Man City vs Tottenham trilogy: 10 things we learned from Premier League and Champions League series – The Independent


1. Does Pochettino have Guardiola’s number?

WhenMauricio Pochettinowas Espanyol manager andPep Guardiolawas at Barcelona, he was known as the “anti-Guardiola” in the local press for his ability to find Barca’s weakness. There was something about his aggressive pressing football, taking the fight to their rich opponents rather than sitting back, that brought some famous results.

This month it feels as if he has found that knack again. Yes, City scored more goals over these three games, and extended theirPremier Leaguewinning streak over Spurs to four games. But Spurs recorded a historic two-legged triumph over City, one built on aggression at home and pressing into mistakes away. The financial gulf between the teams was equalised and Spurs came out on top. Nothing will hurt Guardiola more than that.  


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2. Guardiola’s Champions League obsession is very real

Pep Guardiola is obsessed with theChampions League. Everyone knows this and it was abundantly clear over these two games, especially as he charged around the technical area on Wednesday night, dancing with delight when Raheem Sterling scored the apparent winner, sinking to the floor when it was disallowed. But it also seems that the criticism of Guardiola’s Champions League record has got to him.

Before the second leg Guardiola kept insisting that he was a “failure” in this competition, as if trying to take ownership of the criticism himself. Even on Saturday afternoon, after beating Spurs, Guardiola again referred to how he has not won the competition since 2011. “It is a big failure in my career, I have to accept it.”

Mauricio Pochettino, now into the semi-finals, a stage Guardiola has not reached since 2016, seemed more relaxed about the whole thing.

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1/22Ederson – 8

Made three great saves to deny Son and Eriksen when they got in behind on the counter.

AFP/Getty Images

2/22Kyle Walker – 7 out of 10

REUTERS

3/22John Stones – 5 out of 10

Looked ropey early after not playing for a while but worked hard against Son and Moura.

PA

4/22Aymeric Laporte – 6 out of 10

A similar situation to Stones. Son and Moura had the better of him in the opening stages, but he managed to learn from that and make some crucial tackles to deny Son when he tried to attack on the counter.

Getty Images

5/22Oleksandr Zinchenko – 6 out of 10

Did a decent job in a troublesome position for City. He was asked to go forward but he did so with limited success.

AFP/Getty Images

6/22Kevin De Bruyne – 6

Started the game well, created some chances but had a few poor crosses. Got injured towards the end of the first half so didn’t have a lasting impact.

EPA

7/22Ilkay Gundogan – 6 out of 10

Fluid, sharp and in control when Man City moved forward. He did his job to set up the wide men to put the balls into the box.

Action Images via Reuters

8/22Phil Foden – 7 out of 10

Got himself into a lot of key positions and was rewarded with his first goal in the Premier League. He made a few errors, but you can put that down to his age.

Getty Images

9/22Bernardo Silva – 9 out of 10

Man City’s key man today. He didn’t stop running all game and caused a ton of problems down the right wing. His ball into Aguero for the goal was sublime.

PA

10/22Sergio Aguero – 7 out of 10

Had the awareness to find Foden on the far post to finish off a well worked goal for Man City and make Vertonghen and Alderweireld work hard at the back.

REUTERS

11/22Raheem Sterling – 7 out of 10

Had the wool on Foyth, he was just too quick for the young Tottenham man but missed a great chance to score a second for City in the second half.

AFP/Getty Images

12/22Paulo Gazzaniga – 7 out of 10

Found his feet as the game went on and made a good reactionary save to deny Sterling in the second half.

REUTERS

13/22Juan Foyth – 6 out of 10

Struggled against the pace of Sterling but put in one or two good tackles to stop Sterling cutting back inside.

REUTERS

14/22Davinson Sanchez – 6 out of 10

Threw himself into every tackle and every challenge making it hard for Aguero to find a way through.

AFP/Getty Images

15/22Toby Alderweireld – 5 out of 10

Had to work hard in the closing stages of the first half to hold out against a Man City onslaught but was at fault to allow Foden in on goal.

AFP/Getty Images

16/22Jan Vertonghen – 6 out of 10

Had a scrappy game but a decent one. He wasn’t exceptional but did okay.

REUTERS

17/22Ben Davies – 6 out of 10

Was given a tough ask to play as a wingback and defend against Bernardo Silva and he definitely came off worse in this contest.

AFP/Getty Images

18/22Christian Eriksen – 7 out of 10

Played some beautiful balls into Son and Moura to split the defence. All that was missing was a finish.

PA

19/22Eric Dier – 5 out of 10

Had a very quiet return on his first game back from injury. Pretty forgettable.

AFP/Getty Images

20/22Dele Alli – 6 out of 10

Showboated quite a bit but offered very little in terms of creating chances for Tottenham.

