They say Jesus forgives all sins but Manchester City’s new 19-year-old forward may not be too accepting of the decision that ruled out his 83rd minute tap in, even if the raising of the offside flag was one of the rare correct decisions in this match. Turning water into wine may be a straightforward task but converting chances into legitimate goals could be an assignment too difficult even for the Brazilian wonderkid who certainly got bums off seats in his first 15 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. At least my wild, premature celebrations weren’t caught on camera.
Broadcast on television, however, was Andre Marriner’s decision to ignore Kyle Walker’s blatant shove on Raheem Sterling in the Tottenham penalty area. Alongside very real fears over what Donald Trump may choose to do with the nuclear warheads in his back garden lie concerns about the rise of artificial intelligence in 2017, but the idea of robots becoming the dominant form of intelligence in the Premier League sounds like a very good one to me. If that means we no longer have to listen to Howard Webb try and justify horrific refereeing mistakes every week, then surely it’s worth investing all of that money into something useful.
We’ll look back on that call and feel aggrieved, though perhaps the 15 shots we failed to hit the back of the net with should be more deserving of our attention. Even playing football as delicious as we played today, we’re still not converting our chances.
And it’s true that City were superb in Saturday’s late kick-off. Leroy Sané returned to the team and was excellent down the left side where he showed Kyle Walker what real pace is all about. The young German is evidence that even though the football supporter’s understanding of the game is growing more technical in nature, there’s still a big place in the heart for raw, unadulterated speed and skill. Sané was part of the high-pressing quartet that suffocated Mauricio Pochettino’s back line.
The Spurs boss was forced into an unfamiliar admission after the game, telling reporters “it was true Manchester City were better than us. I have to be honest”. Guardiola, aware of the problems afflicting his squad, said “we performed outstanding. It was a déjà vu game”. As Silva watched a fierce effort sting Lloris’s palms and an impressive left-footed smack from Zabeleta fizzed just wide, the fans, and Guardiola, could have been forgiven for half-expecting a Goodison-style hiding. Watching a strike-force that struggles so much in front of goal and a defence that seems to crumble every time it is attacked can be incredibly unnerving.
But City’s persistence was a welcome surprise, especially given Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolás Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov and Gaël Clichy were the members of the four-man defence chosen to protect Claudio Bravo’s goal. In front of them, with the unenviable task of tracking Mousa Dembélé, Dele Alli and Victor Wanyama, was Yaya Touré. Pep looked to have calculated his side’s suicide but David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne ensured Yaya would not be the lone screener in the first third. De Bruyne has demonstrated many times this season just how impressive his work rate is, but the way Silva protected his back four and dictated the game from deep revealed yet that there is no limit to the magician’s brilliance.
There were fears that a few stern words from Pochettino would perk Spurs into life after the break until Sané capitalised on a Hugo Lloris error to put us ahead. I’d mentioned before the game in a conversation with a friend how I’d kill for a keeper like the Frenchman in our team, but here he was putting Bravo to shame. De Bruyne’s floated pass was terrific; Lloris’s attempted clearance less so, and Sané showed great tenacity to rob the ball from the keeper and pass into an empty net.
Finally, justice for an outstanding performance. Just another 40 odd minutes to go. Was it too much to ask for City to hang on or even grab a second? For a moment, all of our prayers were being answered as Lloris dropped his second clanger of the half to allow De Bruyne to tap in from a yard out. Tottenham’s stopper will have been livid with himself for failing to collect Sterling’s cross.
City were fantastic value for their lead as calls for new signing Gabriel Jesus to come on and complete the demolition were made. Guardiola saw no reason to change, clearly enjoying his team’s upturn in fortunes from the view of the dugout. In hindsight, a tactical shift to a back 10 for the final 40 minutes may have been a sensible move. After all, Spurs had still not had a shot on target and we all know what happens when you do that against this City side.
In fairness, Bravo could have done nothing to stop Alli’s close-range header from going past him. Clichy, on the other hand, may have given Walker less time to navigate the perfect cross into the 18-yard-box.
Yet still no sign of a collapse. The side were persisting with their harassment of Tottenham’s defence with just 15 minutes left to play Sterling found himself clear through on goal. The 22-year-old had been guilty of some unnecessary dithering in the first half, but here he was set to open up his body and slide the killer past Lloris. Walker knew it too, and proceeded to push Sterling off balance, forcing his England teammate into an involuntary toe-poke straight into the keeper’s arms. “I wasn’t going to get [the ball] otherwise. You have to put him off as much as possible,” explained Walker at the final whistle, basically admitting that City should’ve been awarded a penalty. It was refereeing incompetence at its finest.
And how fucking inevitable it was to see Spurs go up the other end and nick an equaliser just moments later. Harry Kane was offside, but Son Heung-min’s finish from the edge of the box was a good one and regardless of whether the goal should have stood or not, the South Korean should not have been given that much space. It was absolutely gutting.
The script was written for Jesus to come on and grab the winner on his debut and we all thought he had before the flag went up, capping off another thoroughly frustrating day. It’s hard to be positive after a result as deflating as that, though the fact that City have now completely outplayed Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur may suggest that, despite the flaws, we’re not that far away.