For José Mourinho, this was the definition of a plan that was taking shape. There was the satisfaction of introducing Giovani Lo Celso in the 64th minute and seeing him score Tottenham’s second goal almost immediately, with his first appearance. But it went deeper than that as Spurs got the result to take them to the top of the Premier League table.
Lo Celso’s goal was just a part of Mourinho, in the vernacular of his trade, doing a number on Manchester City and his rival and counterpart, Pep Guardiola.
The Spurs prepared to contain the City and they contained them. They prepared to hit the counter and hit the counter, with both goals coming from quick, direct moves as City engaged the men in front of the ball.
Son Heung-min got the first goal early on, following Tanguy Ndombele’s ball over the top, and Lo Celso finished after the Spurs went box-to-box through two players. The excellent Toby Alderweireld cleared from the edge of his own area to Harry Kane, who was just behind the middle of the road, and led the break before passing Lo Celso, who had rounded a smart run down the left inside channel.
Guardiola’s team was looking to play their normal game, grabbing possession and taking the fight to their opponents. But it was all a bit flat and predictable and time and time again they ran aground on the Spurs defense, in which Eric Dier also impressed. Guardiola had signed a two-year contract extension Thursday, which cleared a dark cloud, but there was no immediate tonic.
City remains in the middle of the table with a lot to ponder, among other things the question of where the goals have gone. They’ve scored just 10 in eight league games this season and it’s a far cry from their days when cricket scores soared.
Kevin De Bruyne is still her main man, but he has come to feel that there is too much dependence on him; that the creative load, in the absence of David Silva, is too heavy.
City had come to London with one of the meanest defenses in the league, but Spurs went ahead with their first push forward and it was too easy. Ndombele swung sharply into midfield, dropped his shoulder away from Bernardo Silva, and looked immediately at Son, who had found a large space to the left. Kane, who had fallen deep, a feature of the game, had attracted half of the City center, and João Cancelo arrived too late. They are shot into Ederson’s legs for his ninth goal of the season in the league and eleventh overall.
The Spurs almost scored again in the 13th minute after a break with Steven Bergwijn, who played ahead of Gareth Bale, and Son. Kane turned Son’s cross into an empty net, but it had drifted offside. The pattern, however, was set: the city was pushing high and investigating; Spurs digging and biding their time.
City had their moments in the first half and thought they had drawn in the 27th minute only for VAR to spot a hand from Gabriel Jesús before he threw a cross from Riyad Mahrez to Aymeric Laporte, who beat Hugo Lloris. The city would protest in numbers to the referee, Mike Dean. The decision was correct, but it seemed to unsettle them.
The Spurs’ defensive mettle was tested and they had the answers. Alderweireld, who would be forced to walk towards the end with a severe muscle injury, made an impeccably timed challenge to stop Jesús, while Moussa Sissoko again frustrated Ferran Torres on another occasion in the first half.
Rodri also headed straight for Lloris with a De Bruyne free kick, a huge wasted opportunity. At the other end, Rodri fell back in the 26th minute to strip Bergwijn after Kane led a counter, which featured an overlap from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The defensive midfielder was one of the stars of the Spurs, bringing tenacity and balance to the team.
De Bruyne got into good areas three times in the first 15 minutes of the second half only to fire a side shot and see the other two blocked by Dier.
The Spurs maintained their threat at halftime, with Son’s touch too strong from a pass from Kane in the 63rd minute after Ederson had left his line. City knew all about Mourinho’s tactic of pushing Kane back to create open spaces for forwards, to pick them himself at times, but they still felt hurt. Kane made the difference and when he set up Lo Celso, City broke down.
Guardiola brought in Raheem Sterling as a substitute but Sergio Agüero did not, and his team’s frustrations were summed up at the end when Lloris saved Rúben Dias point-blank.
A year after his appointment, Mourinho has Spurs where he wants them. He will travel to Chelsea next Sunday with optimism.
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