Thursday 26 April 2018

City bounce back with a vengeance

Tottenham 1 Manchester City 3

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling celebrates with Gabriel Jesus after scoring their third goal in last night’s match at Wembley. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling celebrates with Gabriel Jesus after scoring their third goal in last night’s match at Wembley. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Jacob Steinberg

If the true test of a team is how they cope in times of adversity, then Manchester City provided plenty of evidence of their claim to greatness with an impressive response to their exit from the Champions League.

The critics who had hoped to see another collapse from Pep Guardiola's side have been silenced. The title is not City's yet and they will probably have to wait a bit longer, given that Manchester United are unlikely to lose at home to West Brom on Sunday afternoon.

Yet they need only three more points after ending Tottenham's 14-game unbeaten run and can wrap it up on Wednesday, when United visit Bournemouth. If it has not been settled then, City meet Swansea next Sunday.

Strange things can happen to teams who suddenly feel their layers of invincibility peeling away. Arsenal never really recovered after their unbeaten run finished at Old Trafford in 2004 and the only way for City to reassert their supremacy was to forget about the disappointments of the past fortnight, to banish the emerging doubts by trusting in Guardiola's philosophy.

Yet if City were carrying psychological scars from their defeats against Liverpool and United, the early evidence suggested that they had covered them up well. They relished Wembley's wide, open spaces, just as they had when collecting the first trophy of the Guardiola era with that impeccable victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final two months ago, and Tottenham must have feared they would be on the receiving end of a fearsome backlash as they tried to cope with City's suffocating high press and mastery of the ball.

The willingness to take risks sets City apart and no player encapsulates that more than David Silva. He was everywhere in those early stages, demanding the ball and unnerving Tottenham with how easily he crept away from his markers, and his attitude set the tone for Guardiola's side.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

City's forwards knew that they had to make the right runs and they almost took the lead in the fourth minute; Silva releasing Raheem Sterling behind Ben Davies, with Leroy Sané volleying the winger's cross against the woodwork.

Mauricio Pochettino had selected Érik Lamela instead of Son Heung-min, presumably because of the way the Argentinian hounds defenders, but City were in the zone. Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne threatened from long range and the only surprise was that it took until the 22nd minute for the opening goal to arrive.

City had taken note of Tottenham's high line and they pierced it with one long ball - Vincent Kompany spraying the ball through for Gabriel Jesus to tear away from Davinson Sánchez and fire a resounding finish underneath Hugo Lloris.

Pochettino's men were struggling to keep track of their runners and they found themselves in a deeper hole when Sterling skipped away from Sánchez and lured Lloris into tripping him. Replays suggested that the foul took place outside the area but Jon Moss pointed to the spot, allowing Ilkay Gündogan to double City's lead. They were in a similar position of strength against United last week, though, and we know how that turned out.

Tottenham's Kieran Trippier blocks a shot from Manchester City's Raheem Sterling. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Tottenham's Kieran Trippier blocks a shot from Manchester City's Raheem Sterling. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

City's defence was their weak point, even though Kompany had returned in place of the unreliable Nicolás Otamendi, and Tottenham struck three minutes before the interval. Harry Kane released Christian Eriksen and the Dane enjoyed a moment of fortune when Aymeric Laporte's desperate tackle rebounded off him and past Ederson.

Perhaps Kane's assist was his way of apologising to Eriksen after the minor drama over who got Tottenham's winner at Stoke last weekend.

The real intrigue now, however, was seeing how City would react to being caught on the jaw. Would they stand up and regain control? Or would they stumble and implode again?

Tottenham were determined to find out, starting the second half with ferocious intensity, swarming around Silva and asserting themselves in midfield, where Mousa Dembélé was dictating the flow at last.

It had become a frenetic contest, played in a terrific atmosphere and Jesus spurned a glorious chance to settle City's nerves, scuffing a shot woefully wide after fine work from Gündogan, whose pass had caught out Sánchez again.

However, City began to weather the storm after Guardiola switched to a back five in the 64th minute, Otamendi replacing Sané, and they grabbed the clincher eight minutes after that tactical shift.

Sterling had endured a difficult afternoon in front of goal against United and the England forward added another baffling miss to his growing portfolio when he failed to punish an error from Lloris, infuriating Guardiola by firing against the prone Davies when it looked easier to score.

Yet there was no chance of Sterling missing when Lloris' save from a Jesus drive fell to him moments later. The ball flew into the roof of the net and City had made their statement.

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