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Manchester City 2-2 Tottenham: player ratings to the theme of Spurs VAR decisions

In which we examine VARious calls by football’s new robot cop.

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FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-TOTTENHAM Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

Great result, bad performance. Tottenham Hotspur were armed bandits, thieves in the night on Saturday, stealing a point from Manchester City after goals from Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura cancelled out goals from Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. The 2-2 draw at the Emirates can (and should) be considered a fortunate result for Tottenham, as they were objectively thumped in virtually all metrics by the two-time defending champions.

But football is like that — sometimes you can play bad and still get a result, something Spurs know all about because they’re usually the ones dropping points in situations like this one.

This is a weird match to rate, because Spurs were not helped by Mauricio Pochettino’s overly defensive and un-Spursish tactics. But rate them we shall! And the way the match ended naturally dictates our theme. Here are the Tottenham Hotspur player ratings to the theme of Spurs VAR decisions.

We have big plans for the community ratings in the future, but for now we’re sticking to last week’s format while we figure things out.

5 stars: Disallowed Raheem Sterling goal (Man City 4-3 Spurs, 2019 UCL quarterfinal second leg)

There are two VAR incidents in this match, and this one tips the balance because of the dramatic effect. Spurs fans (and the players) all thought they had lost their Champions League tie to Manchester City after Raheem Sterling scored what looked like an injury time winner to send City through on aggregate. VAR, however, had other ideas, correctly noting that Sergio Aguero was offside by the tiniest of margins before passing to Sterling, and the goal was overturned. Spurs went on to win the game and the series, heading to the UCL semifinals for the first time ever.

VAR: It gets eleventy-billion stars, but we can only offer it five.

Hugo Lloris (Community: 7.6): The only really, really good Tottenham player in this match. City had 30 shots to Spurs’ 3, ten of them were on target. Hugo saved eight of them, letting two through. It’s not at all hyperbole to say that he was the main reason why Spurs didn’t lose by 3 or 4.

4 stars: Hip of God Goal (Man City 4-3 Spurs, UCL semifinal second leg

The OTHER controversial decision in this Champions League match. It’s doubly ironic now because this goal scored by Fernando Llorente, which VAR showed might have caromed off his tucked-in arm before deflecting off his hip and in the goal, would not have counted in the Premier League’s new interpretation of the handball rules. Good times.

Lucas Moura (Community: 7.5): It was a curious (which maybe isn’t strong enough a word) decision to leave Lucas on the bench for this match, and he pretty much gave Poch an “I-told-you-so” by scoring 19 seconds after coming on. His pace helped stretch City’s defense ever-so-slightly in the second half, though by that point the goal was to nick a point and get the hell out of Dodge.

3.5 stars: Disallowed Gabriel Jesus goal (Man City 2-2 Tottenham, Premier League, Aug. 17, 2019)

This one should be fresh in your minds, because it literally happened on Satuday. Aymeric Laporte couldn’t have avoided the ball going off his arm unless he had lopped them off, which as a rule makes about as much sense as the current (adjusted) handball rule this season. But whatever, it got Spurs a point at the Etihad, therefore it’s awesome.

Erik Lamela (Community: 6.8): I was too harsh on Lamela in the match thread, and I admit it. A goal and an assist in a match like this one is good, even if I was screaming at him to DO SOMETHING much of the rest of the time he was on the pitch.

Tanguy Ndombele (Community: 6.6): Again, Poch’s tactics didn’t help him, but Ndombele did the most with the opportunities he had — 87% pass completion, some solid defensive actions, and it looked like he was at least TRYING to get the ball forward, even as he visibly tired.

Davinson Sanchez (Community: 6.5): Tottenham’s best defender on the day, which is great considering it was basically Custer’s Last Stand out there. The more quality minutes Davinson can get this season, the better as he’s the future of Spurs’ back line.

3 stars: Harry Kane “offside” penalty (Tottenham 1-0 Chelsea, 2019 Carabao Cup semifinal first leg

The deciding moment of this match happened when Harry Kane got through on goal only to have Chelsea keeper Kepa upend him, a clear foul in the box. However, the linesman flagged him for offside, triggering a VAR review. After extensive review, Kane was deemed onside, the penalty was given (which Kane converted) and Spurs won the match 1-0. Chelsea fans went on to completely Zapruder the decision, and even Maurizio Sarri came up with an unused “alternative angle” that apparently showed Kane was in an offside position. Didn’t matter. Chelsea got the last laugh, winning 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to take the tie.

Toby Alderweireld (Community: 6.7): Spurs’ defense wasn’t exactly set up to succeed in this game, and when you face 30 shots over the course of the match it usually means you’ve shipped a couple of goals. That’s what happened here. Toby was fine, I guess, and did suitably Tobyish things in defense, but also made a few mistakes along the way as City were driving that big sky blue bulldozer repeatedly into Tottenham’s defensive third.

