Manchester City 4-3 Tottenham: 16 conclusions



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1) "When you play so many times against each other, it becomes like the basketball play-off," said Pep Guardiola in his 2013 biography, Another way to win. "You do one thing; they respond with another, you respond in another way. "

Here lies the most succinct way of describing The most ridiculous game you can care to see. Manchester City did one thing, Tottenham responded with another and City responded in even more creative ways in an intermittent and relentless cycle until the Spurs apparently went unanswered. Then Fernando Llorente hit a three-point kick from his bloody hip, the VAR denied Raheem Sterling in the additions and the injured Mauricio Pochettino entered the semifinals of the Champions League.

Guardiola was right six years ago: it was an end to end championship, breathless and brilliant. That was hardly the plan, mind.

2) The city entered the game with 20 of their last 21 games at Etihad Stadium. Tottenham made the trip with six defeats in the last seven away games. These two races continue, although not quite so.

There was more than a touch of sarcasm and flattery in Guardiola's statement before the match that he is "a failure in this competition," and that "if my teams do not win the Champions League, we fail all the time." There is a bit of sympathy for a manager who maintains the highest standard like no other, but Manuel Pellegrini still took the city to Europe.

Unprecedented home success compensates for this, but there will come a stage where this may not be enough for some – including Guardiola. The reaction to the mistakes of the first leg was fair and certainly set the stage for this bittersweet exit. And although they were not as dire as their mistakes last season against Liverpool, the campaign before in Monaco or in previous years, the damage done in the first leg could not be completely reversed.

3) With that said, Guardiola saw his European dreams come to an end for family enemies in consecutive seasons. The City have lost 30 Premier League points since August 2017, but domestic rivals have knocked them out in the Champions League twice this time.

Kenny Dalglish blamed Liverpool's knockout at Nottingham Forest in 1978 for their naivete against an English colleague. The holders of the European Cup were favorites of the champion of the first division, but were defeated by 2-0 in the first leg and tied 0-0 in the second.

"In Europe, a 1-0 defeat in the first match away from home is not usually a bad result," Dalglish said. "But as we were playing against family opponents of the league, we were chasing the game and we were punished when Colin Barrett scored."

Liverpool treated that tie as a sprint over one leg as opposed to a marathon over two. City tried to avoid this mistake with a regrettable but recoverable defeat in north London before blowing up the blocks in Etihad. They did not expect the Spurs to beat that pace and eventually succumb to the point.

4) The announcement of the formations seems to have been a time ago. And unlike the first leg, Guardiola managed to simplify the equation. Some questioned the decision to leave John Stones and Leroy Sane at the bank, but none of them were in favor recently. They were the right ones.

He suggested that City was hoping to end the night by putting some clothes on, such was his disrespect for keeping a clean sheet. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy were on hand to offer width, energy and attack purpose. City won 13 and drew one of 14 games that Mendy started alongside Laporte as center-left this season, scoring 35 goals and suffering just six.

But Laporte was being invited to perform the scary work of any player like Vincent Kompany's coach against the rhythm of Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura. City only started with a defense of Walker, Kompany, Laporte and Mendy twice, suffering in both games, and this inexperience of playing together showed.

4) However, it was not Kompany who was most guilty. Belgium's performance was the equivalent of waving a wet towel in a wildfire, but Laporte's display was akin to pouring a whole can of gasoline on it.

The Frenchman became the first player to commit two errors that led to goals in a single Champions League game this season with his assist to Son's equalizing goal matched by his Lucas pass to South Korea's second Laporte missed only nine passes in all games, but two of them were cataclysmic.

The city will regret the timing of Laporte's worst performance since joining in January 2018 in what was an excellent season. Whether fueled by worry about how the Kompany would handle or simply a disastrous but isolated 90 minutes is uncertain. But if it can not be trusted that neither Stones nor Nicolas Otamendi start in such a crucial game, Guardiola has to invest in a midfield this summer. Laporte can receive the benefit of the doubt, but Kompany is no longer appropriate when the stakes are so high.

5) It did not seem like much of a problem when Sterling opened the scoring in the fourth minute. His completion was as sensational as Kevin de Bruyne's run that preceded it, with Moussa Sissoko's decision to try to show the Belgian inside Tottenham midfield, proving a mistake.

