Match Coverage

Manchester City 2-2 Spurs: What We Learned

Manchester City's English midfielder Raheem Sterling fails to score with this late attempt as Tottenham Hotspur's English defender Kyle Walker appears to push him slightly during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on January 21, 2017.
The game finished 2-2. / AFP / Paul ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a thoroughly disappointing afternoon for Manchester City as they let Spurs crawl back from 2-0 down to draw the game. Refereeing decisions, bad luck and most crucially, a host of missed chances meant City couldn’t capitalise on what was a dominant performance.

Here are a few conclusions I’ve drawn from today’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham.

With each passing game, I have more and more faith in Pep Guardiola

It was a remarkably familiar tale for Manchester City. 17 shots for and probably nothing to show for it were it not for Hugo Lloris’ two huge clusterfucks. Tottenham meanwhile needed only two shots on target to score their two goals. I’m sure you’ve all heard the stat but here it is again: Manchester City have conceded 14 goals from their last 26 shots on target. Remarkable isn’t it?

Coming into the game, Pep Guardiola stuck with his usual 4-3-3 formation with a few altered aspects. Yaya Touré played deepest and much like we saw in the early stages of the season, the full-backs were extremely reserved – although not completely playing as midfielders in possession. Most interestingly, City’s forward line of Silva, De Bruyne, Sané, Sterling and Aguero played almost like a front five with a massive gap between them and the rest of the team. There was huge pressure on Yaya Touré to connect both lines and a lot of concern pre-match was based on his ability to cope with a powerful, quick team notorious for their pressing. Pep, Touré and rest of his City side stood up to the challenge wonderfully.

City’s first half was one of the best we’ve seen under Pep this season as the team completely stifled Spurs and created a huge host of chances that should’ve been buried. While the front five interchanged and penetrated, City’s back-line stayed deep – particularly the full-backs – and broke up every counter before it reached City’s half. It was a tactical masterclass and Spurs hesitated and looked unsure of how to respond to a ploy Pep has used many times with his past teams. The big gaps in midfield he purposefully created was merely bait for them to run into because Yaya Touré and both full-backs were always deep enough to come in and make a crucial interception or tackle. Pep knew Spurs liked to break quickly and centrally and he used it against them. But being the top coach he is, Pochettino noticed the issue and responded by switching to a back four in the hope of building play through the wide areas rather than centrally.

The second half saw City’s attack reinvigorated and more deadly. De Bruyne penetrated Spurs’ defence with a ball over the top and a generous deflection allowed Sané to draw first blood. The German has been a regular feature in City’s biggest games this season and his start today followed his starts against Chelsea and Arsenal as well. He’s the most natural, modern winger (sorry, Jesus Navas) in the squad and his pace and directness was a fresh breath of air. Moments later, Sterling’s spilled cross allowed De Bruyne to take us two up but only before an all too familiar tale began to unravel.

Same old shit just a different day

They say 2-0 is the most dangerous score-line and I’m inclined to agree, especially when you know you should have been several more ahead. Ultimately, City hadn’t done enough to put the game to bed.

It’s been a common feature all season and Pep bemoaned our softness in our defensive third again. Against Everton at home, Southampton, Chelsea, Spurs today and so many more we’ve dominated, had plenty of shots, yet still succumbed to the first few attempts on our goal. The problems now are more than a blip – more than just ‘bad luck’ and they cannot continue to be attributed to just that. There is a real issue defending open spaces in our box and preventing other teams from creating goal-scoring chances of a high quality. These issues are costing us just as much as our wayward finishing and will no doubt haunt Pep Guardiola.

Jesus rises again – but can he heal Aguero’s slump?

There was a hell of a cameo from City’s Brazilian teenage debutant Gabriel Jesus. I’ve been following him closely since he signed and to see him at the Etihad doing everything he’s been doing in and for Brazil was surreal. Jesus is an extraordinary talent and his nearly-assist, nearly-goal and offside finish is indicative of the magic he possesses in his locker.

Gabriel Jesus’ arrival will have a positive impact in more ways than one. He will provide genuine competition to Sergio Aguero who really needs to get back among the goals this season – particularly against the big sides. In six games this season against the current top seven, Aguero has zero goals. I really want to talk about Aguero in detail and about his supposed big game shyness but I’ll have to leave it for another time. All I know is that Aguero desperately needs to start proving himself in these games and Jesus was a signing for the future as much as it was one to give Aguero a royal kick up the arse.

The wrong side of refereeing decisions – again!

Guardiola reportedly wanted a meeting set up with the referees’ chief Mike Riley in the hope of understanding English referees. Today’s performance from Andre Marriner will only validate his reasoning.

City have been on the wrong end of a few refereeing decisions this season but it is the timing which seems to exacerbate Guardiola. In his post-match interview, he bemoaned Marriner’s inability to spot Kyle Walker’s shove on Sterling that should’ve resulted in a red card and penalty, and he continued with his tirade by comparing it to David Luiz getting off scot-free for his shove on Aguero against Chelsea. Raheem Sterling’s penalty denial last week at such a pivotal moment only adds salt to an already deep wound.

Marriner’s performance was genuinely disgraceful and he will no doubt follow Mike Dean to the Championship next week. He failed to spot a huge, blatant foul and his seemingly inability to play advantage frustrates me to no end. He, as much as our defending and finishing, has cost us today.

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