City's best not good enough for Pep as Spurs show mettle

Pep Guardiola Gabriel Jesus Manchester City Tottenham Premier League 21012017
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City's failures in both boxes were apparent again as they could not put a Spurs side away despite dominating most of the game


Pep Guardiola might well prefer games like this – against proper footballing teams – when the application of his intended tactics and not the physicality of the battle tip the odds in his Manchester City team’s favour.

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On occasions this season City have got results their performance might not have deserved and that kind of game does not please the manager. This was the opposite, not that Pep will find solace in any praise right now.

City were 2-0 up and cruising; clear daylight was between them and Tottenham but they could not get the job done. It is mystifying that they did not win. There were clear-cut chances, there was an offside goal for debutant Gabriel Jesus, there were penalty shouts and plenty more besides.

Guardiola has lamented City’s failures “in both boxes” all season long and for long spells here it looked like that issue was behind them.  Their ability to keep the ball from Tottenham’s danger men – and creation and converting of two chances – gave them the lead their play deserved. Then the curse struck quick as lightning. Twice. Boom. Dele  Alli. Boom. Son Heung-min. Back to square one. 

The result won’t help City move on from last week’s shellacking at Everton but they should nonetheless be encouraged by how they played.

Raheem Sterling Premier League Manchester City v Tottenham

City have been outdone often by brute force and sheer determined will in the Premier League this season – with Guardiola obsessing over unfamiliar things like “second balls” through the winter – but this was a contest in which his brilliant football thought could be brought to bear.

His City side dominated the game from start to finish but it says plenty about the defiance – and back bone – in this Tottenham side that they scored from their only two efforts on target.

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It’s not simply a case that Claudio Bravo can be blamed – there was little he could have done on either Dele’s or Son’s goals - and if any goalkeeper is to be blamed for conceding then that dubious honour goes to Hugo Lloris.

In any case what we got was no doubt the best match of this Premier League season – for the standard of football and the unpredictability of its course – but it will sting that even on such a good day for his team Guardiola could not get the win.

City will point out the shove by Kyle Walker on Raheem Sterling - when the England winger was through for a shot at goal at 2-1 – as a crucial moment. A penalty there – which should have been given – would have restored City’s two-goal advantage.

Pep had a method for forcing - and capitalising on - errors in the Tottenham ranks and imposing the skill and wit of his attackers on their title-chasing visitors; often there was simply no easy out-ball for Pochettino’s defenders when they had it – and they surrendered it under pressure.

Gabriel Jesus Manchester City Tottenham Premier League 21012017

It says plenty about the work rate Guardiola seeks that it was Sergio Aguero winning the ball back inside his own half to instigate the attack which brought the second goal. The presence of £27m signing Gabriel Jesus on the bench might just convince the Argentine to step it up.

Guardiola's expertise in ensuring that his attacking players could pick the ball up in the right positions – and preventing the same for Spurs - bordered on the clairvoyant and left his opposite number in a constant state of dithering.

Walker & Rose on City’s radar

It was clear that Guardiola saw the chief Tottenham threat from their rampaging wing-backs – two players he covets – Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. The one moment either of them got free - Walker’s cross to Alli on the first Tottenham goal – City were punished.

He made provisions for their runs forward by using orthodox full-backs in front of the two quickest players in his squad – Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling.

If City were to have success in going behind the Tottenham backline then passes to Sané and Sterling would be integral. The other benefit to that selection was to ensure Rose and Walker did not get too carried away in going forward for fear of leaving gaps that City’s lightning-quick wingers could exploit.

And so it proved for City’s opener just after the break; Kevin De Bruyne’s lofted through ball for Sané forced an uncharacteristic error from Lloris to allow the young German to tap home. But that wasn’t the only time City sprung the Spurs defence.

Leroy Sane Premier League Manchester City v Tottenham 210117

Kevin De Bruyne Premier League Manchester City v Tottenham 210117

All throughout, the clever interplay between Sterling, De Bruyne and City’s greatest-ever player David Silva tied the London side in knots and made them look far worse than a team on a six-game Premier League winning streak. When Walker and Rose attempted to move forward – in the first half in particular – there were simply too many obstacles for them to make a difference.

That led to congestion in Tottenham’s overall play. Harry Kane was not so much short of service but starved of it. Alli is a player of moments and not 90-minute influence and here had only one chance to make an impact. It says plenty about his star quality that he took it.

And Kane – although offside marginally – had his say. His deft flick into the path of Son brought Tottenham level. Not that their fans could believe it; not that anyone could believe it.

“2-0 and you f**ked it up,” the Spurs fans chanted by the end to their City counterparts. Not quite true but not quite false either.