This is precisely the sort of display we expected when André Villas-Boas arrived in England nearly two years ago – Tottenham won this game thanks to pace, width and clinical finishing, following an intelligent tactical switch from their manager.
In a first half that Manchester City dominated, the two teams were arranged in a similar fashion – Scott Parker sat deep and allowed Mousa Dembélé to storm forward, while Gareth Barry did the same for Yaya Touré. Both sets of wide players came inside quickly, while Edin Dzeko and Emmanuel Adebayor were largely isolated up front.
The major difference was the player "in the hole" on either side. Spurs used the fit-again Gareth Bale, who received the ball in dangerous positions in the opening moments, but gradually found his space restricted as City remained compact. With Clint Dempsey and, in particular, Gylfi Sigurdsson moving inside, City defended narrow and Bale was crowded out.
At the other end, Carlos Tevez showed greater positional intelligence throughout the first half, positioning himself between the lines, and constantly drifting to the flanks to overload Tottenham in wide areas. His pass to James Milner in the build-up to Samir Nasri's opener was sublime, and the Argentine also created chances for Nasri and Dzeko with clever touches after finding himself unmarked.
Villas-Boas made a subtle change at half-time: Bale swapping with Dempsey and moving to the right flank. This unwittingly played into City's hands, however – Roberto Mancini had been forced to replace the injured Milner with Aleksandar Kolarov, who went to the left flank. In tandem with Gaël Clichy, City shut down Bale's space easily.
After an hour, Villas-Boas changed things more dramatically, moving from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. Tom Huddlestone replaced Parker and sat solidly in the holding role, tracking Tevez across the pitch, and spraying some excellent forward passes into attack. Meanwhile, Lewis Holtby replaced Sigurdsson, and alongside Dembélé helped overpower Barry and Touré with sheer energy.
Once Jermain Defoe had replaced the ineffectual Adebayor 10 minutes later, Spurs were playing in a completely different fashion. Their first half attacks were slow and involved various players crowding the centre – now, with Bale higher up the pitch and looking for balls in behind, an approach Defoe instinctively replicated, they could attack directly at speed. Forward passes were combined with clever runs, and Spurs were superb for the final 20 minutes and Mancini failed to respond tactically.
With Spurs in a powerful 4-3-3 and Bale out on the right, cutting inside on to his left foot in the manner of Brazilian forward Hulk, Spurs were reminiscent of Villas-Boas's Porto side that won the Portuguese league unbeaten and the Europa League in 2010-11.
The impression that Tottenham have rediscovered their 'vertical' style of play, the fact that Villas-Boas himself was a crucial part of the victory, and the small matter of three points against a quality side at such a crucial stage of the season, means this win might one day be considered pivotal in Spurs' evolution under their Portuguese tactician.