An FA Cup fixture against defending champions Manchester City presented itself as an excellent litmus test to determine just how far this fledgling Tottenham Hotspur side had come under Ange Postecoglou. City, while still always dangerous, had been having a bit of a down season thus far, whilst the Tottenham squad was starting to look closer to what one would have been expected at the start of the season, as players filtered back from injury and suspension.
There was firepower on the benches for both sides, as Jack Grealish, Jeremy Doku, and Kevin de Bruyne rode the pine for the Citizens, and the Spurs faithful would have been ecstatic to see #10 James Maddison making the matchday squad, starting in the reserves.
City had the ball in the net early, following a slip from Destiny Udogie; however, the assistant flagged for offside as the ball fell to Oscar Bobb following an excellent Guglielmo Vicario save. Mickey van der Ven was inches from playing the City attacker onside, but a few studs on Bobb’s boot made all the difference and VAR upheld the on-field decision.
Apart from that early drama, the first half was extremely tactical (read: boring). Spurs struggled to play out under City’s press, and when they did, continually misplaced the final pass; while City often won the ball high before passing it around aimlessly outside the Spurs 18-yard box. Pedro Porro had a chance to make an impact for the Lilywhites as he ran in behind, but his square ball was cut out by City keeper Stefan Ortega. Mateo Kovacic was the player looking to make things happen for City, and one passage of play which led to a Porro block brought to mind a game of FIFA, with Spurs defenders sliding all over the place.
After a goalless first half, City again looked dangerous early in the second. Van de Ven misread a ball in behind to Julian Alvarez, but his blushes were spared as the World Cup winner skied his shot over the bar. City’s press continued to cause problems, but a dangerous Timo Werner run opened things up as Brennan Johnson just about found himself through on goal.
The match continued to meander, and Pep Guardiola was the first to try and change that, introducing Doku and de Bruyne for Bobb and Alvarez. Changes for Spurs weren’t far behind, with Maddison and Oliver Skipp entering the fray in place of Johnson and Rodrigo Bentancur.
Hojbjerg, who had been excellent, almost caused a big problem for Spurs has he scuffed a clearance in his own box. The shot from Bernardo Silva was saved, but Tottenham’s Danish midfielder compounded his error with a poor giveaway in his own box again. This time it was de Bruyne with a golden opportunity to score from the top of the box, but the Belgian somehow hit his shot wide of the post.
The tie seemed destined to head to a replay at the Etihad until City knocked in a scrappy goal from a corner. Ruben Dias was all over Vicario (and had been all night), preventing him from clearing the set piece, and the ball fell to Nathan Ake. His strike hit the back of the net, and despite protests from Vicario and the Tottenham defense, City took a 0-1 lead they would not relinquish before the final whistle.
- Man. City were yet to score a goal at Tottenham Hotspur stadium before this match, and THAT is the one that breaks the duck?
- You can argue until you’re blue in the face as to whether the goal should have stood (go off commentariat) but for me there wasn’t enough there to overturn the on-field decision.
- Honestly, Spurs didn’t really deserve to win today. Though both sides were reasonably even for a chunk of the match, the substitutes really turned the tide City’s way, and from then on Spurs were facing an uphill battle.
- The frustrating thing about this match is there were moments where City were there for the taking. Pedro Porro had an uncharacteristically off night with his passing, failing to play in attackers on numerous occasions, and the likes of Brennan Johnson were poor on the ball. Dejan Kulusevski and Timo Werner were both largely invisible, and it just resulted in a disjointed attack that couldn’t capitalize on the few times Spurs did break City’s press.
- A note on Hojbjerg: he was phenomenal in my opinion for around 70 minutes today. His passing was key to everything positive Spurs did in attack, and he was always popping up in the right place defensively. He started to run out of gas late on, however, and while his two big errors weren’t consequential, they were an omen of what was to come.
- You could see why Maddison didn’t play more minutes when he came on. He looked very rusty, and I expect Ange will have to manage his minutes as he makes his way back from injury.
- There’s no shame in losing to a team like City; but I think the team will look back and wonder if they could have taken more from this match.
- Next up: Brentford at home in the league. COYS!