Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Manchester City: Three talking points
Manchester City travelled to London to face Tottenham Hotspur in an unusually late Saturday evening Premier League kickoff. Not much was expected from Pep Guardiola's group, a very rare occurrence this season. Rightfully, they focused on what they expected from themselves, went out, dominated the game, scored three goals, and won. The horror week was finally dead and buried. [Or was it?]
Gabriel Jesus finally broke the deadlock after prolonged periods of pressure. Ilkay Gundogan then converted from the penalty spot after Hugo Lloris tackled Raheem Sterling. Spurs pulled one back through Christian Eriksen. It turned out to be nothing more than a consolation. Spurs came back into the game and had a brilliant start to the second half but failed to capitalise. They didn't test Ederson in the Sky Blues goal. City continued creating chances. Eventually Raheem Sterling struck from two yards, although he could have had a hattrick again.
Here are three talking points from the match.
One hand on the title
It is the response of champions, true champions, to produce an excellent display against a team like Spurs after a dismal run. Peter Drury wondered "if they needed a bad week just to remind us all how good they actually are?" From start to finish, City reminded.
Pep reverted to his all familiar 4-3-3. The result was familiar, too. City created enough to score five or six. Leroy Sane hit the post in the opening minutes. Sterling wasted another trifecta of clear-cut chances. Jesus also missed a one-on-one. Subpar finishing cost City the Manchester Derby. It is becoming a problem for Pep Guardiola's side.
Fernandinho's importance is clear. He is the most important player on the City side. He is their only defence-minded midfielder. No one else in a cerulean kit seems interested in denying opponents space between the lines. The Brazilian's ability to shield the back four and cover for the midfielders is superb. It took an extra defender to cope with his absence when City were under pressure in this contest.
Regardless, City need only win against Swansea next week to claim the title a little later than expected. Of course, Manchester United could be nice neighbours and lose to West Brom today or Bournemouth on Wednesday to save them the trouble.
Spurs choke under pressure, again
All the talk about Spurs being unbeatable, formidable at home, and big-game performers went back down the drain. City entirely outclassed Mauricio Pochettino's side. The Lilywhites have only won four of ten games against the top six this season. That must improve for Spurs to challenge for the league.
In the first half, Spurs didn't wake up until Christian Eriksen's goal. They began playing after the 42nd minute. The hosts started to press, win midfield duels, and most importantly, second balls. Suddenly, every City pass was intercepted. Spurs' ascendance continued into the second half. The problem was they didn't create any chances from their dominance. I can't recall Harry Kane taking a shot. Football is a game in the boxes, they say, and Spurs failed to impact either.
Defensively, it was error after error. Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen seemed unable to communicate. Sanchez' positioning led to Sterling and Jesus getting in behind. The Colombian made the recovery tackle once or twice to sniff out the danger, but other times City got the shot away. Jesus eventually scored. Hugo Lloris once again had a poor game. The French captain could have been sent off for his challenge on Sterling. Maybe Jonathan Moss had Michael Oliver and Gigi Buffon running through his mind. In any event, Tottenham will have some work to do if Toby Alderwereild leaves.
Spurs have a midweek game at Brighton before the all-important FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. They cannot afford this kind of performance when they return to Wembley.
Belgian beasts and where to find them
The match featured four Belgians. All had fantastic games.
Moussa Dembele had yet another impressive display in the middle of the park. He had a tough job against the City midfield but was up to the task. he completed 91% of his passes and the most dribbles, eight, of any player.
After Mo Salah's goal earlier in the evening, the onus was on Kevin De Bruyne to prove his POTY credentials. He did. Once again City's attacking fulcrum, he kept threading through balls and creating chances. The moment of magic was the first-time ball to Sterling in the second half. Simply exceptional. The Belgian also won three tackles and completed five dribbles.
Jan Vertonghen won everything in the second half, apart from a failed tackle on Sterling and the National Lottery. There was just no getting past him. He won three tackles, made seven clearances, and six interceptions. The Belgian didn't just win the ball, he stepped out with it. Vertonghen completed four dribbles and enjoyed a passing accuracy of 85%.
But the Man of the Match was the City captain, Vincent Kompany. The 32-year-old defender reminded us of his class again. Lets start with the assist for the opening goal. A curving long ball from his defensive third to the offensive third, onto Jesus' foot. Then, the defending. Trump needn't build a wall. He should just put Kompany and Vertonghen on the Mexican border. Pre-game, the Belgian said that he was looking forward to his personal duel with Kane. Fair to say, he'll happily look back on it, too. Kompany won two aerial duels, four tackles, and made three interceptions. Leading by example.