Football Features

“It’s deja vu all over again” – Five things learned as Son and Spurs stun Man City with superb defensive display

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:59, 21 November 2020 | Updated: 9:35, 30 March 2021

In an incredibly by-the-book night of football, Spurs beat Manchester City to go top of the Premier League.

The win was truly by the numbers in that all of it has happened more than once before as City were undone by the same old flaws. What did we learn?

1. It’s deja vu all over again

Spurs upset Manchester City thanks to a Heung-min Son goal exposing a poor bit of defending by Aymeric Laporte and there was a questionable VAR decision that went against City in a controversial yet somewhat humorous way.

Are we talking about Spurs’ 1-0 win against City in the Champions League? Or the 2-2 draw at the Etihad that knocked them out? Or last season’s 2-0 league win at Tottenham Stadium? Or are we talking about tonight?

It’s a trick question because that description applies to all of those games. City against Spurs is one of those fixtures that seems to have become fated to follow the same script over and over and over again.

José Mourinho has hit upon a formula that Mauricio Pochettino accidentally fell into, and so far it works every time so there’s no chance he will change anything. The only way to break this cycle is for Pep Guardiola and City to find a new level of confidence and focus, a new direction and intent. City must do better, or this will keep happening.

2. Long Live The King

Harry Kane is an absolute beast of a striker. A true world-class player who doesn’t even need to score to have a massive impact on the game. Tonight at the Etihad the Spurs captain was absolutely unplayable. It feels like every 50/50 battle went his way, and he really did manage to make mincemeat of the Man City centre-backs in a way few strikers without pace have been able to.

Mind you he wasn’t exactly a snail when his delightful turn and run put him in the perfect spot to play Gio Lo Celso in for Spurs’ second goal. That was Kane’s 9th assist of the season so far, which is the best in Europe’s top five leagues. Kane the creator is as lethal as Kane the goalscorer is as dangerous as Kane the target-man is as useful as Kane the hard-tackling defensive forward? Yes, that’s right. Harry Kane is turning into some absurd combination of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dirk Kuyt.

That should be illegeal. It probably is. Yet here we are.

Long Live King Kane!

3. City’s weak links need replacing

Pep Guardiola signed an extension to his Manchester City contract this week for a further two years. Implicit in that renewal is the idea that Pep will now oversee an evolution of City’s squad, where current veterans are moved on and replaced.

This change needs to be a bit more dramatic than the piece-by-piece changes that Pep has been making all through his time with City, because he’s got to target some well-established members of the squad just like Spurs targeted them at the Etihad.

Kyle Walker, for instance, is constantly exposed by opponents. Not regularly, but there seems to always be a mistake in him. And he’s nowhere near creative enough in attack to offset these mistakes. Tonight he was mostly solid at the back, tracking back well, but then when pushed high despite doing nothing with the ball. Then of course came the mistake: he was nowhere to be seen as Gio Lo Celso streaked into space he should have been marking and scored Spurs’ second.

And Ederson, the passing wizard in City’s goal, is starting to become a problem as well. He just seems to make a little mistake in every single game, or if not an outright error then a decision so baffling it may as well be a mistake.

Tonight, for instance, Ederson didn’t make a mistake for either of Spurs’ goals but you came away from both strikes with the intense sensation that he basically allowed them to happen by rushing off his line to confront the Spurs strikers which did nothing but give them easy low shots underneath him. Had he stayed on his line, they would have had narrow angles from which to score from, and who knows what happens then?

But this is the issue: these established figures need replacing if City are to ever get back to their elite level. It’s a tough decision, but that’s why City pay Pep the big bucks.

4. Eric not so dire: a defender reborn

When José Mourinho took over, the two players everyone wanted to see play under him were Dele Alli and Eric Dier, because everyone wanted to know which of them was going to be José’s typical “victim” – or maybe it would be both?

Turns out, Mourinho went after Dele. And instead of joining him, Dier has become a mountainous centre-back. Yes, a centre-back! Pulled back from defensive midfield, Mourinho has made use of Dier’s enormous frame and defensive skill to be a literal and figurative wall in the way of opponents. Tonight City could not escape Dier, and every time the ball went into the box it seems like he was there to get it away.

8 clearances was a game-high. As was 3 blocks. Dier’s numbers were as impressive as his display. Reinvented to the degree that even Gareth Southgate has followed Mourinho’s lead and moved Dier into the country’s defence.

Mourinho’s ability to develop attackers has always been suspect at best, but he is routinely a monster-maker in defence. And Eric Dier is his latest creation. A hulking, magnificent figure that stops opponents dead in their tracks. A defender reborn.

5. Spurs going all the way?

Spurs will end a day top of the league for the first time in six years, but even that wasn’t in late November. Obviously it’s still early to declare title favourites, but as long as Spurs keep Kane and Son fit then it’s hard to argue that there is a more clear and coherent team playing at the absolute peak of their powers in the Premier League.