Manchester City Are in the Driver’s Seat

driver's seat
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Pep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on April 9, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Despite what happened on Tuesday, Manchester City are in the driver’s seat. The first leg of their Champions League Quarter-Final went exactly as Pep Guardiola had expected; maybe even including the Delph mistake. But after a game that was so predictable and an injury that changes the tie, Manchester City are in the driver’s seat.

Manchester City Are In the Driver’s Seat

The Injury

Nothing will impact this tie more than the injury to Tottenham striker Harry Kane. The 26-year-old was trying to block a clearance near the halfway line, and instead got his ankle stamped on by a landing Fabian Delph. He didn’t even come back onto the field. He was being helped down the tunnel without the game stopping; Tottenham’s season walking down the tunnel in a flash.

But that was not the end, and Tottenham deserves a ton of credit for that. They kept fighting and kept putting pressure on Manchester City. It was enough pressure to get a goal, after another Fabian Delph mistake. It might have even been enough pressure to give them the hope that they need heading into next week’s second leg.

However, things are going to be much harder without Harry Kane at the Etihad. City have won 24 of their 26 home games in all competitions this season, and they’ve scored 96 goals in those matches. A hard task with Kane is going to be even harder without him. Having a lead to hold onto might help them with that pressure, or make it stronger.

Pep Guardiola’s Decision

Harry Kane’s absence won’t be the only reason why this second leg will be so much different. There is no way Pep Guardiola will set his team out as conservative at home as he did in the new Tottenham Stadium. It was clear that Pep made the decision that last seasons trip to Anfield wouldn’t happen again.

He played Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho in a double-pivot midfield, protect the back four. Usually only one of those two will sit in front of the back four. He also had Delph dropping into midfield rather than advancing up the wing. These tactics worked in unison to keep Tottenham from counter-attacking against an exposed City defence.

And to Pep’s credit, that’s exactly how the game went. Manchester City allowed chances to Spurs, they were always going to, but none of them were the clear chances like last season’s Liverpool game. Or even the game against Monaco two years ago, this change in style was Pep realizing he has to be different away from home in the Champions League.

Gundo & Fernan & Sterling

The pairing of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho as a double-pivot in midfield was a step in the right direction for City. Champions League ties are lost on the aggregate and coming out of this game only down one goal is fine. It’s much better than the three goals they trailed Liverpool by in last season’s quarterfinal.

But, Pep Guardiola didn’t intend for Gundogan to outpass Fernandinho by so much. Gundogan completed 77 passes to Fernandinho’s 45, which tilted the formation. Manchester City did far more attacking through the left side of their formation than the right. Normally that would in lots of strong attacks.

What ended up happening was Raheem Sterling was dispossessed eight times against Spurs. That is more than triple his season average, and something unlikely to be repeated. Sterling has tailed off slightly since his hot start to the season, but this was an out of character shocker. It’s not hard to expect he will be much better next week.

The Second Leg

When you go away from home in the Champions League you have to come back with a chance. Real Madrid can tell you don’t need to win, just come back to your house with a chance to win the game. Manchester City did that on their trip to London. A one-goal deficit is nothing to the highest scoring team in Europe.

So expect Manchester City to come out with a much different lineup when they take the field. If Bernardo Silva is fit he will probably get the start. Pep might even be tempted to start with Leroy Sane on the left and Raheem Sterling on the right. Manchester City is at their best when they can get behind the opposing backline.

That was a tactic distinctly lacking from their trip to London. But it should be in full force next week. Beyond the Sane & Sterling combination, Benjamin Mendy might get the start as well. The Frenchman played decently in his first start since November against Brighton but was sacrificed in name of stability on Tuesday.

His width would be a crucial element to use at home in the second leg. The combination of Mendy and Sane would give a defender like Kieran Trippier nightmares. That is the biggest reason why Manchester City are in the driver’s seat for this game. They have so many options they did not use in the first leg but set up to be used in the second.

Prediction

The other big card that Pep will likely play is starting Kevin De Bruyne in midfield. The Belgian has had an injury-riddled season, but over the last few weeks, he has started playing well again. With De Bruyne alongside David Silva in midfield Manchester City become the horrifyingly dangerous attacking team we all know.

It would be wrong to expect a win, that would invoke the wrath of the football gods. But it is easy to expect a much more attacking performance from Manchester City. The concern is that will leave them open to more counter-attacks, especially with the full-backs pushed up. That is a risk, but one that has to be taken to go for the game.

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