16 Conclusions on Spurs 0-2 Man City: City almost there after Son miss, Ange meltdown and lots of weirdness

Dave Tickner
Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal against Spurs
Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal against Spurs

Manchester City have one hand on a fourth straight Premier League trophy after a pretty weird 2-0 win at a very weird Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on a night that ended with the familiar refrain of yet another Spurs manager realising he hates this quite possibly impossible football club.


1. Weird, wasn’t it? Just a very strange evening. Odd spectacle to try and get your head around. Just very hard to work out what to make of it all. It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen anything like it and it certainly made for a curious atmosphere inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Yes, that’s right, for large parts of this game Spurs actually played quite well.

No wonder the fans were a bit unsure what to make of it all. Can’t think of another reason.


2. What we enjoyed most about a game played in an atmosphere best described as Soccer Aid meets the Crucible was the way instinct still takes over at the big moments. It’s true, there was none of the overt attempts from a home support to get a team going that you expect to hear, but when a promising move broke down thanks to a misplaced pass or an injustice was perceived the Spurs fans still instinctively made the noise that all football fans make.

When Kevin De Bruyne kicked the ball behind for a clear corner and instead received a goal-kick, 50,000 Spurs fans forgot for a moment about standing up because they hate Arsenal to instead join James Maddison in berating the officials.


3. Manchester City, though. Doing it again, aren’t they? An unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title is now just a home win over West Ham away, and this run-in has been vintage Pepball. They didn’t really play well here but they did what they nearly always do once they sniff the air and sense a title run-in is in progress. They win. They find a way.

It’s easy to get carried away here, because it really doesn’t take an awful lot of counterfactual to come up with an entirely different result in this game, and there was nothing about City’s inherent Cityness that made Son Heung-min miss that late chance, but the whole point is that this isn’t a one-off. Year after year, game after game, run-in after run-in, this is what Manchester City do. They win and win until the title is secured and if that takes until the last day, then so be it.

What Arsenal need to be wary of now is that cruellest of emotions: hope. Right now it feels lost, but we know how this goes. Slowly but surely over the next few days, the idea of West Ham pulling City’s pants down will start to grow in their minds. They won at the Emirates, didn’t they, West Ham? Got some dangerous players in there, haven’t they? Players who can hurt the best for sure. City are surely going to be without Ederson and Kevin De Bruyne, aren’t they? Could it happen? No team going into the final day at the top of the Premier League has ever been caught, but there have been some close-run things.

And here’s where City can be at their most cruel. Because the only time they’re ever remotely vulnerable on these title run-ins is when they need an apparently routine home win on the final day to confirm the seemingly inevitable. It’s impossible, but Arsenal fans we implore you: do not get carried away when City go behind against the Hammers on Sunday. It’s a trap.


4. Before we get into discussing tonight’s actual match we would like, if you’ll indulge us, to further discuss The Discourse around it. Because it has all got a bit silly, and ended with Ange Postecoglou finally losing his cool and dare we say it the plot. Spurs had very nearly made it one whole season without a manager declaring he hates the club, which had been a welcome shift from the gaslighting and sh*t-stirring of the Mourinho and Conte years.

But Postecoglou has joined their number now, railing against the ‘fragile foundations’ and ‘mentality’ that he’s seen in the last 48 hours. As with those two more overtly self-serving complainers, he’s not necessarily wrong and is clearly not alone in his view on Our League’s most committed banter club.

But he is, also like Mourinho and Conte before him, lashing out from a position of weakness. Spurs fans were put in an unusual and complicated position by the timing of this fixture and its sudden paramount importance to the title race and – it should be noted – the tailing off of their own season. There is nothing strange about Spurs fans not wanting Arsenal to win the league and it’s neither a new or Spursy phenomenon to have supporters in this kind of dilemma at this time of the season. Were Spurs and Arsenal’s roles reversed, it would be a very curious universe indeed but you can guarantee Arsenal fans would have been every bit as conflicted.

📣TO THE COMMENTS! Was Big Ange wrong to be so downbeat about Spurs’ fans approach? Join the debate here

5. Of course, Spurs fans might have been less inclined to take the crumbs of comfort they could from the Arsenal tears generated by this defeat had there not been quite so many other defeats with no discernible upside to endure recently.

Postecoglou doesn’t understand the fans and the rivalry, and that’s fine. And maybe – actually, scratch that, definitely – the mentality in and around the club does need to change. But if he is going to stand there and claim he sees more evidence of that in the unusual circumstances fans faced over the last couple of days than he did in the capitulation at Fulham, or at an injury-ravaged Newcastle, or at Liverpool, or the 90 minutes his players spent ambling aimlessly around Stamford Bridge then we have to say we simply don’t think he’s being entirely honest with himself.

