Football Features

Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five things learned as Guardiola’s plan backfires

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:16, 9 April 2019

In a tense night, Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 1-0 at Tottenham Stadium.

The victory gives Spurs a huge win and home clean sheet as they now head up to the Etihad Stadium for next week’s second leg. What did we learn?

1. Rising Son

Son Heung-min scored Spurs’ first goal at their new stadium a week ago against Crystal Palace, then on Tuesday they needed someone to step up and score their first Champions League goal in their new stadium. Sure, many would have bet on Harry Kane – but no.

On Tuesday, Son was constantly making superb runs off the ball into space, operating as an outlet ahead of Kane even when he was on the pitch. Then when Kane went off injured, many would have panicked. But Son has proven capable of carrying Spurs despite the absence of the phenomenal English striker.

When Christian Eriksen had the ball outside the Spurs box, he looked up and needed an outlet. Of course it was Son making the run behind Delph. Eriksen’s pass had a bit too much mustard on it but the Korean scrambled to keep it in. Turning back on himself, he moved into the middle of the pitch and rifled the ball low beneath Ederson to give Spurs a priceless lead. Two goals in two games could see Son rising into form at just the right moment for Spurs.

2. Hugo Boss

Hugo Lloris is an entertaining fellow. He makes big mistakes with reasonable regularity and even does so in big games (anyone remember him “doing a Karius” in the 2018 World Cup final???) and in all honesty if a goalkeeper was as error-prone as Lloris is, then you’d hesitate to rely on him in crunch games and situations.

Yet no one ever doubts Lloris, at least not at Spurs or for France, and Tuesday showed why. Lloris is a player capable of wondrous moments of skill that pull his side out of the fire. Against City that was his brilliant save from Sergio Aguero’s penalty, denying the Citizens a tie-turning away goal. From there on out he was an impressive force, dominating his area whenever he was called upon.

3. Handball Hullabaloo

First, there was Paris. Presnel Kimpembe’s loose arm blocking Diogo Dalot’s shot leading to a last minute penalty for Manchester United. Marcus Rashford scored, and United advanced. There was so much discussion about whether or not it was a handball in England, yet on the continent only Parisians were really upset about it. Most knew, those generally get given.

So again at Tottenham Stadium, Raheem Sterling lashes a shot at goal and Danny Rose raising his arm before diving to block the shot was given as a penalty. As it turned out Sergio Aguero missed but the discussion about the award of the penalty and how this invalidated VAR was absurd to witness.

The laws of the game are interpreted very clearly in European leagues and indeed the Champions League. That’s why so many defenders from these leagues approach wingers with their hands behind their backs, they know any touch, not just an overtly “deliberate” one that English fans are conditioned to expect, can be given a penalty. English fans and media need to accept this is the new fact.

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4. Kane.O.

Fabian Delph and Harry Kane went in for a 50/50 by the touch-line and the Manchester City man’s challenge went over the ball and into Kane’s ankle, trapping it in the turf and twisting it horribly. Instantly Kane limped off down the pitch in pain and without even thinking about it, began hobbling down the tunnel supported by two Spurs coaches.

This was a huge moment for Spurs, who genuinely looked the equal of City before that. Mauricio Pochettino was livid about the challenge on his star man although given the rushing nature of it, it did seem like it was mostly bad luck more than malice on Delph’s part.

The Argentine coach sent on Lucas Moura as a replacement and Spurs won the match in the end, but the injury to Kane looked a genuinely bad one, and Spurs will greatly fear losing their star striker for the crucial run-in. They are fully embroiled in a top four race and fully competing in the Champions League, and to do those things without Kane is much, much harder.

5. Pep’s plan backfired

This match was expected to be a tactical festival, two managers constantly trying to tweak things and out-think each other. Instead what happened was two teams playing very generic versions of their usual gameplan, doing “their thing” but in as stripped-down and basic a way as possible so as not to give anything away ahead of the second leg and their league meeting to come.

For Spurs, who generally didn’t have the ball and played on the break, this was alright. That sort of transition play and a mid-block press is usually pretty easy to implement (although a huge credit must go to Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks for executing it so well) but for Manchester City, who had most of the ball, this kind of bland and basic approach was going to be a problem.

You see, the strength of Pep Guardiola’s side is that the intensity of the passing (or at least, the design of their approach to control the tempo and up it at a moments notice) is what destabilises and unlocks defences. When a Pep Guardiola team tries to coast, bad things happen unless one of their brilliant individuals steps up and does something amazing.

Well, none of City’s men stepped up. In fact Aguero actively botched a great chance to give City a price when he missed a penalty. Besides that he and Sterling were poor and Riyad Mahrez was absolutely awful. What this amounted to was impotent, lifeless display where they failed to really pressure Hugo Lloris.

Pep’s attempts to avoid giving too much away to Pochettino as well as combating his typical struggles away from home in the knockout rounds of the Champions League only contributed to ensuring that defeat. Guardiola has now lost 10 of his 26 knockout matches away from home, winning just six in total. Luckily for him he’s much better at home, but City have a mountain to climb now.