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?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own