AFP/Getty Images

21/22Heung-Min So – 7 out of 10

Had the best chances of the match for Spurs but wasn’t as clinical as he could’ve been.

Getty Images

22/22Lucas Moura – 7 out of 10

Spurs set up for him and Son to target the counter attack. He had a couple of great chances but couldn’t beat Ederson.

AFP/Getty Images


1/22Ederson – 8

Made three great saves to deny Son and Eriksen when they got in behind on the counter.

AFP/Getty Images

2/22Kyle Walker – 7 out of 10

REUTERS

3/22John Stones – 5 out of 10

Looked ropey early after not playing for a while but worked hard against Son and Moura.

PA

4/22Aymeric Laporte – 6 out of 10

A similar situation to Stones. Son and Moura had the better of him in the opening stages, but he managed to learn from that and make some crucial tackles to deny Son when he tried to attack on the counter.

Getty Images


5/22Oleksandr Zinchenko – 6 out of 10

Did a decent job in a troublesome position for City. He was asked to go forward but he did so with limited success.

AFP/Getty Images

6/22Kevin De Bruyne – 6

Started the game well, created some chances but had a few poor crosses. Got injured towards the end of the first half so didn’t have a lasting impact.

EPA

7/22Ilkay Gundogan – 6 out of 10

Fluid, sharp and in control when Man City moved forward. He did his job to set up the wide men to put the balls into the box.

Action Images via Reuters

8/22Phil Foden – 7 out of 10

Got himself into a lot of key positions and was rewarded with his first goal in the Premier League. He made a few errors, but you can put that down to his age.

Getty Images


9/22Bernardo Silva – 9 out of 10

Man City’s key man today. He didn’t stop running all game and caused a ton of problems down the right wing. His ball into Aguero for the goal was sublime.

PA

10/22Sergio Aguero – 7 out of 10

Had the awareness to find Foden on the far post to finish off a well worked goal for Man City and make Vertonghen and Alderweireld work hard at the back.

REUTERS

11/22Raheem Sterling – 7 out of 10

Had the wool on Foyth, he was just too quick for the young Tottenham man but missed a great chance to score a second for City in the second half.

AFP/Getty Images

12/22Paulo Gazzaniga – 7 out of 10

Found his feet as the game went on and made a good reactionary save to deny Sterling in the second half.

REUTERS


13/22Juan Foyth – 6 out of 10

Struggled against the pace of Sterling but put in one or two good tackles to stop Sterling cutting back inside.

REUTERS

14/22Davinson Sanchez – 6 out of 10

Threw himself into every tackle and every challenge making it hard for Aguero to find a way through.

AFP/Getty Images

15/22Toby Alderweireld – 5 out of 10

Had to work hard in the closing stages of the first half to hold out against a Man City onslaught but was at fault to allow Foden in on goal.

AFP/Getty Images

16/22Jan Vertonghen – 6 out of 10

Had a scrappy game but a decent one. He wasn’t exceptional but did okay.

REUTERS


17/22Ben Davies – 6 out of 10

Was given a tough ask to play as a wingback and defend against Bernardo Silva and he definitely came off worse in this contest.

AFP/Getty Images

18/22Christian Eriksen – 7 out of 10

Played some beautiful balls into Son and Moura to split the defence. All that was missing was a finish.

PA

19/22Eric Dier – 5 out of 10

Had a very quiet return on his first game back from injury. Pretty forgettable.

AFP/Getty Images

20/22Dele Alli – 6 out of 10

Showboated quite a bit but offered very little in terms of creating chances for Tottenham.

AFP/Getty Images


21/22Heung-Min So – 7 out of 10

Had the best chances of the match for Spurs but wasn’t as clinical as he could’ve been.

Getty Images

22/22Lucas Moura – 7 out of 10

Spurs set up for him and Son to target the counter attack. He had a couple of great chances but couldn’t beat Ederson.

AFP/Getty Images

3. Son has eased the absence of Kane

Hearts sunk at White Hart Lane whenHarry Kanehobbled off in the first episode with another ankle injury. But it was difficult to watchSon Heung-minplaying the next few games and still feel that Spurs were desperately missing the England captain. Because for the last few months, Son has been Spurs’ best player, and it is not even close.

He scored three of their four goals in the Champions League tie, cutting City to ribbons with his elusive movement. There are few better strikers at running in behind right now than Son, and few better finishers from just outside the box. His second on Wednesday was the definitive Son finish.

On Saturday his movement was just as good but his finishing was not, and he went home goalless for once. But City were terrified of him all afternoon.

4. Can this improved defiance be sustained?

There is a theory at Spurs that sometimes the absence of Harry Kane encourages his team-mates to raise their level. Because the players are so keen to prove that they can win without him. And conversely when he comes back into the team they drop their game, subconsciously sensing that their saviour is back.

