Thursday 23 November 2017

City's slippers on the slide after Kane's welcome return to scoring form

Tottenham 4 Manchester City 1

Harry Kane celebrates scoring the third goal for Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Photo: Tony O’Brien
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the third goal for Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Photo: Tony O’Brien
Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen celebrates with team-mates Ben Davies (left) and Hugo Lloris (right)
Tottenham's Kyle Walker battles for possession with Manchester City's Raheem Sterling

Barney Ronay

There was a lovely, improbable moment in stoppage time, a five-second outbreak of unicorn football begun by Clinton Njie's nifty spin inside Aleksandar Kolarov, followed by a lovely little snap of passes between Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Delle Alli.

Suddenly, in the dreamy last knockings of an extraordinary match, four young English players were nipping the ball around in between City's rumbling defensive hulks, Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi.

It was a moment that may well point nowhere at all in what is already the most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, no more than a cheerful little rainbow in the fading light of this 4-1 Spurs victory in front of a gleefully disbelieving home crowd.

But it was entirely in keeping with a game crammed full of unexpected moments, not least the departure of Erik Lamela to a standing ovation, having utterly overshadowed Raheem Sterling on his flank, showing the usual sublime touch and lateral spring, but playing always with his head up and looking the best attacking player on the pitch. Do not adjust your television set. This is not a fault.

For all Tottenham's vim and energy, and notwithstanding some terrible offside calls, the other side of this victory is City's equally extraordinary tailing off in the past two weeks, a run of three defeats in four that has centred on two key failings.

With great expenditure on attacking midfield talents comes great responsibility, and clearly Manuel Pellegrini has yet to work out how to get the best from what he has going forward. The drive this season has been towards a wider spread of influence, those bolt-on attacking parts sparking and firing to take some of the weight from the old hands of the new City era.

Here City saw the best and worst of Kevin De Bruyne in the first half, a pointer both in the goal they scored and the one they conceded towards how they might look to use this highly specialised attacking player.

City's opening goal here saw Yaya Toure carry the ball 40 yards before feeding De Bruyne with a lovely delayed pass. The finish was instant and perfectly placed.

Spurs' equaliser was deserved, coming at time when they had begun to press back into the game. But also showed the other side of De Bruyne, who played a horrible casual pass out of his own area that became an assist for Dier's equaliser, the ball skimming and swerving into the corner.

Kyle Walker was two yards offside in the build-up but, for Pellegrini, the greater concern will be De Bruyne's carelessness, having looked up and seen Fernandinho ready for the ball a moment earlier.

Perhaps the Brazilian should have expected the pass and not turned his back. Perhaps De Bruyne was simply making the kind of high risk pass - and the kind of mistake - that belongs in the kind of areas he plays in more naturally.

Either way, it was a glimpse of rare passing fallibility from a player shuffled to the right wing when perhaps the No10 position, occupied here by Toure with mixed results, is a more natural fit.

Beyond this, City were guilty of a familiar failing, the inability to reorganise and adjust, to find a second wind in adversity. From the moment Spurs equalised they simply stood still.

Fernandinho had been the best player on the pitch in the opening half hour, passing the ball with purpose and generally striding about like a ship's captain, simultaneously stoking the engines, manning the bridge and cooking the evening gruel. Fernando was unable to respond to this.

If Dier and Alli had looked a little outclassed at first, they dug in for a while, Dier in particular a stirring physical presence, and by the end had comfortably wrested control of midfield. The fourth goal was made by a superb challenge by Dier, and he celebrated as if he had scored it.

In fairness, Sergio Aguero still looks to be carrying the unscabbed wounds of Scott Dann's horrible challenge at Crystal Palace. But otherwise, Spurs' speed and relentless energy was too much for decelerating opponents. City simply failed to respond. This the challenge now. There are some high grade component parts in this team, but currently they seem just a little misaligned.


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