EPL

Manchester City serene against sorry Spurs as roles are reversed at the Etihad

By Sports Desk February 13, 2021

If a week is a long time in football, what of 12 weeks?

When Manchester City visited Tottenham on November 21 and lost 2-0, they fell to 11th in the Premier League, already eight points behind their opponents after eight matches.

Victory took Spurs to the summit, as they ended the day there for the first time in six years.

Jose Mourinho was the coach downplaying title talk. "We are just fighting to win every match," he said. "But we are going to lose matches, we are going to draw matches."

He was not wrong.

Their latest loss, at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, meant Tottenham have just one win in six in all competitions and now harbour only outside ambitions of the top four, let alone top spot.

There were certainly similarities – in the first half, at least – between November's 2-0 Spurs triumph and Saturday's 3-0 City success, similarities that may reasonably irritate both coaches.

Mourinho could rue Harry Kane's early free-kick, which bounced away off the post when it might have instead teed up another evening of frustration for City.

Pep Guardiola oversaw dominant displays on each occasion – 60.9 per cent of possession and 15 attempts this time – but can still point to three points inexplicably dropped in the reverse fixture, even if they appear highly unlikely to cost his side.

For City are now the side in the ascendancy, seven points clear of Leicester City with a game in hand to play and finally enjoying the rub of the green against Tottenham.

In six prior meetings between the sides going back to 2019, City had three times been exasperated by damaging VAR decisions and twice missed penalties, winning on two occasions but exiting the Champions League with one of those victories on an epic night at the Etihad.

Tottenham took their turn to appeal in vain after 21 minutes when the ball evaded Ilkay Gundogan in the area but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's clumsy challenge did not, allowing Rodri to step up for a spot-kick that crept beyond Hugo Lloris.

The goalkeeper has saved three City penalties in a Spurs shirt and should have done better with this one, just as he should Gundogan's tame second-half toe-poke, bringing a miserable end to a week the World Cup winner – also at fault at Everton in the FA Cup – would surely rather forget.

At the other end of the scale from the lacklustre Lloris, Rodri and Joao Cancelo, rampant again, have transformed their City careers since struggling away at Tottenham, while two-goal Gundogan is Europe's form player; no-one in the 'top five' leagues can match his nine strikes in 2021.

Indeed, an apparent groin injury shortly after Gundogan netted his second should concern City, but this latest great Guardiola team do not appear to miss their stars.

Ruben Dias, whose only defeat in English football came in the game at Spurs, was kept on the bench by a fever. Record goalscorer Sergio Aguero returned to the matchday squad for the first time in over a month. Kevin De Bruyne, the best of the lot, remains out.

On this evidence, the next man up will see City safe in their pursuit of another title and then perhaps an unprecedented quadruple.

This is a season defined by injuries and absences, where Liverpool are lost without Virgil van Dijk and "the Harry Kane team" returned no goals and no points from the two matches which their talisman sat out.

Without PFA Players' Player of the Year De Bruyne in the XI this term, City have taken 19 points from a possible 21, scoring 2.4 goals per game (up from 1.8) and conceding 0.3 (down from 0.8). They have collectively improved to fill the void, extending their record-breaking winning run to 16 matches.

Under pressure in November, Guardiola now has a breadth of options, a brilliant side and is even beating Tottenham. It is his league to lose.

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