It was named the multi-million pound match and that’s not just because of the wealth exhibited on the pitch. Acquiring the right to host Champions League football not only represents a conquered bastille from which to proclaim glory, but also – as has become essential in modern football, a fantastic boon to the respective treasury.
Ironically, despite Manchester City’s outlandish spending, they were second class, frustrated by a typically English, gritty, organized, full-throttle approach from Tottenham.
What is no surprise though is that Tottenham’s telling goal came from a cross – albeit slightly intervened by the flailing hands of emergency keeper Marton Fulop. In fact, the game highlighted the differing ways in which teams are currently employing wingers: Tottenham’s traditional system of using sprites to shuttle up and down the wing with their favoured foot on the outside, and Manchester City’s exemplification of the newly proliferating trend of ‘inverted’ wingers, with, in essence, their ‘wrong’ foot closest to the touchline.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon plied their traditional trade of bursting forward and playing out-swinging crosses into the box for the ever-reachable Peter Crouch. As a result, Tottenham’s attacks were instinctive, flowing and effective. The lanky front-man was able to receive the ball time and time again. And despite Lennon proving once again how frustrating and wasteful he can be, it almost didn’t matter; Tottenham’s service was still so great and City’s defense so impeccably immobile.
In comparison, Manchester City’s ‘inverted’ wingers, Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson, were isolated, ineffective, and defensively apathetic.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Stanley-Matthews-English tradition of placing right-footed men on the right side and left-footed men on the left side had prevailed.
Well, yes and no.
Firstly, good defending and relatively quick full-backs helped stymie many City attacks. Benoit Assou-Ekotto, in particular, continuously showed Adam Johnson down the flanks onto his weaker right-foot. Any crosses that did manifest were either weak or inaccurate or a combination of both, and were perpetually dominated by Tottenham’s superb centre-backs.
Secondly, a knock-on effect sourcing from Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon’s forward foraging, lead to a slightly reserved City central pairing meaning Carlos Tevez had to drop deeper and deeper to receive the ball from Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry – Barry being the one charged with checking the left flank once Bellamy had flung forward. Tevez fell so far back that he effectively became an attacking midfielder. Inevitably, this gave the inverted wingers no one to pass to, or two or more men to dribble through, and, in the end, lead to impotent out-swinging crosses into the box.
The final straw was Emmanuel Adebayor’s otiose performance; in significant games, the Togolese forward seems happy to clad himself in army surplus camouflage and press his face to the pitch. There’s really little wonder that a system that is often punctuated by hard-working centre-forwards, as demonstrated by Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich, became so ineffectual.
However, there’s no doubt though that ‘inverted’ wingers has become a proliferating and effective trend throughout the last couple of years.
Beyond Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, Lionel Messi is also regularly employed on his weaker side; ditto Sunderland’s Steed Marlbranque (who, before you scoff, received the accolade of most assists in the Premier League last season). Manchester United’s Nani and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo also often find themselves on the ‘wrong’ wing.
With players coming inside to threaten the space between the opposing defenders and midfielders on their stronger foot, to pass, to shoot, or produce a deadly in-swinging cross, it’s a wonder the strategy has taken so long to formulate. Nevertheless, as Manchester City demonstrated, the strategy has yet to be fully understood and implemented efficiently at some of the clubs burgeoning this new horizon of wing-play.