I don`t normally focus on Manager`s before a game but ‘Twitchy` Harry`s pre-game press conference comments about City and Mancini have been deeply disrespectful of our Manager and his plain and open ‘jealousy` over City`s new found wealth are somewhat pathetic and clearly an attempt to deflect from their disastrous result against us at the start of the season and the fact that he doesn`t really think his charges are good enough to beat City. Top this off with the fact that if Spurs lose, they are all but out of the title race and you can see why Harry has spouted such a diatribe of effluence. It`s also strange that Spur`s have so little academy talent in their team and despite being one of the biggest spenders in the league over the last few years, the player they will miss most today is City cast off Adebeyor.
Today`s match was one of those ‘six pointer` games that was probably really a seven pointer. A win for City would see the title race become a two horse race. A win for Spurs would put them firmly back in the mix. City have a pretty poor record against Spurs but two of the most outstanding City performances in recent years have come against the London side, being the 5-1 turnover earlier this season and the 4-3 cup win of a few years ago when City were 3-0 down and down to ten men at half time and still won 4-3. One thing to remember, City are the only unbeaten team at home in all four divisions of top flight football in England.
There were no surprises in the line-up Mancini selected and the team sheet read as follows: Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Milner, Nasri, Silva, Dzeko and Aguero. The bench consisted of: Pantillimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Onuoha, De Jong, Johnson and Balotelli.
Spurs kicked of the match playing right to left and were immediately attacking down their right, but were soon forced back to Friedel. City were soon back in possession after an unforced error by Parker, who played the ball out to touch. The Blues took hold of the ball and passed it patiently around looking for the break which didn`t quite come.
Spurs had started well enough having more of the possession in the opening five minutes and moving with great fluidity, however they had been forced to play the ball back to Friedel on a number of occasions.
Six minutes in and Richards almost got caught out of position by Bale, but Savic was on hand to dispossess Spurs` Welsh Wing Wizard. Seconds later and Spurs were awarded a free kick after a Clichy foul. The ball was well cleared by Dzeko and City were soon on the attack again when Silva found Nasri on the left. Nasri`s initial cross was cleared, but City kept possession and calmly built up play again.
In the first ten minutes, Spurs had seen 20% more of the ball dominating possession 60/40, but significantly neither keeper had yet been tested.
First corner of the game came after good work from Aguero on the edge of Spurs` box after Parker had backed off City`s striker. The corner was a poor one and allowed Spurs to break out of defence. They were at one point two on two, but Lennon`s centre was a poor one which Hart easily gathered.
On the stroke of fourteen minutes, City were nearly paying the cost for Richards`s poor positioning as Bale broke free again and put an inviting ball right across the face of City`s goal, which amazingly was missed by everyone.
City nearly broke the deadlock in the 17th minute after Nasri had found Silva with a through ball. The Spanish wizard made the byline and cut a wonderful ball back into the box. Aguero and Dzeko got in each other`s way as the both arrived unmarked at the same time.
The next few minutes were dominated by City as they started to retain more possession but couldn`t find the final ball into the box that would unlock the Tottenham defence.
Next corner was earnt by Spurs after a good run and cross by Assuo-Ekotto. It was well dealt with by City and the Blues were soon on the attack again. Both teams were showing the other a great deal of respect, leaving just one player up pitch when not in possession. Something to be expected with the importance that rested with the result.
City once again nearly broke the deadlock on 25 minutes after Aguero ran into the Spurs box, with the ball sticking to his feet and surrounded by defenders, he had the speed of thought to look up and find Silva, whose left foot shot was a whisker wide of the post.
As we approached the half hour mark, it was City who despite having less of the ball, had created the better chances and looked the most threatening. Indeed on 28 minutes, had it not been for the speed of thought possess by Friedel, Aguero would have been through on goal, but Spur`s aging keeper was quick off his line having spotted the danger.
City had another chance a minute later, after Captain Fantastic, Richards won the ball in the right wing position and played Aguero in. If not for a great stop by Friedel, the score would certainly have been 1-0.
It was City`s turn to feel the heat in the 32nd minute after good work by Van De Vaart, although the Dutch man let himself down with a poor ball into the box.
