Stop me if you've heard this one before. A disorganized Tottenham side slump to a predictable defeat through being wasteful in possession, sluggish in defense and generally failing to find their rhythm and shape. Sounds familiar? It's the story of today's game at the Etihad Stadium, and also Tottenham's entire season thusfar.
Though Tottenham took the lead first in today's endlessly frustrating tie after a divine set piece was converted by the head of Steven Caulker through the flappy hands of Joe Hart in the 21st minute, even at 0-1 down this game looked throughout like it was City's to lose. Tottenham gifted their opponents countless chances through sloppy passes and poor back line position, and were it not for an abundance of often slightly iffy linesman calls throughout the game the side would have gone back to the dressing rooms several goals down rather than in pole position. Nevertheless, Tottenham did manage to carve out a few chances over their own, the most enticing coming when Emmanuel Adebayor, who continued to make the case for his inclusion today with hard work and graft but won't play next week, laid off a cute backheel for Huddlestone to smash agonizingly wide shortly before the break.
In the second half, the Spurs side came out looking ready to surrender the game right from the restart. City relentlessly turned up the heat around the Tottenham goal mouth, and flatfooted defending and uncertain clearances did nothing to stem the tricky play seen from the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Chances at the other end became almost non-existent as no movement was seen ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor, with in-the-hole forward Clint Dempsey enduring arguably his worst game in a Spurs shirt with a totally anonymous performance. It was thus no surprise when City equalized in the 65th minute as Sergio Aguero weaved in and around a number of Spurs bodies to slot home a tidy finish just outside of the six-yard box.
At this point, I would argue that Andre Villas-Boas had a clear tactical decision to make to help Tottenham try to seize the impetus back, and he passed it up. As Jermain Defoe came to the touchline ready to come on, I prayed we would see Dempsey head down the tunnel as the little striker came on to play off of Adebayor and restore Tottenham's bite. Instead, the Togolese striker was the one brought off, and from that point onwards the result was pretty much sealed. At the other end, contrastingly, Mancini made the wise decision to unleash the terrifying prospect of Edin Dzeko on the Spurs side he had haunted so much last season, and the super sub ultimately became the hero in the 88th minute with a wholly predictable winner that condemned Spurs to another consecutive disappointing defeat.
With Tottenham wholly failing to get even a foothold in midfield today, this result can't be seen as anything other than perfectly just. Strings of passes were non-existent, and anything that looked like positive play out of the midfield tended to end up in a dead end within seconds. Maybe Dembele will help us overcome this problem upon his return, yet it's difficult to argue that a team of Tottenham's quality should really have at least found some cohesion and direction today. We also gave every City player that needed to be closed down around a yard more space around our penalty area throughout the whole game, which only served to heighten the general sense of surrender that enveloped the game. Quite literally, it felt like we were trying to keep the opposition side at arm's length throughout the game, when getting in their faces might have been the smarter call.
Some general thoughts:
- Tom Huddlestone didn't had a bad game today. He put himself about and was a lot more precise in the tackle than a lot of us would have feared considering some of the situations he found himself in. A lot of his attempted passes were wayward, however.
- Brad Friedel didn't put a foot wrong all game until the goal, when he really might have been disappointed to have not at least got a palm to the ball. Reflexes at close range letting him down once again.
- I don't know what AVB was thinking with the Naughton sub, but it only served to distort our shape and give us even less chance of snapping into a unit and pressing forward for a goal.
- Can we have Benny and Kaboul back now please? Our back line is an utter mess right now.