Well, that PSV result was so Spursy even the offside decision for Sanchez’s goal seemed par for the course.
Though, of course, had the same logic been applied to PSV’s equaliser, it would have been chalked off as well and we’d have still won that game…which we would have deserved, because we dominated possession, created some great chances, reacted to giving away a stupid goal against the run of play by scoring ‘twice’ in ten minutes, still went on to take the lead, hit the woodwork twice, and generally looked more inventive in the attacking third than we have in what feels like far too long.
But we are where we are, which is probably out of the CL – though I still think there are some twists and turns to come before that’s a given – with the doom-mongers excitedly predicting footballing Armageddon against City on Monday, which is how their visit to us last April is often portrayed.
Kicking off at the ridiculous time of quarter to eight on a Saturday evening (as does the Wolves game next weekend – ffs), it was another game where Hugo sadly failed to cover himself in glory. For Jesus’s 21st minute opener, he backpedalled when he probably should have closed down the angle. Then, three minutes later, he rushed out as he did against Barca and PSV, upending Stirling and giving away the penalty which pretty much killed off the game. Although Eriksen pulled one back with a deflected goal just before half-time, and although we did create some vague half-chances early on in the second half, it was one of those games where we never seemed ‘at it’, and Stirling missed an absolute sitter before finally putting the result beyond doubt in the 72nd minute.
City went on to be crowned champions the next day when the mighty Manchester United and that serial winner Mourinho lost at home to West Brom. For us, it was our first league defeat since City had traumatised us 4-1 in December and brought a six-match winning streak – including victories over Arsenal at ‘home’ and Chelsea away – to an end. That December defeat was also the first time we’d lost to City since May 2015. In the three consecutive victories over the Cityzens which followed, we probably played some of the best football we’ve seen under Poch; a four-one drubbing, a glorious two-one smash and grab at the Etihad, and one of the most one-sided two-nil batterings you’re ever likely to see in what was, I think, Pep’s first ever league defeat as City boss.
I feel a lot of the issues which undid City that day are similar to the issues spursying us up at the moment – Pep was insistent City play out from the back when Claudio Bravo in goal and full-backs Kolarov and Zabaleta just weren’t good enough to carry it off. We constantly hounded those three into errors and the majority of the game seemed to be played out between the edge of their area and the half-way line because they just couldn’t get through our press.
We pretty much did to them that day what we recently allowed Liverpool to do to us.
Pep’s answer to this was to spend roughly £140 million on a new goalkeeper and two new full-backs. Also, though, I feel he’s tweaked his tactics against us – our away game to them last season saw Ederson constantly bypass our high-press by launching the ball straight to an attacker in the way Pickford twice did to Kane ahead of breakaway goals in the recent England win over Spain, and City’s first goal at Wembley last time out came directly from a simple upfield punt from Kompany. When we have players with Moura’s pace and Kane’s ability to dominate world-class defenders when the ball’s there to be won, it seems baffling to me that we constantly restrict ourselves to slow-build ups from the back in an attempt to draw teams out and then play through them. It’s beautiful when it works – as it did for one of our goals against PSV, when Hugo touched the ball something like three times in the build-up and we had something like forty consecutive passes before scoring – but, at the moment, trying to play this way is constantly inviting the sort of errors made by Toby for their goal and Eriksen for Hugo’s sending off. The same sort of malarkey also led directly to us conceding that final goal against Barca.
I’m not advocating a massive change in approach, or binning Hugo – who was instrumental in our win against Spammers – just a bit of flexibility and practicality and some evidence that Poch and the team value winning over winning a certain way.
As for where we are at the moment, we’re one point better off than we were after the same number of games last season, and three points better off in terms of results against the same opponents. This time last year, we’d just done the Dippers 4-1 at Wembley in another of the stand-out performances under Poch, but were about to head up to Old Trafford for yet another surrender to a sub-par United – Toby Alderweireld allowing Lukaku to get his head to a long-ball first and Martial running on to the flick-on to score the game’s only goal in the 81st minute.
As so often with Tottenham, one step forward, one step back, and no bugger appealing for offside.
Given the way we’ve been architects of our own destruction so far in Europe this season, and given the gulf in class between us and City last season, it’s hard to look forward to Monday night’s game with any positive expectations, but with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all facing teams they would expect to beat (the arrogant tossers), losing this one could see us start to lose touch with a breakaway top four. [Ed: Arsenal only drew, lol]
I’m still a confirmed dumb-dumb, though, and refuse to let Wednesday’s late equaliser completely cloud the fact that we went away to a team undefeated in their own league so far this season (five points ahead of Ajax, who are presently top of their own CL Group) and, other than a couple of self-inflicted screw-ups, pretty much outplayed them.
We also went to Wet Spam last weekend and came away with all three points, something United and Chelsea have failed to do this season.
Minus several key players, we also went toe-to-toe with Barca at Wembley and were in no way played off the park.
Are City better than Barca? They’re possibly close to their level, but better? I think not. So, if I was a betting man, I’d be putting money us winning 3-1 on Monday, beating West Ham on Wednesday, then throwing all that good work away by losing to Wolves next Saturday night.
(Gif: Courtesy of Flat Oeuf, just having a little joke at my own expense)