Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League title ambitions have been erased in recent months, with a run of five games without a win leaving them 16 points behind Manchester City and 18 behind table-topping Liverpool. However, Mauricio Pochettino's side have a chance to make up for their domestic faltering in their upcoming Champions League quarter-final tie with City.
The two sides usually produce high-octane matches filled with aggressive pressing and exciting possession sequences, so their two-legged European clash is a mouth-watering prospect. And yet, at the same time, it feels as if Spurs have an uphill battle ahead.
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have the opportunity to seal an historic quadruple this term. With the League Cup already in the bag, a highly winnable FA Cup final with Watford on the horizon and first place in the league available should they win their game in hand, further Champions League progress is perhaps their main priority right now.
If Tottenham are to scupper their rivals' ambitions, they must put on an exceptional tactical display in the home leg at Wembley on Tuesday evening. In this analysis, we at Tribal Football break down how Pochettino should set his team up in order to spring the upset.
When the two sides met in league action earlier this season, Spurs struggled against Manchester City's pressing scheme. Guardiola's men forced them wide, where they could be pressured near the touchline. Building out from the back against the reigning English champions is a risky game, mainly because they possess searing pace on the break in Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero.
That day Pochettino lined his side up with a back four, though given their struggles in that match he may want to reconsider this setup for Tuesday's game.
Implementing a back three, with Davinson Sanchez joining Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, would give Tottenham more stability through an extra man in the first line of build-up. With numerical superiority against City's first line of defence, the spare player could carry the ball forward at feet before connecting with the wing-backs and midfielders.
There are other potential defensive benefits to the three-man back line – one being that it would ensure good coverage against the counter should the ball be turned over; another being that it would reduce space in the channels for City's pacey wide men to exploit with out to in runs in their organised attacking phase.
Guardiola's players will apply intense pressure in the central midfield area should Spurs look to come inside from wide, so Pochettino must pick his most 'press-resistant' options in this area. Moussa Sissoko has enjoyed an excellent season and has the strength to hold onto the ball under duress, while Harry Winks has the craft and composure to retain the ball in tight spaces. It may be apt to start both alongside Christian Eriksen in a three.
Obviously, Harry Kane will lead the line. For all Tottenham's Argentine coach likes to tweak his tactics depending on form, the opposition and/or the situation, the team's leading scorer and all-round talisman is essentially un-droppable. But who should support him up front should Spurs line up in a basic 3-5-2 system?
Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura are perhaps the most obvious answers to this question. Both provide pace in behind and cutting edge on the counter-attack, as well as intelligent runs in the channels. They complement Kane well, giving the frontline a combination of incision and guile. However, for this particular match, Pochettino may want to play Dele Alli higher behind the lone striker.
Manchester City's pressing is difficult to play out against, as discussed earlier in this article, so a more direct approach may be beneficial for Tottenham. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris can get decent distance on his kicks, and Kane provides a good target for long balls. Against Chelsea, as seen below, the English hitman won his aerial duels to help his team evade pressure and progress up the field quickly.
Alli would not only offer an additional aerial strength for balls from back to front, but he has the physicality and aggression to help win the second balls and begin building moves in more advanced areas.
With a back three to help build out and defend the channels, a midfield with the capacity to offer control under pressure, and a couple of more direct options to enable them to play over – rather than through or around – the City press, Tottenham can get a positive result on Tuesday.