|Sergio Aguero delivered the killer punch against Spurs once again
Manchester City came out 1-0 winners over Tottenham Hotspur after a frenetic game at White Hart Lane yesterday, in a match that surely must have had every one of the viewers on the edge of their seat.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men also broke the ‘London curse’ by way of yesterday’s victory, which is their first in the capital this season, after failing to win at the home of any of the London clubs – Arsenal, West Ham United, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), Chelsea and Crystal Palace – in the Barclays Premier League earlier in the campaign.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side played a very good game and probably deserved better, but City were a bit more clinical in their performance that saw them complete a league double over Spurs for the second consecutive season.
Sergio Aguero scored the game’s only goal, for which David Silva provided the assist, and the visitors hung on to their advantage thereafter, despite having to make last-ditch tackles and blocks to stop the hosts from leveling the score.
Pellegrini, in his post-match interview, expressed satisfaction over the result, as well as his side’s performance.
In hindsight, what did we learn from City’s third consecutive league victory after the losses to Palace and Manchester United in April? Read on…
A number of City players impressed in a not-so-convincing performance
Pellegrini’s side is definitely capable of producing better performances than they did yesterday.
However, having said that, it was not easy to get a stranglehold of the game at any stage during the course of 95 minutes because of the energy and drive shown by the home side that tried everything it possibly could have, to win the game.
But City were willing to fight hard and neutralize Spurs’ threat by way of defensive discipline, on a day when they couldn’t get their attacking game going.
And, from City’s point-of-view, it was important that many of their players stood up to the task and produced the kind of performances they did: Fernandinho, Silva, Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart and Martin Demichelis impressed during the whole of the game, and played significant roles in their side’s victory.
Silva, for instance, showed the hunger and desire to track back – something which he is not used to even when playing as the left-winger – making 10 tackles and winning 4 of them. There were occasions during the game when Silva’s inch-perfect intervention stopped Spurs from posing a genuine threat to Hart’s goal.
In an attacking sense, Silva played to profile: the Spaniard completed 94% of his passes, created 4 goal scoring chances, 1 of which resulted in an assist for Aguero’s goal, and completed his solitary attempted take-on.
Likewise, Fernandinho impressed in a defensive, as well as an offensive, sense, making 4 interceptions, 2 clearances and 3 blocks, in addition to completing 80% of his passes, creating one chance and taking two decent attempts on goal.
Demichelis, you could say, had a mixed game, but there were moments when he was simply impressive and impenetrable: the Argentine made 6 interceptions and 6 clearances, most of which were in and around the City penalty area, and his solitary successful tackle on the day stopped Kane from having a terrific chance to score the equalizer in the 30th minute.
Hart, needless to say, was brilliant on the day, making five magnificent saves and stopping the likes of Paulinho, Lamela and Ryan Mason from scoring a goal past him.
Having been made the captain, Hart probably played the biggest role in his side’s victory yesterday, just as he did against AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League group game that City went onto win at the Stadio Olimpico back in December.
It was an eccentric game from City’s point-of-view, but if not for the contributions, either in a defensive or offensive sense, of the aforementioned personnel, the tale of the game might well have been different.
Aleksandar Kolarov had one of his best games in a City shirt
Kolarov was by far the best outfield player for City in their 1-0 victory over the North Londoners yesterday.
From the first minute to the last, the Serbian didn’t put a foot wrong and was full of hunger and desire, as he impressed in a defensive sense and was lethal going forward, as well.
His very first contribution of the game bailed City out of trouble, as he was the one who tracked Nacer Chadli’s run down Spurs’ left-hand-side and blocked the Belgian’s attempted cross that could well have seen the hosts take the lead in as early as the 2nd minute of the game.
City left-back’s defensive contributions didn’t end there, as he made 5 other interceptions, 2 clearances, won 1 of his 2 attempted tackles and 3 crucial blocks inside his side’s box.
We cannot reminisce the last time Kolarov produced a defensive display of that sort but, simply put, he was outstanding yesterday.
