Football Features

VAR denies Man City again, but De Bruyne’s mastery of Beckham’s signature move should terrify Liverpool & Co

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:22, 17 August 2019

Spurs pulled off an incredible result to draw 2-2 with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

The Premier League Champions were held despite dominating the game from start to finish. Twice they were suckerpunched by Spurs, who struck so far against the run of play their point is basically the equivalent to a homerun on the Travelator from Gladiators.

The tempo and momentum of this game almost wholly belonged to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men were absolutely incredible in terms of the way they moved the ball all around the field and how they created chances at will, particularly in the first half. It’s absurd that they only managed to score two goals given how much more of the ball they had.

City had 30 shots, 10 of which hit the target. That’s just the second time Spurs have ever faced that many shots since Opta began tracking data. And this wasn’t just a side resorting to potshots from range against a parked bus, either; 22 of City’s shots came from inside the box. So City were constantly working the ball into good shooting positions and then letting fly.

The ease with which they reduced Spurs, ostensibly a serious footballing side, to looking like a collection of drunk contest-winners on the pitch is genuinely impressive. The reigning Premier League champions were imperious, recording 55.7% possession throughout the game and a 90.6% pass accuracy. That’s 90.6% for their entire team – which is patently absurd given Oleksandr Zinchenko played the last 15 minutes on one leg.

But OK. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Manchester City didn’t win. They were caught cold by Spurs, twice. The first time it was a baffling bit of goalkeeping from Ederson, who was way too far out of position and also late to react to Erik Lamela’s shot. The second time it appeared no one knew who was supposed picking up Lucas Moura, who had only come off the bench 19 seconds prior.

Mistakes happen, even to great sides. For two to happen in one game is unlucky. For two to happen in one game where you are so dominant is a little ridiculous. But perhaps the lack of a defensive leader like Vincent Kompany could be a factor? It is churlish to assume the Belgian would have prevented both goals but as good as Aymeric Laporte is, there’s no sense that he is a leader of men in the same manner as Kompany (Otamendi, meanwhile, is like a large child). It should be interesting to watch how this unfolds over the weeks.

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If City could be blamed for the two goals conceded, there can be nothing but distaste for the way that their game-winning goal was disallowed. Alright, maybe if you support Spurs, Liverpool or Manchester United it wasn’t so bad, but otherwise that was absolutely ridiculous. By the letter of the law it was a correct decision, but the law is wrong in this instance and doesn’t seem designed to take into account the fact that slow-motion replays VAR brings can determine whether or not a handball was avoidable by the perpetrator.

Anyway, it is what it is. Unlike in last season’s Champions League (when this same thing happened to City if you can believe it, knocking them out) this happened in a league match and City have 36 games to make up for this disappointment. And on the evidence of tonight they are still the best side in the country. Perhaps the planet.

Spurs ended the game at the Etihad with three shots. Three. Two of those were the goals. City’s total was literally three times what Spurs managed. Pep Guardiola organised his side to create constantly and continuously change their angle of attack.

In the first half Kevin De Bruyne was the Belgian Beckham, bending crosses in from the right (Gary Neville, one of Beckham’s team-mates, said post-match that he put De Bruyne “in that same bracket” as Beckham and Steven Gerrard in terms of his delivery from the right-flank, which is some Everest-levels of high praise). But in the second half he turned into the North-West Neymar, dribbling in from the left-flank to create from there. The Belgian ended the match with nine chances created, NINE! That is palpably nonsense from one player, never mind the variety of the chances he ended up making. City were always evolving, probing for the weak spot.

On some occasions they found it, and some weak finishing got in their way. Bernardo Silva in particular had a great chance that he should have buried. Finishing is the only point where you could be disappointed in City because they should smashed Spurs straight off the park scoring at least four or five, but beyond that they were mesmeric. Frankly even in terms of goalscoring, they still managed to score a stoppage-time winner, even under immense pressure. So that’s probably not even something to criticise them all that much because they still did enough to get the win.

Manchester City dropped points today, and that’s not good. But Liverpool and the rest shouldn’t get too excited because everything else about City’s performance was sensational. Their ball movement, their passing, their possession, even their defending despite letting them down at two key moments saw them put Spurs in a chokehold. They owned the ball and the game. Tanguy Ndombele did nothing. Giovani Lo Celso was barely a blip. Harry Kane was an irrelevance. That is unspeakable dominance. Manchester City had won 16 consecutive league games before today, and now powered by De Bruyne’s ceaseless creativity they’ll probably recover from this setback and plough ahead to win another 10 or so in a row. That’s how good they were, that’s how good they are, and that’s how good they will be.