Saturday 19 August 2017

Glorious chaos leaves City back at square one

Manchester City 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta in action with Tottenham's Harry Kane during the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta in action with Tottenham's Harry Kane during the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Miguel Delaney

It was a psychodrama at the Etihad of so many twists and turns and yet, by the end, it somehow left Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur pretty much where they were.

That Pep Guardiola contradicted himself afterwards over whether his side could still win the title was almost fitting in that regard. Because, now the dust has settled, we still don't know much more about either side than we did before the game; whether Guardiola has fixed City; whether Spurs can really push Chelsea for the title. It says more than anything about the glorious chaos on show, however, that you still wouldn't know much about the game if someone just told you the main relevant facts that Spurs came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.

Pep Guardiola shows his displeasure at a refereeing decision in Manchester City’s helter-skelter draw with Tottenham. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Pep Guardiola shows his displeasure at a refereeing decision in Manchester City’s helter-skelter draw with Tottenham. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

Most relevantly, over 90 minutes of supreme football still came down to a few fateful seconds, as Kyle Walker somehow escaped conceding a penalty - and receiving a red card - for blatantly pushing Raheem Sterling in the box when the City striker was clean through with the score at 2-1, and Spurs then went straight up the other end for substitute Heung-Min Son to score the goal of the game.

Referee Andre Marriner waving away complaints as a bewildered Pep Guardiola jumped to the ground with his hands on his head was probably the defining image of this match, and one that was fittingly decided by hands as much as heads.

For once, they were not Claudio Bravo's hands, as Hugo Lloris instead made the two errors that put City into what should have been a decisive lead. That is also the deeper frustration for Guardiola, and perhaps why he responded so cattily to questions about that penalty. "The first question is about the referee . . . you should talk about the football not the referee."

It was a unique approach in a world where managers always seek to deflect from their own errors with the referee's, especially since City's football should have been enough to win the game handsomely - had it not been for the referee's mistake.

Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring Manchester City's second goal. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring Manchester City's second goal. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

That was just another contradiction of this match. After a week when Guardiola had been so justifiably criticised, he offered the perfect response, only for it to end imperfectly.

It's impossible to fault his bravery and innovation in that regard. Up against one of the best attacking and pressing teams in Europe, the logical choice would surely have been for Guardiola to try and secure a defence that had been so porous, only for him to go completely the other way. He front-loaded the attack, to the point that Yaya Toure was playing as the sole defensive midfielder.

And yet that counter-intuition worked tactically, and totally inverted the game. City pressed Spurs back relentlessly with both intensity and wonderfully intricate football, in a reversal of the October defeat at White Hart Lane that brought their first loss of the season and sent them on this spiral, doing to Pochettino's side what they often do to everyone else.

The game was so inverted, in fact, that it was the usually rock-steady Lloris who made key errors rather than Bravo to finally give City a deserved lead. In the 10 minutes following half-time, he first missed a header to give Leroy Sane an easy goal, and then spilled the ball at the feet of Kevin De Bruyne to give the Belgian an even easier strike.

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battles for the ball with Tottenham's Victor Wanyama. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battles for the ball with Tottenham's Victor Wanyama. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Still, though, Guardiola was left to complain of a sense of "deja vu". Just like against Chelsea here, City had been much the better side for the majority of a game, but still didn't get the reward.

That should perhaps be a lesson to Guardiola that there are still many issues to solve in defence. Walker found yet more space there to set up Dele Alli's header, and Bravo's backline was a little too porous as Christian Eriksen flowed through to feed Harry Kane for Son to score.

Spurs had been allowed a comeback they scarcely deserved, and yet you can't fault them for resilience. Pochettino was satisfied with that, to the point that he even had the audacity to claim Walker's push wasn't a penalty, and yet there are still questions for him. Despite their momentum, Spurs couldn't push on to claim that truly season-changing win; to really announce themselves as Chelsea's main challengers.

And this is the thing. After all that, and even after there was still more drama with substitute Gabriel Jesus having what would have been the winning goal disallowed on his debut, City remain in fifth, three points ahead of United; Spurs are still in second with Chelsea set to pull further away.

That was the only thing clear after a carnival of chaos.

Sunday Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport