At least Tottenham didn’t Arsenal any services in the title race. Every cloud and all. But the silver lining is more of a sliver for the Spurs and Antonio Conte, who can’t even count on their yearly success to win three points against the Etihad this season.
It was there for the taking. In the first half, City turned off the alarm and opened the front door for the Spurs to break into the bar. Ederson took it upon himself to lead Dejan Kulszewski into the heart of the penalty area. Not surprisingly, Etihad greeted the whistle for a break with a whistle.
However, Tottenham’s reaction to dominance was a Spurs cliché, a kind of collapse that Antonio Conte had to eradicate. At both ends of the field, key players were getting in the way, Hugo Lloris was expanding his repertoire of mistakes, and Heungmin Son was giving further indications that it wasn’t a hesitation that the 30-year-old had begun his slump.
Champions League qualification looks increasingly unlikely for Spurs, who are behind Newcastle and Manchester United by five points by playing a game more. Would Conte be left without him? Should he? Kane? One win would not change the great existential questions that hover over Tottenham, but it would give all parties a breather. This victory could be taken away, at least for a while.
For 45 minutes, City’s control was passive, conservative, Pep Guardiola’s worst habits showed up in Kevin De Bruyne absence. All possession, all patience, no penetration. Rico Lewis was excellent in the role he was assigned, moving from right-back to third midfielder, but his presence in midfield only strengthened the central areas even more. Passing progress was painfully slow and the Spurs were too willing to give their opponents time to make the game easier.
After all, it’s hardly the worst strategy to wait for a mistake that’s been happening all too often on City’s part lately. The risks involved in Ederson’s cavalier play with the ball at his feet are offset by the rewards that come with his contribution to possession, but every now and then he will pick the wrong moment to ask for something from Rodri. This time, Rodrigo Bentancur intervened, and Kulusevski decisively punished the mistake. In the cavalcade of chaos that this Tottenham game was, the Swede brought grace under pressure. Many of his teammates could learn from him.
However, at half-time it looked like a bit of bedlam might be enough for the Spurs to push their way to three points. Harry Kane a signature kick forced Ederson to raise the ball with his palm in the air and emerson The piano, playing with the bewilderment of a man who suddenly woke up from a dream, hit his head on the rebound. All it took from now on was a bit of determination and organization on the defensive, something of the kind of solidity that Tottenham showed in the second half of last season. Add to that a sharp advantage over the infrequent retaliatory strikes that can happen on their own, and Spurs will be in good shape.
Boos called Etihad. The title defense seemed to be falling apart and it was the manager’s fault, yet another game lately where the manager seemed to have decided to make things more difficult for no reason. This approach cost City the game until it won for them.
Of course, in addition to the fact that Guardiola looked into the Etihad dressing room and told his players: “Guys, this is Tottenham.” Insisting on the passage of the center, “City” began to hit on the flanks. Riyad Mahrez too ready to dance sponsored when Ivan Perisic asked him to stand on his right foot. Lloris raced into no man’s land flapping his wings in the fresh air before Julián Alvarez swerved.
The Frenchman has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League over the past decade, not averse to shouting but able to display outstanding belligerence when the mood strikes. In his fall years, the Spurs captain may have gained some level of consistency, often actively hurting the cause by badly stopping shots. Lloris was in no man’s land when Mahrez headed a goal to make Haaland swerve into goal, a deflection off Ben Davis certainly made the Algerian’s shot harder to deal with the City winner, but when those mistakes aren’t countered by impressive saves elsewhere, sympathy will be in short supply from angry Tottenham fans.
They see that what is left of their great team of the last decade is rapidly aging. Harry Kane is still a threat, but his partner Son is a shadow of himself. Now that he has chances to resist his touches, they become heavy, the burst of speed is nowhere to be seen when Jack Grealish bounced back to knock the ball down.
What is most disturbing is that a player who was completely instinctive seems to be a prisoner of his thoughts. It seems like Son’s every move requires attention that he didn’t need as he raced towards the Golden Boot. He needs the extra contact that the Premier League doesn’t give anyone. The player, with his individual accomplishments in the Tottenham shirt, may feel he has earned the right to try to get back in shape, but Conte must surely see his cause hampered by Son’s presence on the team.
Again, the Spurs do not have a manager they have appointed to make difficult decisions about the long-term viability of their greats. Conte has been brought in to make up for what’s left of this team, and every press conference he makes makes clear his distaste for rebuilding work. But when it seems like your captain and half of your transformative front line is in decline, it’s time to brush things up.