Manchester City couldn’t win the league Saturday evening at Wembley Stadium, but they were able take one more step towards the inevitability that is their future title.
City came to Spurs’ temporary home and won 3-1, increasing their lead at the top of the table to 16 points. Tottenham were lucky to be in the game at halftime after a poor first half. They responded well in the second frame, but couldn’t find another goal and faltered crucially at the back.
Mauricio Pochettino’s lineup didn’t reveal any surprises. Erik Lamela got the start over Son Heung-min, while Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies came back into the side at their respective fullback positions. It speaks volumes about the situation that his absence is no longer considered a surprise, but a healthy Toby Alderweireld was once again left out of the squad all together.
Pep Guardiola had to name a team without their anchor, defensive midfielder Fernandinho, who was suspended for the match because of yellow card accumulation. Sergio Agüero was also unavailable, so City started Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling, and Gabriel Jesus up front. Fabian Delph was tasked with playing left back, and Kyle Walker started against his old team.
Manchester City almost got off to the perfect start. The post saved Spurs in the opening few minutes when it was struck on a volley by Sané.
That chance was created partially by David Silva, and the Spaniard looked to be in good from from the opening whistle. The visitors dominated possession early on with Pochettino’s side barely able to get out of their end.
Spurs finally started to play their game after 15 minutes of defending, but then were pegged back almost immediately by two goals in quick succession.
Jesus opened the scoring after he got in behind Davinson Sanchez to latch on to a Vincent Kompany long ball. He made the most of his breakaway by slotting the ball past Hugo Lloris.
Hugo found himself rushing out of net again just a few moments later. Lloris slid and fouled Sterling, and Jon Moss pointed to the spot. Further review showed that the foul occurred just outside the penalty area, but the penalty stood and İlkay Gündoğan dispatched it into the side netting.
Both teams looked dangerous for the rest of the first half, and Spurs were able to get back into the game right before halftime. Christian Eriksen was played in by Harry Kane, and the Dane got a stroke of luck when his shot was blocked by Aymeric Laporte only to ricochet off Eriksen’s leg and into the goal.
This one is definitely Christian Eriksen's Tottenham are back in the game! pic.twitter.com/40AplELVal— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 14, 2018
Spurs had been unlucky at times, lucky at others, but were still clearly the second best team.
Tottenham initially looked better after the interval. They started playing with more urgency, and their passing wasn’t as sloppy as it had been in the early stages of the game.
The crowd at Wembley was ready to erupt on numerous occasions as promising chances were being created, but the offside whistle thwarted quite a few of Spurs’ most dangerous attacks on the day.
The two managers eventually made their changes. Pep opted for defense and brought Nicolás Otamendi on for Leroy Sané. Pochettino opted for offense and brought Son on for Lamela.
Sterling came very close to putting the game out of reach in the 71st minute. Poor defending allowed him to skip into the box and to move past a sweeping Lloris, but Sterling took too long and was blocked by Kieran Trippier when he did finally get a shot off.
The frustration from that moment subsided almost instantaneously. Sterling finished a rebound after some more rough defending by players in Lilywhite, this time on a corner kick.
City packed it in and allowed Tottenham a few pot-shots in the final minutes, but finished the victory in a relatively comfortable manner.
Spurs failed to keep pace with Liverpool, and also couldn’t extend their cushion on fifth-place Chelsea. The Champions League should still be there for Tottenham in the end, but Spurs fans won’t be assuming anything until it’s official. Memories of collapses in the not-too-distant past make that a requirement.