Tottenham v Manchester City: Only way to beat City is to copy them, claims Spurs manager Tim Sherwood

Spurs manager plotting how to stop City goal machine that put six past the north Londoners in November

As painful as the 6-0 defeat at Manchester City in November must have been for Tottenham Hotspur, Tim Sherwood might just have felt a twinge of recognition.

A sense of the similarity between City, with their relentless commitment to attack, and his old Blackburn Rovers side – champions nearly 20 years ago – and of a broader lesson: that 4-4-2 can still work at the top level, that in the era of single strikers and holding midfielders, there is another way.

Sherwood, who stepped up from youth-team coach to Spurs manager three weeks after that mauling, has changed the approach, playing a 4-4-2 he has himself described as "gung-ho", and will compete against City's own goal-machine at White Hart Lane. He has surprised many, but to Sherwood, the old ways had been wrongly discarded.

"It was never out of fashion in my eyes," Sherwood said of 4-4-2, although he did add the caveat that "players win games, not formations". But Manuel Pellegrini's City have suggested that the critics were wrong. "He has made a mockery of the 'boring English 4-4-2'. People keep saying it's old hat, but [City] are running away with the league playing that, just as United did for many years."

The City system particularly appeals to Sherwood for its lack of a holding midfielder, a role he does not particularly believe in. "We don't have one," he said. "I never used to play with one – I used to play with two who can do everything, one goes up, one stays back, just be clever and adapt around each other. That's what City have with Yaya Touré and Fernandinho."

Premier League Wednesday - LIVE! Follow all of the news and updates HERE

This is Sherwood's system too. Recently, he has been partnering Mousa Dembélé with Nabil Bentaleb in central midfield. Etienne Capoue, a specialist holder, is likely to leave Tottenham this month.

City's whole approach – which has brought them 110 goals in 36 games so far this season – reminds Sherwood of his old Blackburn Rovers team, Premier League champions in 1994-95. "We went into every game thinking we would score," Sherwood reflected, "and we played a similar style as well, 4-4-2. We got the ball forward to Alan Shearer and Mike Newell and wide to Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley. We realised we could be solid and responsible and get the ball forward to those players who could hurt teams."

Sherwood acknowledged that football had changed in the past 20 years but stressed the similarities between Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn and Pellegrini's City. "Different eras, different times," he said, "but we did get the ball wide, get it into the box, and score more than the opposition."

Sherwood knows that building a team to attack like that is difficult, and he spoke with admiration about Pellegrini's ambition. "It's not easy. The manager has a clear vision of how he wants to play, he doesn't veer too much, he doesn't worry about the opposition. We never changed our system at Blackburn to accommodate anyone and Pellegrini isn't doing that either."

City even have, in Alvaro Negredo, a striker with the same aggressive instincts as Blackburn spearhead Alan Shearer. "They both score every type of goal, they hold the ball up well," Sherwood said. "He is probably the most similar to Shearer there has been in recent years."

So Sherwood will need to find a way of stopping Negredo, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and the rest. Unsurprisingly, attack will be his form of defence. He has "never been a believer" in parking the bus. "You can have a lot of people behind the ball and get hammered. You need to have your own threats. There will be weaknesses in City's play, hopefully we can look to exploit that."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower