Tottenham Hotspur visited the Etihad Saturday afternoon with multiple aims in mind. On one hand, the team needed to show that it possessed greater ambition than the defensive, uninspired football that resulted in consecutive league losses to Liverpool, Brighton, and Chelsea in late January; on the other, it needed to approach a match against one of the best clubs in the world with realism. Spurs’ midweek loss against Everton in the FA Cup saw the team take a more imaginative and successful attacking strategy, but they were punished by their opponents’ excellent finishing and a defense that did not consistently prevent shooting opportunities. Relative to the Toffees, City presented both a greater defensive challenge and a more formidable attacking threat, and they made good on both issues as they kept a clean sheet and clinically unlocked the Spurs defense while barely breaking a sweat.
Japhet Tanganga made his first league appearance of the season for Spurs, starting at right back in place of Serge Aurier, who presumably remains injured after leaving the West Brom match with a calf injury. He was joined in defense by Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, and Ben Davies, while linchpins Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele sat in front of them. Spurs attacked through Heung-min Son, Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura, and Harry Kane.
City got the better of the first half through an odd penalty: Gundogan lost control of his body as Hojbjerg tried to pressure in him in the Spurs box, and Hojbjerg was unable to shift his momentum to avoid making contact with Gundogan’s foot. Hojbjerg will feel harshly done by, but the contact was there, and it was a welcome gift for City, who were struggling to create enticing shooting opportunities. Tottenham were well-ordered in defense but aimless in attack, with Lamela and Lucas struggling to connect passes and Heung-min Son less involved than he would have hoped to be. Spurs’ best chance of the half was an absolutely masterful free kick from Harry Kane that curved delicately around the jumping City wall and off the goal post—if you haven’t seen it, find a clip. Tanganga looked good at right back and was closing Raheem Sterling down well, but City nearly made it 2-0 before half time by setting Sterling free down Spurs’ left side to run at Ben Davies. Not known for his pace, Davies was easily beaten by Sterling, who crossed to Gabriel Jesus for a shot that was saved only by a last-ditch leg thrown out by Davinson Sanchez.
The second half began with Gundogan doubling Spurs’ deficit as he fired home after dull Tottenham defending allowed Sterling to carry the ball across the box and exchange passes with Phil Foden before finding Gundogan at speed. City were in control for the remainder of the game, notching a third and noteworthy goal that saw keeper Ederson pick up an assist for an impressive long ball over 18 of the 21 other players on the pitch that allowed Gundogan to double his tally after beating Davinson Sanchez and Hugo Lloris. Recent headline subjects Dele Alli and Gareth Bale each got runs out in the second half, with Bale giving fans a bit of the Old Gareth in the 80th minute via some fast footwork and a good shot. Spurs never looked like reversing the outcome, though, and the side will continue trying to rediscover its attacking prowess.
7’ — Gabriel Jesus shoots twice into Spurs defenders. Him and Phil Foden have looked bright for City’s attack so far.
8’ — Tanguy Ndombele is the third Spurs player yet to try to carry the ball alone to the City goal. Both Harry Kane and Erik Lamela have given it a shot already. Spurs need to find a final ball.
13’ — Harry Kane takes one of the best free kicks I’ve seen from him, but it’s off the goalpost and Spurs will have to keep searching.
20’ — Penalty to Manchester City. It was a weird one—Gundogan lost control of his body first, and Hojbjerg couldn’t slow his momentum enough to avoid contact—but that won’t help Hugo Lloris as he stares down a City player on the spot.
20’ — Ederson has walked into the Tottenham half, evidently looking to make good on his reputation as City’s best penalty taker, but his desire is rebuffed as Rodri steps up to the spot.
22’ — Goal. City 1 - 0 Tottenham. Lloris did well to read it and got down to the right side of his body, but only got one hand to the ball and deflected it up into his own net. Spurs haven’t looked awful so far, but this will test their resolve.
25’ — In comments this week, Mourinho praised the “chaotic” nature of Erik Lamela. True to form, he goes in with a two-footed, scissor-style challenge and escapes without a yellow card.
30’ — It’s been box to box for some time now, with each side taking a turn to run at the other but no meaningful opportunities created for anybody.
38’ — Lamela and Jesus have been chirping at each other for some time since they tackled one another roughly in quick succession.
42’ — City have their best chance from open play of the half as Raheem Sterling turns on the afterburners and blows past Ben Davies down the right before crossing to Gabriel Jesus. Sanchez makes an excellent block to keep the score 1-0.
45’ — Moussa Sissoko replaces Lucas Moura for Spurs. This will represent a change of shape for Tottenham, hopefully in an attempt to disrupt the success that City’s midfield has had in closing down the Spurs counter.
49’ — Goal. City 2 - 0 Tottenham. Raheem Sterling comes in down Tottenham’s left flank and cut across the penalty area all the way to the right side before putting the ball into the mix. Foden, Gundogan and Sterling are allowed to pass amongst themselves rapidly and slow reactions from Moussa Sissoko and Japhet Tanganga allow Gundogan to get the ball at speed and tap in low past Lloris’s right foot.
57’ — Lamela is looking aimless out there at the moment, running with the ball into hordes of City players. It might be time to give Dele a well-deserved half hour.
63’ — It is time! Dele Alli replaces Tanguy Ndombele, who was looking tired Dele, Son, and Kane will attack together for the final thirty minutes of the game. Exciting stuff.
66’ — 3 - 0. City score once more, and it’s one you’ll be seeing on replay this week. Ederson plays a perfect pass over everybody to find the run of Ilkay Gundogan, who is closed down by Davinson Sanchez well until he slips, giving Gundogan a free shot against Lloris. You’d expect him to score, and he does.
68’ — Ilkay Gundogan looks to have a groin twinge and makes way for Ferran Torres, though the removal of City’s star man is unlikely to change the outcome of these final 20 minutes.
78’ — Son is down after kicking Cancelo’s late boot and twisting his knee painfully. He looks alright, and the last thing Spurs will want now is an injury that will impact future games.
80’ — Bale shows a bit of the old magic, dancing through the City defense and getting off a powerful shot that Ederson has to shove away.
92’ — City have been having a bit of fun in these last minutes, taking turns running at the Spurs defense while draining the clock. No Tottenham player looks likely to disrupt them now.
- Tanganga looked good in the right back role, defending comfortably and occasionally taking up attacking positions that showed his potential at fullback. Spurs were hanging on until Sterling switched sides, running at the less-pacy Ben Davies instead of Tanganga and ultimately unlocking the Tottenham defense.
- Speaking of Davies, Spurs will be happy whenever Sergio Reguilon is able to rejoin the starting XI.
- It seems Mourinho has acceded to demands for more attacking football. The question now is how will Spurs attack? They looked willing but disjointed throughout the first half, and with the game beyond reach for much of the second they lacked fresh ideas to jolt something loose.
- Spurs were second to the ball too often today. They are a side that is discovering a new way to play, but when they do, they need to gain back their fighting spirit and pacy edge.