Spurs won a free kick on the edge of City`s box just left of centre, after a tackle by Lescott was fractions late and Bale ended up on the floor. The shot by Kaboul was poor and went high and wide of Hart`s net.
With 7 minutes of the half left, Spurs were beginning to look increasingly frustrated as little niggles started to creep into their game and City were starting to exert more and more pressure.
On the stroke of 41 minutes, a clear foul on Aguero, right on the edge of the Spurs box, was totally ignored by the ref. First glimmer of the anti-City refereeing that had been openly apparent this season. Still, there was still another 45 minutes of play to go.
With thirty seconds of the half left, Parker went in for another crunching tackle, this time on Richards, after City`s Captain had again won the ball. Once again the ref kept his card in his pockets. It makes this writer wonder what would have happened had Barry or Milner been the proponents of such attempts.
As the whistle went for half time, honours were even and although Spurs had dominated possession early on, it was City who had had the best chance of the game and in all honestly had looked the better in the final third of the pitch. Still, there was everything to play for in the second half as the country`s two best footballing sides clashed.
City kicked off the second half and were soon attacking through the ball skills of Nasri and the positioning of Dzeko. The Blues earnt a corner which was easily cleared, but fell kindly for Nasri who despite the attentions of three players, earnt another corner. From this set piece, Spurs broke quickly up-field, but were let down once more by the final ball as Van Der Vaart attempted to beat Hart from a good thirty yards out.
Best tackle of the game came on the stroke of 51 minutes as Spurs made a quick break through Bale. The Welshman ran half the length of the pitch and was about to unleash a shot from the edge of the box and had his pocket picked by James Milner.
Spur`s first yellow of the game came deservedly a few seconds later after Parker`s fifth poor tackle on Aguero. The resultant free kick was easily gathered by Friedel who set Spurs off on another attack finding Bale on the left. The Welshman`s cross was blocked and went out for a corner which was easily dealt with by City.
This was followed in the 54th minute by Spur`s best chance of the game after Modric, on the left, cut the ball back for Bale whose attempt to use his right foot seemed to cause a full body shut down as he collapsed to the floor.
Within seconds of this chance, Silva found himself on the ball on the edge of the centre circle in the Spurs half. He looked up once and saw the run of Nasri along the edge of the Spurs penalty area. An inch perfect pass later and Nasri was on the ball and through the Tottenham defence. His neat shot beat Friedel hands down and first blood was to the home side. 1-0 to City and the goal was well deserved.
It was nearly two nil seconds later as Silva jinked left and right inside the Spur`s box before cutting a ball back towards Aguero. Spur`s cut the ball out for a corner on the City left. It was swung towards Dzeko who flicked the ball on to Lescott running in at the far post. The City defender stumbled but managed to carry the ball into the net and two special minutes had the League leaders 2-0 up.
Almost straight from kick off, Defoe broke the City back line and one and one with Hart, the diminutive striker put the ball into the back of City`s net to make it 2-1.
It was nearly 3-1 after Silva found Nasri on the edge of Spurs box. Nasri played the ball through to Dzeko who looked odds on to score, before his poor shot ballooned over the bar from eight yards out. Game on.
Disaster struck in the 64th minute as out of nothing, Bale found himself with the ball at his feet twenty yards out. His strike was sweet and almost perfect curling over Hart before dipping into the City net. What a goal and 2-2.
Mancini made an instant change, replacing Dzeko with Balotelli. Hopefully this would give City more impetus up front as Dzeko, although having an assist, was again guilty of profligacy in front of goal when he should have put City 3-1 up.
Twitcher then made his first substitution of the game replacing the out of form and slightly chubby Van De Vaart with defensive midfielder Jake Livermore.
Great defending then followed by Parker who stopped what looked a goal bound effort by Richards and from the resultant corner, Friedel showed great hands to gather the ball under pressure.
Spurs then earnt a corner on the City right after an Assuo-Ekotto corner was cleared by Savic. The ball was played short but was easily defended by the City back line. This was followed by another wild shot from Spurs as Modric attempted to beat Hart from 25 yards out only to see the ball balloon high over the City bar.
