The Guardian had a season-end review on tactics today that might make for interesting reader for Spurs supporters.
The two strands I found most interesting were there discussion of the false number nine (specifically regarding Tevez and Messi) and their comments on Rooney and how the 4-4-2 can survive in the modern era.
First, with the false number 9. The basic idea is that if you have a striker willing to drop deep to receive the ball, it offers a versatility to your attack in which wing players can cut inside or a midfielder can come up the middle to fill the space left by the striker. You see this in both Barcelona and City. In Barcelona's case, the possession game is so dominant that they don't need a big bodied striker to hold play up. Rather, they can play probably the closest thing to true total football since Cruyff's Ajax b/c Messi can drop deep, which frees Villa or Pedro to move inside into a two striker formation or to function as inverted wingers or allows Xavi or Iniesta to get forward and occupy the space traditionally held by a number nine. In the case of City, Tevez' work rate is so superior that he can drop deep and knit together the rest of their attacking play between their holding mids (Barry and De Jong) and their attacking mids (usually Toure, Silva and Balotelli/Dzeko). Moreover, with Toure's use as an attacking mid, he can storm forward into the space vacated by Tevez and make the attacks himself.
In the case of Rooney, he's being deployed in a way similar to the false number nine, but Rooney is being used more as a second striker. Whereas City and Barca both play with a single striker up front in the middle, United used Rooney as a second striker, but he'd still drop deep like Messi and Tevez, take possession of the ball and lead the attack. Given the extreme versatility of United's players (Park and Giggs can both play central or wide, Valencia covers as much space as a fullback, plus their fullbacks overlap so well...), this makes them extremely difficult to cover, b/c they start out in a 4-4-2, but that can morph into a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-1-1, or a 4-3-3 with relative ease.
The takeaway for me, as a Spurs supporter, is that with players like Luka, Bale, Rafa, Sandro, and Huddlestone, we're headed in the right direction tactically. In fact, it may be that the only major difference between us and United is Chicharito and Berbatov (admittedly, that's a major difference). Functionally, United played a lot of 4-4-1-1 where their wings would use crossing balls and occasionally cut inside to trigger the attack, while Rooney would drop deep and play off Hernandez or Berbatov. Likewise, we lined up 4-4-1-1, but that often morphed into 4-3-3 going forward and 4-5-1 in defense. The main difference was that when United created chances with their fluid, versatile play going forward, Berbatov and Hernandez finished them. They were absolutely clinical in front of the net. We were... something less than that. Even so, when Rafa was fit at the beginning of the year, the attack was good enough. But when Rafa was injured or simply had a drop in form, we were basically United minus Rooney, Berbatov, and Hernandez. Our workrate was good, for the most part, but we didn't have the players up front to make 4-4-2 work and, without Rafa, we lost the versatility to shift between 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, and 4-5-1.
Takeaway for me: Leandro, Drogba and Gervinho are the perfect targets for us to be chasing. (As are Falcao and Hulk.) Leandro and Drogba can be the clinical finishers in front of the net we so desperately need, a la Chicharito/Berbatov. Gervinho, meanwhile, is another one of those flexible hybrid players that work brilliantly as a SS or false #9. United has shown that you can absolutely win trophies in England playing a 4-4-1-1. You just have to have the right players for it, like any other system. It'll be a good bit harder to win continental trophies as long as Barca is humming along, but you can win trophies in England playing 4-4-1-1, provided you have a creative yet sturdy midfield, hard workers with pace on the edge, and clinical finishing in front of the net. With Barcelona... I think you have to have the perfect storm of personnel, tactics, and coaching to beat them. That happened in Mourinho's last year at Inter, but there's not another club in the world right now that can match that. So unless something flukey happens (season-ending injury to Xavi, Messi, or Iniesta, for instance) I don't see anyone dethroning Barca next year. But there's no reason we can't jump right back into the CL with this past year's team + a clinical striker.