess an abundance of attacking flair capable of steamrolling any team, but the leadership and solidity the Belgian brings in the tightest encounters can't be understated.
Considering Demichelis and Lescott’s inchoate relationship, Tottenham should be looking to target the duo. They’ll be at their most comfortable with their backs to goal, so it's imperative that Soldado and Co. counter at pace before City's defence re-establish a rigid formation.
Hopefully, this fixture will mark Erik Lamela's first Premier League start. Soldado's and Lamela's intelligent movement would test the City pairing's understanding of their nuanced roles, preying on any indecision fostered by their lack of game time together.
Play through Roberto Soldado
Yes, this well-banged drum shall be banged once more.
Notwithstanding Tottenham averaging the most shots per game of any team (18.7), there are currently 22 players in the Premier League that take more shots per game than Soldado.
As Spurs' lone striker, these statistics confound and are indicative of the team’s inability to provide adequate service.
Paulinho and Andros Townsend are the two biggest culprits, with their proclivity to unleash shots from improbable range to the detriment of the team's success. With only two goals to show for the 81 shots taken between them, this trigger-happy couple need to forgo their own personal ambitions and opt to locate their frontman with far greater frequency.
As a collective, Tottenham seem hesitant to gamble on the early cross or the obvious through ball, and hence the majority of Soldado's movement is left unrewarded.
The fact that Jan Vertonghen was a standout player for Spurs against Newcastle United speaks volumes of the virtues of natural width when facing a deep-lying outfit—his early crosses, particular in the latter stages, were a far more incisive tactic than the often interminable build-up play.
Danny Rose's reintroduction will greatly improve the balance in this regard. In the meantime, Tottenham's attacking contingent need to tailor their games to facilitate the Spaniard.