Manchester City traveled to Tottenham for their first leg clash in the UEFA Champions Leaguequarterfinals.
The Cityzens were knocked out in this stage of the competition last season by Liverpool. Tottenham had the privilege of playing their first ever Champions League game in the new stadium and tactically too, it was a blessing.
In what was a very surprising lineup as Pep Guardiola left Leroy Sane, Kevin de Bruyne, on the bench, while Bernardo Silva was left out of the squad.
Mauricio Pochettinho lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Sissoko and Winks playing as pivots. All of the fab four of Tottenham were present on the pitch.
It took until the 78th minute to break the deadlock open. Surprisingly, it was Spurs who took the lead against the run of play, through Son Heung-min. Mauricio Pochettinho’s men held their ground until the end of the play and will carry a crucial lead into the second leg. Here are five talking points from the game.
#1 Despite the amazing game, Spurs still have a job to do
Tottenham left no regrets on the pitch, not even one. However, it would be foolish to think that they are the favorites in the tie. Even after such a good performance at home, they still have 90 minutes to play at Etihad Stadium.
Why is it such a problem? They had a plan for City yesterday, they might have one away from home as well. But Pep is a no-nonsense tactical mastermind. Here is a thing that we feel could be the case.
It seems that Pep Guardiola rested Bernardo Silva, Sane, and de Bruyne on purpose. We cannot say why exactly but City have a tough away fixture at Crystal Palace in the weekend.
So it’s possible that he wants to keep his best players fresh for the upcoming clash and the following one. There is no other reason as to why Pep would leave Bernardo out of the squad. He isn’t stupid.
Manchester City did concede a goal yesterday but they are solid defensively. There is no Harry Kane in the second leg. It takes away a clear goalscoring threat.
Manchester City would be playing their creative masterminds in the second-leg and it would make their attacks more lethal. Most importantly, Spurs are gassed out after the game yesterday.
They conceded a lot of their energy to get the single goal that they did. It won’t be easy to play with the same intensity that they did yesterday. And with Spurs’ tendency to choke, would you bet them to win?
#2 Spurs’ gameplan was baked perfectly, Son Heung-Min puts a cherry on top
What a game by Tottenham. They were relentless in pressing City for the majority of the game. They lined up in a perfect 4-2-3-1 formation.
Moussa Sissoko completely justified his inclusion with his terrific performance on the night. He made three tackles and completed 29 out of his 30 passes. It was never about possession for Mauricio Pochettino. He asked his team to sit back and press. Press with the chance of winning the ball, conserve energy, press in short bursts, and have a breather.
Not only did they press well, but they were extremely good in breaking City open on counters.
Harry Kane was influential in the counters, winning the 50/50 balls and winning the fouls for his team. Dele Alli squandered a great chance to take the lead early but Spurs kept coming. They had control of the game without having the possession.
They were comfortable on the pitch when City wasn’t. Even with Harry Kane limping off the pitch near the hour mark, Spurs did not lose heart and gameplan.
Lucas Moura was as good as Harry Kane and played according to the plan. It would have been a tremendous shame had Spurs not scored after this terrific night against Manchester. Thankfully, they have a proper goalscorer even when Kane is not on the pitch, and that is Son Heung-Min. A lobbed pass by Eriksen, a disgraceful first-touch, but then the tremendous will and recovery, and then a superb finish.
Tottenham will go to Manchester without conceding an away goal and with an advantage. Who should they thank? Their clutch goalkeeper and clutch goalscorer, not to forget their amazing coach.
#3 Did Manchester City get their lineup or for that matter anything right?
Riyad Mahrez in the right-wing, David Silva and Gundogan in the central midfield, Fernandinho in the defensive midfield, where was the pace and creativity? Riyad Mahrez had an utterly poor display with no shots, dribbles, only 24 passes and displayed a lack of penetration. The midfield was completely dead, to say the least.
Pep Guardiola’s midfield has been dominant every time they have had a good game. Yesterday, oh forget it. 33 passes?
Is that what you expect from David Silva, an attacking midfielder? How many passes did the pivotal Fernandinho have? 32 out of 45, that means he misplaced 13 passes. 13 misplaced passes against Spurs in a Champions League quarterfinal.
Their gameplan was overthrown by Mauricio Pochettino but did the players really do enough on the pitch? There were no one-on-one chances created, there were no quick passing movements, there was only a 10-minute period in the game where City had Spurs on the ropes.
On top of it, Pep had Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, and Kevin de Bruyne warming the benches for 70 minutes.
KDB and Sane were left on the bench for 88 minutes. This is after the poor showing by their counterparts on the pitch for the whole of the first half.
Aguero was poor, Mahrez was poor, David Silva was all over the place. The substitutions were right, but the timing wasn’t.
And after the game, many realized that City’s second-best player this season was not even in the squad. We are talking Bernardo Silva here.
The wrong lineup, ill-timed substitutions, wrong approach to a direct gameplan from Spurs, did they get anything right?
#4 VAR strikes again, Hugo Lloris strikes back
In a certainly controversial fashion, VAR did stick its leg out in the game, and early. A corner was awarded for Manchester City after a shot was deflected off Danny Rose and went out of play. Then the next thing we saw was the referee in deep conversation with the VAR and then running off to the screen. Astonishingly, Manchester City players hadn’t even appealed for the penalty and were ready to take the corner.
To the pain of the 70,000 present in the stadium, the referee pointed to the spot and also brandished a yellow card for Danny Rose.
It didn’t seem like he had any choice though. When you look at it, it felt like the arm was the only part away from the body and in way of the ball. But in Rose’s defense, what choice does he have going down to block a shot? It was purely human reflex.
However, the seemingly non-existent penalty was accepted smilingly by City as Sergio Aguero stepped up. Maybe due to the feeling of injustice, Hugo Lloris dived to his left-hand side and got two strong palms to the ball.
That is now a penalty saved from Aubameyang, Aguero, and Jamie Vardy this year. Lloris came in the clutch yet again, which explains him being the No. 1 for Tottenham despite his mistakes.
Shifting our attention to VAR, there is one thing for sure that needs to be said. VAR was introduced with the purpose of ending debates about decisions.
It has not been ending debates by any means rather it is adding fuel to the fire in the debates. Football will always have its share of controversies, and it is better that way.
#5 No away goal, City still feels the nerves in a European night
Manchester City were the overwhelming favorites in the tie. Almost every pundit, newspaper, bookmaker, had favored them to sail through Tottenham. However, in an unusual turn of events, City never looked convincing in the game. Their progressive play took several roadblocks in the build-up and they could do nothing to bypass it.
Even though they got a penalty, Aguero missed from the spot and couldn’t get the away goal. If you looked at Pep Guardiola’s face, he wasn’t even watching the penalty kick. Really? Is this what Manchester City has got? No body language of a big game, no intent, no attitude, and on top of that, nerves. City’s build-up play showed a lot of nerves and they were forced to play the long ball on many occasions.
This is one of the main reasons that Manchester City, despite being the Kings of England, are not the favorites to lift the title. Because when it comes to Europe, they have always been lackluster, and they have always let the nerves get the better of them. How else do you explain them conceding set-pieces in dangerous areas?
How else do you explain their broken progression? How else do you explain the poor penalty by a great player? How else do you explain a coach who won’t even look at a penalty?