Manchester City keep control of title destiny with subdued win over Tottenham
After the thrills of Wednesday's Champions League clash, this league encounter fails to replicate the drama as Phil Foden's goal proves the difference
If it was the subdued sequel to an action-packed epic, the consequences could be considerable. Manchester City overcame one of the two biggest hurdles to retaining their title.
Equally, they approach the other, Wednesday’s Manchester derby, without the injured Kevin de Bruyne. They have beaten Spurs twice in a week, but each victory has come at a cost. At least this may yield a prize.
“Ten [wins] in a row in the Premier League; it is not bad,” Pep Guardiola said. “With 86 points after 100 last season, it is one of the most remarkable things I live in my career.”
There was another statistical distinction: Phil Foden’s winner made him the third youngest player to score for City in the Premier League. Only Micah Richards and Daniel Sturridge have proved more precocious and the 18-year-old’s performance justified Guardiola’s decision to select him.
“Now I am a genius,” joked the City manager; he may call upon the teenager again in midweek after De Bruyne hurt himself shooting; maybe his gargantuan efforts in the Champions League took their toll.
The Belgian booted the ball out and sat down on the turf in disappointment, perhaps fearing his stop-start season had reached a premature conclusion with a fifth injury.
“I don’t know how big the impact is,” said Guardiola. “But midweek he will be out.”
But injuries and fatigue took their toll. “Both sides weren’t at their best,” said Pochettino, who used Juan Foyth as an ersatz wing-back, with his fellow Argentine acquitting himself well. When Dele Alli was removed for Danny Rose, a makeshift midfielder, it indicated the extent to which Pochettino had a patched-up group.
Understandably, both sides lacked the intensity they normally possess. Spurs stood off City too much. These managers are adherents of a pressing game but this match was played at an altogether more relaxed pace. The importance was not reflected in the feel.
Yet without fervent closing down in midfield, chances were fashioned. City’s fast starters struck in the opening six minutes for the fifth time in seven matches. Bernardo Silva chipped a cross to the far post, Sergio Aguero headed it back across the six-yard box and Foden applied the finishing touch.
“Phil has the quality to arrive in the box,” added Guardiola. Paulo Gazzaniga, deputising for Hugo Lloris, later produced a terrific save to deny Raheem Sterling.
The winger was one of three City players shortlisted for PFA Player of the Year on Saturday, along with Aguero and Silva. The Portuguese was much the best of the nominees, with unstinting effort and considerable creativity.
Aymeric Laporte also impressed; culpable for each of Son Heung-Min’s double on Wednesday, he redeemed himself in part with a magnificent recovery challenge on the South Korean.
Pochettino praised another who protected City’s clean sheet. “The man of the match was Ederson,” he said. The Brazilian made crucial saves from Son, Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura.
Son almost replicated his heroic midweek feats; one solo surge took him 50 yards before Ederson blocked his shot. It was the second time in four days that Spurs illustrated their attacking threat. “At least we deserved a draw,” added Pochettino.
Technology could have lent a different outcome. There was no VAR this time, which perhaps saved Spurs when Jan Vertonghen clipped Silva’s heels in the box and Aguero’s shot went via Toby Alderweireld’s foot on to his hand. Likewise, Alli was denied when he appealed that Kyle Walker had handled.
“Don’t talk to me about the referee today,” added Guardiola. “There were two penalties, one for our side.”
Pochettino refused to complain, an attitude that has stood him in good stead this season. Champions League semi-finalists are yet to book their spot among Europe’s elite next season.
“It is in our hands to be in the top four,” Pochettino said. Three of their remaining four matches are at home and Guardiola offered his endorsement. “Tottenham is going to finish top four with the games they have,” he said.
Updated: April 20, 2019 07:00 PM