Playing against Manchester City for the third time in ten days, Tottenham Hotspur returned to the Etihad on Saturday, this time in Premier League action. City were the heavy favorites and needed three points to stay ahead of Liverpool for the league title, but Spurs were hoping to snatch a point, which would do wonders for their hopes of finishing in the top four.
Unfortunately, although Spurs had some chances on the counterattack, an early Phil Foden goal was the difference in the match. Foden got his first league goal in the fourth minute, and City rode that scoreline all the way to the end in a 1-0 victory.
We expected changes from the lineup Mauricio Pochettino put out on Wednesday for the Champions League, but we didn’t expect what we saw when the lineups dropped an hour before kickoff. Paulo Gazzaniga started in goal after Hugo Lloris apparently picked up a “small muscle problem” that resulted in him staying behind in London. Spurs started in what looked like a back three with Juan Foyth starting as a right back. Eric Dier returned to the side making his first start since injuring himself on international duty. And most surprisingly, Vincent Janssen returned from his long exile to take a place on the bench alongside Fernando Llorente.
The overly defensive lineup put out by Spurs implied that they intended to sit deep and counterattack and that’s exactly how they looked from the opening kick. The lineup looked more like a 5-3-2 with both wingbacks sitting very deep in the opening stages.
The last match between these two sides started with a flurry of goals in the opening minutes. It looked like Spurs might get things underway quickly — the first chance of the match came in the third minute on a Spurs breakaway after a City defensive miscue. John Stones gave the ball away cheaply, and resulted in Son Heung-Min firing a close-range shot from the left side of the box. Ederson was well-positioned to parry the ball away.
The optimism didn’t last long. In the fifth minute, a chip into the box found Sergio Aguero at the back post, and Aguero did well to head the ball into the path of Phil Foden who finished the play past Gazzaniga. Just like that City were up 1-0. It was Foden’s first ever Premier League goal.
Spurs played very well on the counterattack in the opening part of the first half — counters led to a blocked chance for Christian Eriksen (after Aymeric Laporte pulled back his arm in the box) and another for Son Heung-Min in the 17th minute. City did well to cut out both opportunities, but Spurs did have some opportunities to equalize going forward.
City maintained the bulk of the possession throughout the half and tried to pick the lock of Spurs’ defense, but Spurs did well to stop most of the chances. When Tottenham did have the ball it was usually running at City’s defensive line with pace. Still, City were a bit scary in and around Tottenham’s box, with Bernardo Silva having a couple of chances on goal.
City were forced into their first substitution of the match in the 38th minute after Kevin De Bruyne looked to have tweaked his hamstring lining up a shot; he went out for Fernandinho. Spurs hit again on the counter just afterwards, with some nice interplay and passing, but Juan Foyth’s cross from the right was a little too close to Ederson for Lucas to reach in time.
Sonny maybe had the best chance for Spurs, again on a break, just before time, taking the ball down nicely in midfield and getting open inside City’s box, but Ederson did well to rush out and smother the chance.
Despite all the City possession, the opening 45 minutes ended with both teams having chances to score. City perhaps looked like the better side, but Spurs were very good in transition with multiple chances to score. The first half ended 1-0 to City.
The second half kicked off with no changes to either side. Three minutes into the second half, a Kyle Walker run and pass found Aguero wide open in the box, but a heroic last-ditch block from Toby Alderweireld kept the ball out of the net.
The second half proved to be a bit more physical than the first, with Spurs in particular putting in some crunching challenges on City’s attackers. Match official Michael Oliver declined to give any yellow cards until just before the end of the match.
Spurs thought they might have had a penalty in the 59th minute after the ball appeared to deflect off of Kyle Walker’s arm in City’s box, but Oliver had a good look at it in real time and declined to give the spot kick.
Pochettino made his first substitution in the 61st minute, with Victor Wanyama coming on for Eric Dier in what looked like a planned change. City responded in the 65th minute, bringing on Leroy Sane for Aguero, and Danny Rose replaced Dele Alli in the 69th minute, with Rose slotting (improbably) into central midfield.
Spurs had another half chance in the 68th minute as a long ball from Dele tried to find Son who was one-on-one with Laporte. The City defender did a nice job keeping Sonny from handling the pass and was able to knock the ball away to Ederson.
City had a fantastic chance in the 71st minute as Sane pulled the ball back for Sterling for a point-blank shot in the box. Gazzaniga went low and saved the ball with his right foot in an excellent block.
Lucas Mora nearly put Spurs level in the 72nd minute, squirting through City’s defensive line with the ball off of a deep ball from Alderweireld, but he couldn’t get his shot past Ederson.
Poch made one last roll of the dice late, bringing in Fernando Llorente for Alderweireld and shifting shape to a back four and hoping that the Basque striker could spark a late equalizing goal. City brought on David Silva for Foden in the 84th minute.
There were some late physical altercations, particularly between Davinson Sanchez and Sterling, who tussled on a couple of occasions in and around the box, but Michael Oliver didn’t show a yellow card until the 85th minute when Wanyama put in a hard challenge on Fernandinho. Jan Vertonghen and Sterling also had a physical altercation in the corner, with both players picking up yellows.
Spurs tried for one last chance to equalize in extra time with the game starting to slide off the rails, but they weren’t able go punch one home. The final score ended 1-0 to Manchester City.
- Nobody likes to lose, but real talk: almost none of us expected to get a win in this match. In fact, a narrow loss is fine — this match was Spurs playing with house money, and a 1-0 loss doesn’t screw up the goal differential that much.
- It’s not like Spurs didn’t have chances to score. In fact, they looked really good on the counterattack today and with some more clinical finishing might have gotten a point today. If you choose to take a positive spin on this match, this is a good angle to take.
- Michael Oliver lost control of this match in the second half. Spurs were the primary instigators through Rose, Sanchez, and Vertonghen, but both sides started getting punchy, especially Raheem Sterling, and Oliver refused to do anything to stop it. Let’s be honest: Spurs were mostly the baddies and got lucky quite a few times. Not a great match from the official.
- Spurs were probably lucky not to concede a penalty in the coming together between Vertonghen and Bernardo Silva. It’s close, but you can see that penalty being given.
- Lucas Moura had a really nice match today playing in a central attacker role. He was bright and direct, and nearly scored late in the second half. Son looked bright as well, but faded badly in the second half.
- Eric Dier looked pretty rusty (which is understandable) but defensively he kept Spurs’ midfield from getting overrun.
- We lost with a weird-ass mostly defensive side. Whatever. In fact, this match staying as close as it did makes me feel better about Spurs’ chances in their run-in. Spurs are still 78% to finish top four according to FiveThirtyEight. Now let’s go smash Brighton on Tuesday.
- For people who like xG, here’s Michael Caley’s map for the match.