De Bruyne hit the ball for Sterling who hit Hugo Lloris without any pressure from Kieran Trippier. Both he and Danny Rose endured a recklessly terrible first part, which City took advantage of by folding the side defenses in attack.

In his defense (pun intended), neither was very protected by those who stood before them. But as Rose improved in the second half and got a vital break after a Lloris defense, Trippier was still a problem that City – and virtually all other opponents of late – were constantly exploring. It's a strange thing to say about a player who has made it to the World Cup and Champions League semifinals in the last nine months, but improving his right back has to be Tottenham's summer priority.

6) Their approach was practically the same as City's: they saw a side without the solidity of Fernandinho and with Kompany at its core and felt that the simpler way would be the most effective.

They were not wrong. His first two goals were a direct result of Lucas dribbling the center of the soft core of City, forcing the mistakes of a panicked defense on both occasions. The absence of Harry Kane actually worked in Tottenham's favor, as opposed to having a central striker who tends to fall deeply, Son remained high to provide a constant threat and Lucas joined him in possession.

If the first half was a car chase down the freeway, Tottenham took the middle lane, while City constantly tried to overtake the left and right sides. That neither side seemed bothered enough to check his wing mirror and change course for sensational entertainment in the first half.

7) It would not have been possible without Son, who is genuinely one of the most feared finalists in Europe. Ederson was criticized for the first goal but was essentially a penalty with a moving ball that the Brazilian got a leg. He had no chance with the second, curled up beyond his reach and in the corner to give Tottenham the lead.

Keeping South Korean remains one of the The greatest decisions ever made by Pochettino. Tottenham initially signed with the son to offer a wide choice and provide back-up to Kane when needed, but he has become much more than a supportive act. He can genuinely be the club's most important player because of his unique skill set.

Gary Neville was right to point out the increased influence of large attackers in the Premier League this week. Son easily deserves to be a part of this conversation. Any club would be desperate to have it.

8) De Bruyne was the star of the city. As good as the race was that led to the opening goal of Sterling, his cross to the second of the striker was absolutely sublime. The Belgian began the play with a quick kick of absence before finishing the match, putting Sterling in the back post of the area, after a backback of Bernardo. It was impossible to defend.

This may have been the first real sign that the 27-year-old has fully recovered from problems with long-term injuries. De Bruyne had snapshots, glimmers of brilliance since his return, but this game finally provided the bigger picture. He created two times more chances than any player, finished the game with three assists and deserved better of some of his teammates. The lining of a silver lining in this gray of the clouds is that a de Bruyne in shape probably beats City in the Premier League title.

9) Bernardo Silva deserves more than a passing mention, as does Aguero. The first was a relentless force, with no teammate having more shots (4) and no players doing more tackles (5). The latter made up for his lack of first-hand with an excellent lead game, culminating in his assist for Silva to make it 2-2 in the evening.

Sterling, or winning a Premier League title with Fabian Delph on the left side, is certainly the biggest success story of Guardiola in the City. But Aguero's transformation from lethal shooter to center-to-front perfectly rounded was surprising. His goal threat remains – his second half means he has 30 in three consecutive seasons – but he almost equals Kane for his ability to dictate the game of deeper positions.

10) Half an hour provided a rare opportunity to catch your breath. Just then the gravity of what really happened sank: the four fastest goals ever in a Champions League game, surpassing the previous record in nine minutes; the fastest ever five goals in a Champions League game, beating the previous record by three minutes; the first game of the Champions League with two leadership changes in the first half; the fact that City suffered in the first ten minutes of any game in all competitions, twice since January 2017, and evened that count in a totally irrational period here.

Then there was a general fact: that we were watching the kind of legendary game that will always be repeated, but never repeated. Let these two sets of players and these two managers be able to prepare for this exact same game in the same circumstances again, but never recreate the drama that was played in the first half. For two teams with limited modern European experience, this is the most emphatic way to build this kind of story.

11) But the most decisive moment of the game happened just before the break. The Venerable Moussa Sissoko tried and tried, but could simply no longer play after suffering an apparent groin injury in an innocuous showdown with De Bruyne. With Tottenham losing the game 3-2, but leading the tie away from home, Pochettino faced a dilemma.

