With the necessity and desire to put the disappointment of Champions League elimination behind them, Manchester City had to set about the business of Premier League retention against the same opposition at the Etihad yesterday.
Tottenham Hotspur can be a thorn in the side. They are well organised and quick on the break where the inclusion of Son makes them look a totally different proposition to the team that contains Kane. Long-documented id Kane’s value – his selfishness for goals, the way he slows down play and the way he hunts for penalties and free kicks, not always in the spirit of the game. I for one prefer the Kane version because it suits City best, whereas the pace of Son and Moura cause problems at the back especially if Kompany or Otamendi are in the side.
Today Pep opted for what is probably the best centre-back pairing of Stones and Laporte, which must be the way forward.
The starting line-up which excluded Fernandinho in favour of Gundogan and David Silva in favour of 18-year old Phil Foden looked a bit ambitious. I have long since held the belief, especially since his long injury last season that Gundogan is in the bracket of Can and Ozil, capable but not always prepared to apply his skills. We have yet to see what Foden can do in the Premier League arena as a starter, at least we were until this match.
It started pretty much where the CL match left off, with both teams setting about it with attacking finesse. Both could have scored in the early exchanges and after only 5 minutes, City did.
The genius that is Bernardo Silva feigned outside, stepped inside and curled a beautiful ball in for Aguero. The Goal King of the Etihad was a little tight for a header on goal but spotted Foden’s gamble on the far post and the youngster’s diving header opened his Premier League account.
The Blues were on target for a tenth straight win in the Premier League and indeed, until today at least, back on top of the pile.
After this, the match took different twists and turns. City should have extended the lead on a number of occasions, but Son, Eriksen and Moura reminded on too many occasions that there was another team playing today and it was left to Ederson to produce probably his best game since he arrived on these shores, making at least 4 important saves.
Laporte looked more at home with Stones by his side and the return of Zinchenko was a massive plus as he continued where he left off. Sometimes the tactics were unusual with Gundogan and whichever full back wasn’t involved creating a “box” with Stones and Laporte in front of Ederson, while Foden was given licence to utilise his energy as a turbo-charged version of a young David Silva. The fact that Foden was replaced by the maestro near the end was really about slowing things down to assure City of the three points. Foden more than deserved his ovation from the Etihad faithful, numbered at close to 54500 for this match, including 3000 Tottenham fans.
So it’s back to the peak for City and what could well be the season-defining match at Stretford on Wednesday is approaching quickly. The fact this will now be technically City’s last midweek match of the campaign means that after this the players get a week-long rest. It also means that if the Blues are successful on Wednesday, they could remain at the top for the rest of the season. No games are easy. Burnley will be resistant, Leicester awkward and Brighton maybe fighting for their Premier League lives. Enter a revisit to 2012 and Aguerooooooooooo.
I do see, however, that the Premier League have decided to assist Liverpool and Spurs in their quest for Champions League glory by moving their matches back to Saturday and City’s forward to Monday Night Football. This is yet another subversive tactic to put that additional pressure on City with Liverpool playing 48 hours sooner.
All season we have had to play against the opposition, the officials and the authorities. If City do win the title this season it will be extraordinary not only for the challenge provided by Liverpool but also for these intricacies where whatever they have thrown at City, they will have overcome them.