Going forward, the 29-year old, it has to be said, played to his reputation.
His delivery from corner-kicks and open play were incisive, completing 4 of his 9 overall crosses, 2 of them resulting in goal scoring chances for his teammates. He also kept his two goal attempts on target, one of which was a 40-yard strike that bamboozled Hugo Lloris, purely because of the power and swerve Kolarov imparted on the ball.
Therefore, it is safe to say that Kolarov had one of his best games in a City shirt.
Yesterday’s visitors had an attitude check
City have had their mentality and personality questioned during the last few seasons, and that observation on the Citizens was vindicated at White Hart Lane yesterday.
City’s rearguard was very slow to get going on the evening, giving the ball away cheaply during the initial stages of the game and failing to get into a good defensive shape.
Eliaquim Mangala, in particular, was caught out of position on a couple of occasions and also failed to control a couple of perilous balls that were played into his feet; on another day, Kane would have punished City and the Frenchman for their lackluster start to the game.
The visitors also failed to deal with a couple of corners in the first few minutes of the game, and the likes of Dier had clear chances to find the back of Hart’s net.
The counterattacking maneuver that resulted in City taking the lead also came after they had failed to deal with a corner properly and were rather fortuitous to have Hart get hold of the bobbling ball.
City’s problems in defending corners yesterday were not because of their smaller statures, but due to the lack of proper marking and concentration.
If there is one area, above everything else, City need to tighten up on, it has got to be with their mentality and the way they start marquee fixtures such as yesterday’s.
Tottenham’s pace posed plenty of problems for City
The tactical setup of both sides was such that they found it difficult to play through the middle. Both teams lined up in the 4-2-3-1 system and sought to remain narrow in a bid to deny each other the space in the middle of the park.
During the initial stages, with Tottenham, with all their energy, harrying and harassing City, the visitors were forced into playing long balls just to relieve the massive pressure they were under from the Spurs’ frontline.
The hosts too, with City’s rearguard holding a very high line, were keen on playing long balls over the opponents’ midfield and defense, and having the likes of Kane, Chadli and Lamela run in behind the City backline.
That tactic worked very well for a major part of the first half and it was worrying signs for City who, with relatively slow movers in the likes of Zabaleta, Demichelis and Kolarov, just couldn’t smother this aspect of the hosts’ game plan.
This has also been a conspicuous aspect of City’s struggles in the Champions League, as they always have found it hard to cope with teams loaded with pacey personnel, who have the endeavor to make those runs into the channels.
City, however, recovered from the mistakes they made in the earlier phases of yesterday’s game, but they had to be a lot conservative in their approach and give every ounce of their energy to come away with all three points.
City showed they can win without dominating possession
This was a marquee feature of City’s game last night and Hart, very rightly, in his post-match interview noted that most of City’s opponents this season have played such a style of football and been successful more often than not.
Over the course of 90 minutes, City had only 46% possession, which is miles off their standards, made fewer passes than the hosts and had fewer attempts on goal than Spurs. But when Andre Marriner blew the final whistle, City were a goal up and had three points in the bag.
That is why there was satisfaction midst everyone concerned with the Citizens, who have simply been clueless at how City’s opponents have managed to win games this season without seeing much of the ball.
Pellegrini’s side, though, probably need to add such a style to their repertoire more often next season and especially in Europe, where you are having to curb your natural style and deal with your opponents’ threat from time to time during a fixture.
I have not given any particular recognition to City’s Argentine ace, who scored the decisive goal in yesterday’s game, but I felt that the contributions made by other players in the side were more significant than Aguero’s.
Yesterday’s victory got City to 70 points from 35 games, and has taken them close to attaining direct qualification into next season’s Champions League group stages.
There is still plenty of work to be done by the 2013/14 English champions, who face Swansea City (away) and Southampton (home) to pull the curtains on this campaign that has not gone to plan for Pellegrini’s side.
As far as yesterday’s game is concerned, though, it was a huge relief to see City win away from home after consecutively losing their last 5 games across all competitions.