In an intense and physical afternoon, Manchester City beat Spurs 1-0.
The win saw City show their mental resolve as they climbed back to the top of the league. What did we learn?
1. Phil Foden is Manc Lampard
Phil Folden hasn’t been played as often as the youngster would have liked this season; and certainly not as often as the English media wanted him to play. Foden is a spectacular young talent whom Guardiola has been keen on using, but is in no rush to fast-track him. As a result many have suggested Foden follow fellow Manchester City academy graduate Jadon Sancho and move abroad.
But Foden has remained loyal and has finally received his reward when he was selected to start this colossal clash at the top of the Premier League. And he started his start in startling fashion, heading City into a fifth minute lead. It was a huge goal and the execution of it showed the unique tactical edge Foden brings: goals threat.
City’s midfielders are all great passers and creators, but they lack two key skills: controlling the tempo of a game and goal threat. And Phil Foden provides goal threat. He can pass, sure, and carry the ball, sure, but when he plays passes he follows them through, darting into the box and making himself an option for City, which is exactly what he did when his third-man run left him wide open for Aguero to find with a header across goal. The teenager leapt and thumped City into a lead with his first Premier League goal.
RATINGS: Every player marked out of 10 from Man City's 1-0 win over Tottenham – https://t.co/aBtS10Q23Z
Best = 9/10 👍
Worst = 4/10 👎 pic.twitter.com/StJ98iY6px
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 20, 2019
In so many ways the player Foden resembles is none of the current City stars, but a player whose presence at the Etihad was baffling and minimal: Frank Lampard. Foden’s ability to get forward and impact games, even ones as big as City vs. Spurs, is massively reminiscent of the Chelsea legend and could give his boyhood club a decade or more of pure goalscoring joy. Call him Manc Lampard!
2. Spurs sharper (against City) without Kane?
Harry Kane got injured half-way through Spurs’ first-leg Champions League win against Manchester City, and many predicted doom for Mauricio Pochettino’s men – but they’ve not really felt his loss. In fact in many ways they’ve looked better without him.
It’s absurd to suggest because Harry Kane is so obviously a world-class striker, but his physical limitations (i.e. he’s slow) mean that when Spurs play against Manchester City, a side that dominate possession and push them back into their own half, it’s harder for them to break.
Today against City, much as in midweek, with Heung-min Son blitzing into the Manchester City half and tormenting their defenders with his pace and movement. Ditto Lucas Moura. The combination of these two in attack was too much for City who survived by the skin of their teeth and a couple of very bold interventions from Ederson (that honestly could have gone another way). It was notable that Spurs bringing on Fernando Llorente as a focal point dramatically lessened the danger of every Spurs attack.
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3. De Bruyne injury highlights City’s achievement
Manchester City have been supreme all season. They are top of the league with just four games left to play. And they’ve done so despite not having Kevin de Bruyne for basically half the season. The Belgian has missed 14 games through injury this season, and he’s played many more some way short of fitness as well.
In City’s last two games, De Bruyne has been magnificent. In the Champions League against Spurs he bagged a hat-trick of assists as his creative genius almost saw the Sky Blues qualify. But today he had to go off after 38 minutes with another injury.
City gutted it out for the rest of the game and picked up a huge win, but if De Bruyne is going to miss any significant time then the rest of the season will be as much of an absurd test as the rest of this season has been. If City win the title without their best player for basically all of the campaign… you have to stand up and salute them.
4. Brilliant Bernardo Silva
As much as City have missed Kevin De Bruyne, the reason they are in the thick of a title race despite not having their best player for much of the season is down to Bernardo Silva. The creative genius who was signed from Monaco before last season and barely featured in 2017/18. Bernardo was almost an afterthought for Guardiola as City romped to a 100 point title win.
Bernardo Silva's game by numbers vs. Tottenham:
5 tackles made
4 chances created
And he gave his MOTM award to Phil Foden. 👏 pic.twitter.com/XIBqAznHjJ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 20, 2019
Not this season though. This season Silva has been focal for City whether he’s played in right-wing or central midfield. The fact that he has been so essential in two positions speaks to his brilliance, and today against Spurs it was his turn to Messi it up from the right-wing. Seriously, Spurs simply couldn’t get near Bernardo all afternoon long.
Bernardo bobbed, weaved, and regained possession 8 times – and no one else on the pitch could top that number and he created more chances (4) than anyone else too. A masterclass and he even gave his man of the match award to Phil Foden afterwards, just to prove he’s as good a person as he is a player… and he’s a pretty damn good play!
5. City’s mental strength is imposing
It can’t be easy to lose your best player for much of the season and just when he’s back and playing well, you lose him again. It can’t be easy to get turfed out of the Champions League on away goals with a last-minute winner getting ruled out by VAR. It can’t be easy to have to yet again function without your stud left-back because he can’t stay fit. And it can’t be easy to have to contend with a challenger as relentless as Liverpool FC have been and still win 10 games in a row at the back-end of the season.
Yet City have done all that. And today when they were getting ripped apart on the break by Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura, it would have been so easy for them to lose their heads. John Stones and Aymeric Laporte were often 2v2 with the Spurs forwards and playing with no margin for error and made no error.
Moreover Ederson, who was culpable in City’s Champions League elimination, stepped up and had a big game with some impressive 1v1 blocks. Pep Guardiola looked incredulous in the post-match interview when it was put to him that City had shown character today, the Catalan said, rightly so, that City have been showing their mental strength all last season and this one too. And whilst his tone was a bit insistent, he had every right to be because City are a side that are not deterred easily, which bodes well for the rest of the title race.