That is how it felt watching these games, as Son led a late surge in the first leg and then every Spurs player played out of their skins in the second leg. It was as if the circumstances, coming into that game without Kane, making them even narrower favourites, sparked Spurs into a performance beyond their expected levels. But can they possibly sustain it?

Kane injured his ankle against Manchester United (Getty)

5. Spurs defenders set the standard

Few players represent that level of super-human performance more thanToby AlderweireldandJan Vertonghen. Maybe that should be no surprise now, but it feels like this season they have set new standards of leadership, consistency and application, especially in recent weeks. In the first game of these they kept a clean sheet against City – only the third team to do that this season after Chelsea (twice) and Liverpool.

In the second game they did ship four goals, but they still had to hold City off when they were threatening to kill the game in the second half. Then on Saturday they led another rearguard, keeping Spurs in the game, surviving City’s flurries, even though they still ended up losing. Aymeric Laporte has had a stellar season, but Vertonghen and Alderweireld have been setting the standard in the Premier League for years.

6. Gundogan is proving a liability as much as he is a luxury

Ilkay Gundoganis a brilliant footballer, but he might just be the best luxury player in the league. There are not many out there who can match him for technical quality, vision, and the ability to dictate the pace of play. But there is one problem: he can’t defend.

Guardiola is always desperate to get him in the team but his inability to shut down opposition counter-attacks means he can only be risked as the sitting midfielder in games when City have all of the ball. Son’s two killer away goals on Wednesday came from counters down the middle, the type of break that does not happen when Fernandinho is on the pitch. Saturday followed the same pattern, as Spurs sliced through City early on. Only when Fernandinho came on did City bolt the door.

It raises the issue for Guardiola at Old Trafford: can he afford to pick his most consistent midfielder?


PepGuardiolapraises PhilFodenas Man City beat Tottenham

7. Winks’ stock rises with his absence

There was only one game this series when Spurs had the upper hand in midfield against City. And that was the first one, when Harry Winks played. He gave Spurs a fluid mobility in the middle of the pitch, a constant buzz, as they swarmed over City from the start. And without that strong start, who knows how that tie would have ended up.

But it was especially impressive because Winks was playing with an injury, a pain in his hip that has built up over this busy season. But having played in the first game Winks then missed the next two, and Spurs were overrun in that part of the pitch. They are not the same team without him, and while Pochettino would love him back, Winks’ pain needs to be monitored every day, as they hope he will recover.

8. How long can Sane stick with being the supersub?

Leroy Saneis one of English football’s most entertaining match-winners but Guardiola does not trust him in the biggest games. And that has never been more clear than it was over these three games.

Sane came on in the last minute of the first game, with six minutes left of the second game, even as City chased a crucial equaliser, and then with 24 minutes left of the league game. But that is in keeping with how he has been used recently. In the last three months he has only started eight of City’s last 21 games, the most recent of those against Swansea City, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace.  Sane has found himself, after a brilliant season last year, relegated to the role of untrusted supersub against the best opponents. It does not feel like a sustainable role for a player of his quality.

RaheemSterling’s disallowed goal shows howVARis changing the game (Getty)

9. VAR has changed football forever

Up until this week VAR has felt like a foreign invention that the English could get away with ignoring for another year two. Not anymore. By making three dramatic interventions in the two Champions League games, helping to decide the biggest all-English European tie since the 2008 Champions League final, VAR has become an unavoidable factor in football. And it has changed the game forever.

The handball given against Danny Rose in the first game has helped to set a new standard for ball-to-hand decisions, effectively re-writing the law. Now all ball-to-hand decisions are appealed, if not given, as Toby Alderweireld and Kyle Walker found on Saturday. The fact that City and Spurs fans were taunting each other with VAR chants on Saturday shows how big a part of our thinking it now is. But nothing was as telling as Guardiola snapping repeatedly at a reporter after the Saturday game, “don’t talk to me about referees”. Clearly Wednesday still rankles.

10. The super series is a sign of football’s future

Series are the future of football. We all know that the pyramid of the game is tapering, that the biggest teams increasingly only want to play each other. And as the clubs look for new formats to maximise these box office clashes, it feels inevitable that we will see more weeks like this one.

Two big teams meeting for three or even five matches, with only short breaks in between. Like an NBA finals or a World Series, they will develop their own large arcs and sub-plots, and they will be a far bigger media draw than the rich vs less rich, attack vs defence games that clog up our schedules as it stands. They could be played across the two teams’ grounds, or, more profitably, in neutral foreign venues. If you want a picture of the future, imagineManchester Cityplaying Tottenham in Miami — forever.

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