He knew he would come to this at some point, that he would look at the bench and mourn a summer of inaction. Tottenham's substitutes were combined by nine goals and 12 assists this season, seven and five of which Llorente represented respectively. Sane alone had 15 goals and 18 assists, so if anyone had the means to change the course of the game, if necessary, it was the City.

With four minutes to play until halftime, Pochettino debated whether Oliver Skipp was the right choice as a direct replacement for Sissoko. He could even bring in Davinson Sanchez and knock him out of Alli's back or move Rose to the left wing and switch Jan Vertonghen to the left side. He had options, though sparse.

Pochettino, whose substitutions have long been one of the few genuine points of contention in north London, opted to replace Sissoko with Llorente and essentially nullify the threat of Tottenham while weakening his resistance. It seemed like a chance that had almost killed her hopes.

12) But there is a reason why Pochettino is paid for this shit and I am not irrefutable. With a hook, curve, elbow or hip, Llorente scored the goal that led Tottenham into a corner in the 17th minute of the first half. The joy that filled Etihad after the goal of Aguero in the 59th minute was expelled from the stadium in an instant.

It was an objective that you certainly will not proposed rule changes are brought to the action, but that does not matter a bit this season. The city can and should feel very bad, but Tottenham have created their own fate.

For those who can still mock Pochettino because of their lack of trophies, defeat City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with Llorente at the front, a midfield of Alli and Wanyama and a well-kept cement bag on the side right retort. Add up the lack of a stadium for most of the season and the fact that your last hire was 441 days ago and this is already a small football miracle.

13) Wanyama's performance was far from perfect, but it was never likely to be. This was his seventh start of the season in all competitions and only the second in 2019, with Huddersfield at home hardly the most suitable test.

The Kenyan had played fewer minutes in this campaign (553) than Ilkay Gundogan had in the last 32 days (560) and David Silva in the last 39 (578). However, he turned it into a midfield war that City was desperate to avoid. It is not an insult to say that he has dragged them to their level.

Wanayama made four tackles, two breaks and two interceptions, and was the only Tottenham player to gain possession (8) more times than he (6). His decision to kick the ball to a kick in the middle of City after attacking Sane and being allowed to cross the unopposed midfield line in the extras summed up an almost accidentally clever display.

14) Then came the drama. One of Eriksen's few mistakes made him take the ball at half-time, but turned around and threw back, only for Bernardo to get a touch. He recovered all the way to Aguero, who enticed himself to Sterling to complete his hat-trick and the most unlikely but inevitable return.

"I must be one of the luckiest guys on the planet tonight," Eriksen said minutes after the VAR decided to leave because Aguero was marginally barred. "I thought it was all over, but it was a fun game. It was a roller coaster, we did a lot, but we also won a lot. It was a strange game.

It was certainly a strange ending. The fans of City and Tottenham felt exaltation and deflation in equal measure, as well as more than a minute of celebrations were pierced by the decision of Cuneyt Cakir to cancel the goal. And as someone who does not have a particular opinion on the subject and can see both arguments, really took some of the occasion.

15) But he does nothing to get out of the conquest. It seemed almost fitting that Tottenham should be defeated in the night, but progressed in total, losing the battle, but winning the war. This is a determined and determined side, born of the ashes of what came before them.

They did not deserve the victory, but they guarantee a place in the semifinals, and can no longer be hit with the "Spursy" brush. This is a completely different version of Tottenham, a side whose limits we still do not know – and limitations – that we do not yet know. This team lost their first two games of the group, tied the third and scored a goal down to 77 minutes of their quarter, but may well enter their semifinal as a favorite against a sensational Ajax. If their race so far has not given them the belief that they can beat anyone, this Wednesday must have.

For City, a mental block may be forming. These players are only machines to a certain extent, and will always end up succumbing to mental or physical fatigue or simply to luck. But they stumbled at this stage in consecutive seasons – albeit in completely different circumstances – and this is bound to have an effect.

With Guardiola still addicted to the light of the Champions League that blinds him, these scars may take even longer to heal than the last time.

16) He was right all along.

Matt Stead


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