MANCHESTER CITY2: TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS 2 PEP’s MEN DRAW AT ETIHAD AS SPURS FIGHT BACK FROM 2 GOALS
It was Manchester City’s season in 60 seconds: hope and expectation, then fury and bewilderment. From a position of authority came another combustion and, in all likelihood, the end of a dream.
The 76th minute of this wonderful match may prove to be one of the most significant of the entire campaign. Had it gone as Pep Guardiola anticipated, his side, already 2-1 up, would have been awarded a penalty and surely seized an unassailable advantage.
As it turned out, though, referee Andre Marriner waved play on after Kyle Walker nudged Raheem Sterling in the back, and the striker scuffed his shot into the arms of Hugo Lloris. No penalty, no red card
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo 6; Zabaleta 5.5, Otamendi 5.5, Kolarov 6.5, Clichy 5.5 (Stones 84mins); Toure 6, Silva 7.5 (Delph 90); De Bruyne 8, Sane 7.5, Sterling 6.5 (Jesus 82), Aguero 7.
Unused subs: Caballero, Kompany, Fernando, Nolito.
Booked: Kolarov, Otamendi
Goals: Sane 49, De Bruyne 54.
Tottenham (3-4-2-1): Lloris 4; Dier 6.5, Alderweireld 6 (Winks 65), Wimmer 5 (Son 46); Walker 7, Wanyama 6, Dembele 6 (Sissoko 79), Rose 7; Eriksen 5.5, Alli 7.5; Kane 5.5.
Unused subs: Vorm, Trippier, Davies, Carter-Vickers.
Booked: Wimmer, Dier, Alli, Wanyama.
Goals: Alli 58, Son 78
Referee: Andre Marriner 6.
Man of the match: Kevin D
Within seconds, Tottenham had raced upfield and, after a glorious exchange of passes, substitute Heung-min Son swept a drive past Claudio Bravo to keep them in the title conversation.
Later, in front of the cameras, Guardiola tried to be diplomatic and resilient but the way he dealt with that course of events on the touchline — arms flailing, eyes wide, screaming in frustration — was the kernel of this incident. An opportunity for victory that City simply had to take had been carelessly squandered.
Careless is an appropriate word to appear in this narrative. Marriner was sloppy with some of his calls, City’s forwards were profligate in front of goal and, most off all, Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris had two moments when he wanted the ground to swallow him up.
Yet to concentrate purely on the errors would be churlish.
This, essentially, was a brilliant game contested by two high-class sides and Tottenham emerged from it looking the team most likely to pursue leaders Chelsea in the title race.
For much of the first half, though, it seemed as if they would be engulfed a light blue tidal wave of attacks. Guardiola made changes to the team demolished 4-0 at Everton — Aleksandar Kolarov replacing John Stones — but playing it cautiously was not an option
From the first whistle, City followed Guardiola’s instructions to the letter. Passes zipped about — rat-a-tat-tat — as if on a five-a-side pitch. David Silva was magical, Kevin De Bruyne imperious, while the forward line of Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane and Sterling buzzed with intent.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino could only look on, hands wedged in trouser pockets, shaking his head as City dominated. So muted were Tottenham as an attacking force, they only touched the ball once in City’s penalty area by half-time. The tally for City, by contrast, was 28.
Yet, as at Everton, there was nothing to show for it. City were either too deliberate or lacked composure and Tottenham survived.
That they did was down to some wonderful defending — two tackles from Danny Rose (on Sterling) and Toby Alderweireld (on Pablo Zabaleta) were magnificent in the opening 12 minutes — decisive goalkeeping from Lloris and wretched finishing.
Take the interplay between Aguero and De Bruyne in the 36th minute. It was a joy to watch them carve out an opportunity but by the time the Belgian had picked out City’s No 10 at the back post, the chance was gone and Lloris saved comfortably.
Zabaleta’s left-footed drive zipped past the far post; Sane headed wide, Sterling demanded a penalty after tangling with Victor Wanyama, Lloris made a fine save from another Aguero shot. All City wanted was a chink of light to cash in.
Four minutes into the second half they had it. There was nothing glorious about the build-up, just a straight ball through the middle. Crucially, Lloris suffered a short circuit and headed his attempted clearance straight at Sane, who walked his effort into an empty net.
If that was bad from Lloris, worse followed. When City launched a counter-attack in the 54th minute, with Sterling hurtling down the right, it did not seem possible they would score but Lloris allowed a ball he should have gathered to squirm away. De Bruyne could not miss.
It was all so uncharacteristic from Lloris, one of the safest pairs of hands in the League, and his despair was obvious. Pochettino sat in his dugout seat and glowered. Guardiola, on the other hand, blew kisses to the crowd.
His joy, however, was short-lived. From what should have been a position for City to see the game out, Tottenham came to life. A quick break down the right, a gem of a cross from Walker and a thumping header from Dele Alli. Game on.
Soon it was game all square. Guardiola’s fury had not subsided from the Sterling penalty claim when Spurs sped forward. Mousa Dembele was involved, so too Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, but it was left for Son to drive home the dagger, his shot fizzing past Bravo.
From a neutral viewpoint, this was a feast for the eyes. Neither side accepted a point and both went for broke in the final 15 minutes, with Guardiola’s response to the setback being to send on Gabriel Jesus.
The newly signed Brazilian’s impact was instant and only a linesman’s flag cut short his celebrations after he had slid on to the end of a De Bruyne cross. The disallowed goal left Guardiola on his knees in despair, not for the first time. It might not be the last, either.
Soon it was game all square. Guardiola’s fury had not subsided from the latest Sterling penalty claim when Tottenham began to move forward. City showed no intensity in trying to stop them and they were carved open as Christian Eriksen and Kane combined to set Son free.
From a neutral point of view, this was a feast for the eyes. Neither side looked prepared t o shake hands and accept a point and they went for broke in the final 15 minutes, with Guardiola’s response to the setback being to send on Gabriel Jesus.
His impact could almost have immediate but a linesman’s flag cut short his celebrations after he had slid on to the end of a De Bruyne cross and the disallowed goal left Guardiola, not for the first time, on his knees in despair.