Another wild shot followed from Spurs in the 72nd minute as Walker saw the City net beckoning from thirty yards out. The game was poised on a knife edge as these two fantastic footballing sides locked horns. A minute later and a wonderful ball in by Bale on the left had Clichy stooping to clear the ball over his own bar. Modric stepped up to take the set play. The ball found Bale who shaped to shoot before finding Lennon on the right. The tricky winger jinked left then right before unleashing a weak shot which Hart easily gathered.
A push in the back by Walker on Balotelli earnt City a free kick on their left halfway inside the Spurs half. The ball was launched high and met by the head of Savic. The bullet header had Friedel beaten, but somehow went inches wide of Spurs far post.
Seconds later, and Defoe broke free of the City defence after simple ball over the top. With Lescott on his heels, Defoe ran into the City box, but somehow managed to trip over the ball.
Second yellow of the game went to Balotelli after he became entangled with Assuo-Ekotto. The ref of course went straight to his pocket despite this being his first foul, whilst Parker was allowed at least five poor challenges before his name went into the ref`s book.
With nine minutes to go, the ref was once more under scrutiny, giving a soft free kick to Spurs in the middle of the park when Barry looked to have won the ball cleanly. Nasri could be seen resignedly shaking his head.
City made a wonderful chance in the 84th minute only to be stopped by the ref, penalising Silva for a high foot as it struck Kaboul`s head. Unfortunately for City, Kaboul had stooped down and contact took place no more than a foot off the ground. A nice way for the ref to break up the City play.
With two minutes to go of normal time, Lennon was replaced by Pienaar as Twitchy attempted to bring some more crossing ability from the right hand side of their line-up.
As the ninety minute mark came and went, four minutes stoppage time was announced. Almost immediately, Bale broke free of Richards. Lescott attempted to cut out the ball, but Bale got their first and crossed toward the far post for Defoe who was only inches away from making the score 3-2 to Spurs.
With ten seconds of the extra time left, for the first time this season, luck was with City. A high hopeful ball up pitch from Clichy found Balotelli. The Italian turned in the box and was upended. This was without doubt a penalty. The fouled player stepped up, placed the ball on the spot and with casual nonchalance, stroked the ball to Friedel`s right. The Spurs keeper guessed the correct way, but the cool spot-kick was inches wide of his outstretched finger-tips.
This has to be the best game of the season. End to end stuff and football played at 100 miles per hour between what has to be the country`s two top footballing sides. In truth either side could have won it in what was an astonishing second half boasting five goals and a great man of the match performance from Samir Nasri. Unbelievable stuff by both sides. Well done City, well done Spurs, who cares what the result of the late kick off is today, this was as good as it gets.
Joe Hart – 7.5
Couldn’t do much for either goal. Good kicking and distribution. Didn’t really have much to do other than picking the ball out of his net twice.
Micah Richards – 7.5
Looked great going forward but kept getting caught out of position and allowing Bale to get crosses in especially in the second half.
Stefan Savic – 7
Didn’t have too bad a game but his poor back header was the cause of one of Spur’s goals.
Joleon Lescott – 8
Scored a goal and made a number of important interceptions.
Gael Clichy – 7
Booked early on and not as effective as usual. Didn’t get forward as much as usual but was defending against Walker and Lennon.
Gareth Barry – 8
Defended well and rarely gave the ball away.
James Milner – 8.5
Looked like there were at least two Milners on the pitch. Effort industry and talent.
Samir Nasri – 9
A great performance. Lovely passing and movement and thoroughly deserved his goal.
David Silva – 8.5
Back to his best today and had a great assist for the Nasri goal.
Sergio Aguero – 8
Strong agile and dangerous another good performance.
Edin Dzeko – 8
An assist for City’s second but most certainly should have scored rather than ballooning the ball over the bar.
Balotelli – 8
Coolly took the penalty which he earnt. Accused by the Sky team of deliberately kicking and stamping on Parker. Rubbish.
Roberto Mancini – 8 Another win and a great step towards the league title. He must be proud of his players after today.