Nowadays, Playing Out From The Back is discussed by pundits as Zonal Marking once was: when things go wrong, it’s the fault of the entire system. Whereas when a team conceded from man-marking, there’s usually an individual to blame. 

Yves Bissouma made a poor individual mistake in the build-up to City’s third goal yesterday: instead of playing a simple pass to his full-back, he tried to dribble past Rodri in midfield and lost possession. He was castigated for this error and it was taken in some quarters as proof of Spurs’ naivety.

But had Bissouma got it right, it would potentially have had a huge upside.  We know this because Oliver Skipp made the same decision later in the game: this time he beat his man in midfield, opened up the game, and the move ended with Dejan Kulusevski’s equaliser. 

It was slightly baffling to hear Sky spend so much of yesterday’s game debating as to whether Spurs’ approach at Manchester City was the right one. If you didn’t see the game, they played as Ange Postecoglou has insisted they play from day one. They largely pressed high without the ball, and tried to pass it around City’s press when they do have it. 

Arguing over whether this is right or wrong was pointless on two levels: first, because Postecoglou is not going to play any other way and, secondly, because it obviously worked. 

Tottenham went away to Manchester City without half their starting team – with James Maddison, their main creative force, among those sidelined – and they scored three goals. This is clearly a success. 

Spurs definitely rode their in the first half – City could easily have had three or four goals by half-time – but if you’re meeting Erling Haaland with two full-backs at centre-back, you’ll need a bit of fortune. Spurs’ bravery in possession meant they had the attacking opportunities to capitalise on that luck. 

The alternative is to give City possession and defend your penalty box like its the Alamo. The last seven years should have given enough evidence to convince you that this never works. 


The lesson: if you’re playing Manchester City, always bring a gun to the gun fight, regardless of how damaged or unreliable it may be. 

Guardiola may have to find another sacrifice against complacency 

It is usually around this time of the season when hope is thickest for the Premier League’s pretenders, as Man City show just enough vulnerability to feed the dreams of their rivals. Guardiola then generally alights on a solution after Christmas and City then enter steamroll mode. 

But that it has happened before is no guarantee it will happen again, and champions lose crowns like Ernest Hemingway described going bankrupt: gradually, and then suddenly. 

At the moment, City are leaking goals at a rate they haven’t since Guardiola’s first season in charge. Even Rodri is beginning to show signs of creaking: if an opposition can beat the City press, it’s much too easy at the moment to canter through the middle of the pitch. 

John Stones’ return might solve many of these issues, but he is not sufficiently durable to be relied upon as the only solution. When Stones or his replacement push into midfield, City effectively have a line of four attackers in support of Haaland, so maybe the compromise is to drop one of those deeper, or for a more conventional midfielder. Introducing Mateo Kovacic or Rico Lewis for Julian Alvarez looks the easiest fix for now. 

But that assumes City’s issues are solely tactical. Perhaps they have lost motivation? Among his many genius traits is Guardiola’s pathological aversion to complacency, which he has generally warded off via the traditional means of bombing out someone. This is one of the reasons Joao Cancelo finished the treble season on loan at Bayern Munich. 

If Guardiola does have to sacrifice one of his once-undroppables, Ruben Dias is now one of the prime candidates. He has been one of City’s important players since his arrival, but his performances have dipped this season. Guardiola once said he doesn’t coach tackles, but Dias is now spending an inordinate amount of time flying into challenges and throwing himself to ground. Gvardiol’s signing means Nathan Ake can potentially move to centre-back in Dias’ place. 

It would be a drastic move, but earlier in Guardiola’s reign, it was unthinkable they would ever choose to be without Aymeric Laporte. It’s one of the principles of their awesome success – everyone is expendable. 

Are Liverpool most dangerous when they have gone behind?

Here’s a thought experiment: would Liverpool have won yesterday’s game had they not gone 3-2 down? It seems a daft question, but having missed a raft of chances early in the second half, their performance was petering out before they were shocked back into life by going behind. 

Jurgen Klopp spent the early weeks of the season talking of how his side are still searching for “stability”, and they definitely lacked it yesterday afternoon: Fulham scored with almost every attack.

The lack of a world-class defensive midfielder – as Fabinho once was – means Liverpool are still brittle and exposed on the counter-attack, and as a result they don’t quite attack with the same relentless awe they did at their peak a couple of years ago. 

But trailing by a goal with seven minutes to go? There’s nothing left to lose at that point, and so they can then attack with everything they have. Which, given their quality, usually means they will score. 

We have seen the converse of this earlier in the season, when a litany of sendings-off allowed Liverpool to sit deep and counter-attack with brilliant effect. 

But the balance across 90 minutes either with or against 11 men is still missing, and it’s why they are compulsive viewing but likely another couple of transfer windows away from truly challenging for the league. 

Irish and UK fans still being ripped off 

As Liverpool completed that wild comeback, Aston Villa rescued a last-gasp 2-2 draw and Chelsea clung on for a 3-2 win at home to Brighton, Sky Sports subscribers could watch West Ham and Crystal Palace trundle to a zestless draw at a slumbering London Stadium. 

It is crazy that Premier League fans in Ireland and the UK who eschew piracy to fork out for Sky, TNT and Premier Sports don’t have access to live coverage of every Premier League game. This is not the fault of the broadcasters – they obviously want to show as many games as they can. It’s instead another greedy gambit from the clubs running the Premier League, who decide how many games are shown.

Irish fans are among the most ripped-off Premier League fans on the planet. Viewers in the USA and Australia, for instance, can see every game live for the price of one subscription, whereas here it’s split across three broadcasters. Plus, Ireland is one of only five EU countries in which the Premier League is shown by more than one broadcaster and the only one in which it is split across three. 

Some change is coming, it seems, with the Mail reporting earlier this year that all Sunday games will be shown under the next rights deal.

Given consumers’ costs and expectation in a world where most sport and all entertainment is cheaper and available on demand, the change is not happening quickly enough. 

2023-12-04T14:12:50Z dg43tfdfdgfd