2.5 stars: Danny Rose handball (Tottenham 1-0 Man City, 2019 UCL quarterfinal first leg)

This one we thought was horseshit at the time and still do. Danny Rose, diving to the ground to block a shot by Raheem Sterling, saw the ball deflect off his leg and onto his arm as he tucked his arm in towards his body. The official, using last season’s handball rules, awarded a penalty to City, which Hugo Lloris saved, thankfully. Here’s the replay if you want to argue this point.

Kyle Walker-Peters (Community: 6.2): KWP had the hardest job of any Spurs player on Saturday: defend Raheem Sterling. Objectively, he did a moderately bad job, letting Sterling in behind on a number of occasions and getting lost positionally on a couple more. HOWEVER, he also did some very good things in defense on Sterling in particular, and in transition as well, and was about as good as I could’ve expected him to be in this match. Not an especially great game, but if anything, this match made me more optimistic that Kyle’s going to be a cromulent fullback for us going forward.

Danny Rose (Community: 6.0): Regularly abused by De Bruyne, but he’s not going to be the only fullback to whom that happens this season. His shithousery was on point, and that certainly helped Spurs waste enough time to see out the clock (with a healthy assist from VAR).

Harry Winks (Community: 5.5): Last week I thought Winks was excellent. This week... I did not. City’s midfield press swarmed and overwhelmed the defense, making Winksy have to work three times as hard as he did against Villa. Consequently, he coughed up the ball a lot more often and couldn’t find even relatively simple outlet passes. Not entirely his fault (hello Poch tactics) and City are really friggin’ excellent, but he was not very good on Saturday.

Moussa Sissoko (Community: 5.6): Why are we playing Sissoko as a defensive winger? Why, WHY? Have we not learned our lesson? For much of the match he was, apparently by design, Spurs’ only midfield outlet and it went about as good as you might have predicted. I also wanted him to help out KWP defensively more than he did.

2 stars: Everything that happened in the 6-1 2018 FA Cup win over Rochdale

In 2018, VAR was being tested and the FA Cup was being used as its test case. At the time, nobody was really sure how VAR was going to be used, or in what circumstances, and it led to some long delays and some really questionable decisions. Amidst swirling snow, this match included a Erik Lamela goal called back for a questionable foul away from the ball on Fernando Llorente, a penalty AWARDED to Tottenham for an uncalled foul in the box on Kieran Trippier, and then that same penalty had to be retaken after Son was flagged for hesitating on the run-up. And that was just in the first half! Sonny eventually started mocking the system by ironically making the VAR symbol with his hands with every stoppage of play.

Christian Eriksen (Community: 5.1) Awful. Ran around a lot, but was mostly at half-speed, wasn’t able to use his creativity to actually create, and also didn’t track back defensively to help cover on a number of occasions. I will not be drawn into the body language interpretations swirling around this match and his possible departure from Spurs (as that’s a really, REALLY dumb sports trope), but this was an objectively terrible performance from Christian.

Mauricio Pochettino (Community: 6.0): There are plenty of alternate universes where Pochettino sets up Spurs to press City all over the pitch and create havoc in the midfield, and they still lose the match. City are just that good. But what he did here — sit with a moderate back line with two banks of four and invite City to press you in waves while ineffectively trying to play out of the back despite not being able to string more than two passes together — made no goddamn sense. Though in his defense, maybe it was the best option because all of all the others were worse. Yes, we got two nice goals and a point, and that’s a suitably fantastic result. But holy moly that’s about as poor a performance as I’ve seen Spurs play in the past few seasons, and it was clearly what Poch WANTED them to do. He sent that team out to die. I’d like to think there were other, better options than becoming Tottenham Burnleyspur.

1 star: Moussa Sissoko handball penalty (2019 Champions League final)

Ugh. UGH. UGHHHHHHHHHHHH. That call was ridiculous and that VAR upheld it ruined what could’ve been a very good Champions League final, turning it into 89 minutes of Liverpool bunkering. I will never not be mad about it.

No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as Sissoko getting called for a penalty for Mane kicking the ball into his armpit in the Champions League final.

Tom Carroll Memorial Non-Rating

Harry Kane (Community: 5.2): But but but... he played the whole match! Yes, and thanks to Poch’s tactics, he got almost literally no service the entire time. He wasn’t even allowed to press, which is the other thing he’s really good at! When he dropped deep to collect the ball, Spurs’ midfield either couldn’t get it to him or there was nobody else around for him to do anything with it. Pochettino set up the team in a way that basically refused to let him play, and he withered and died on the vine over the course of 90+ minutes. I have a hard time faulting Kane for not being a factor when the match was structured so he couldn’t do anything apart from possibly a moment of magic on a random set piece.

Giovani Lo Celso, Oliver Skipp