👉 MAILBOX: Spurs fans decried as ‘idiots’ as Arsenal warned that this won’t be fun…
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👉 Postecoglou channels Conte and Mourinho by lamenting Spurs’ ‘fragile foundations’

6. You do have to admire Spurs, though. At no other club can things unravel quite so quickly and quite so dramatically. And this was after what really was one of their better performances in recent months. Postecoglou himself had even shown some much-needed tactical flexibility in a line-up that still stayed true to his overarching philosophy. It could, even without the Arsenal cloud-lining, have been a reasonably encouraging night after several months of unconvincing fare, but no. Another season, and another manager broken by this potentially impossible football club.

In November, Postecoglou and (what was left of) his team were applauded and cheered from the pitch by supporters after a 4-1 home defeat to a Chelsea team managed by Mauricio Pochettino. Of all clubs and all people.

It seems unbelievable that six months later the season ends with him digging out the fans in the manner he has after a run of results and performances of wretched inadequacy. And yet this is Spurs; not only should we believe it but really we are all fools for not having confidently predicted it.


7. But what shouldn’t need saying yet apparently does is that the ‘Hope we lose lol’ narrative was only ever among the fans. There was obviously never any serious suggestion that this would be the view among the players or coaching staff. Jamie Redknapp got himself hugely worked up about that particular straw man before the game had even started, and for 85 minutes it did at least look like a Spurs performance full of perspiration if not quite sufficient inspiration would at least quell the silliest conspiracy talk.

Then Son Heung-min missed a one-on-one…


8. It really was an enormous moment. And one which, should Manchester City complete the formalities against West Ham on Sunday, will be talked about again and again. It’s not just that it was a glorious chance to grab an equaliser that would have meant very little for Spurs but everything for Arsenal, it’s that it was the specific kind of glorious chance you’d want to fall to the specific player who got it.

Even those in red who’d only been supporting Spurs for an hour and a half have seen Son score that precise goal a hundred times before. Through on goal, racing clear of the last defender, taking a moment to compose himself before beating the keeper. It is the quintessential Son goal. There are few players in the division you’d want presented with that chance ahead of him. Pep Guardiola sank to the ground awaiting the seemingly inevitable. Time stood still. Spurs fans’ brains must have damn near short-circuited with the conflicting and confusing feelings competing for attention. And then Son scuffed it pretty tamely into .

Moments later, Pedro Porro was tripping Jeremy Doku in the box and a visibly relieved Erling Haaland was smashing home from the spot to spark wild celebrations from assorted other visibly relieved Manchester City players, managers and coaches.

Man City striker Erling Haaland celebrates his goal
Erling Haaland celebrates his goal

9. It was Haaland’s second goal of the game after an opener that couldn’t have been more Manchester City if it sang Blue Moon, did the Poznan with an inflatable banana and had 115 charges hanging over its head.

It’s a goal we’ve seen so, so many times before. It was on this occasion De Bruyne’s low cross tucked home by Haaland, but it could so easily have been Sergio Aguero or Raheem Sterling finishing from close range after being found by Phil Foden or David Silva.

It was a goal of purest Pep six minutes after what was, we imagine, quite the half-time talking to given the struggles of the first 45 minutes.


10. While the weird atmosphere and weight of the occasion are surely big reasons for City’s awkward approach to proceedings at a ground where their Premier League record is so famously and bafflingly poor, Spurs deserve credit for their part in it. The hosts made a strikingly bright start after what was a strikingly bold bit of selection and tactical trickery from Postecoglou. Nobody’s going to much care now because at least 300 subsequent events have overtaken it, but the way Spurs lined up here was both pretty unexpected and for long periods pretty damn effective.

It is the first time Postecoglou has blinked during six months of often indifferent and occasionally calamitous form and it should be a huge encouragement for next season. If he’s still there, anyway.

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11. Postecoglou has clearly toyed with the idea of shifting Micky van de Ven to left-back ever since Ben Davies went down injured.

Tonight, he finally did so and it worked pretty well. He is the fifth starting left-back across Spurs’ last six games and as a very fast left-sided defender much closer to Destiny Udogie than Ben Davies, Emerson Royal and Oliver Skipp. It was a reminder that Angeball is about the right type of player. Getting round pegs in round holes or at least the roundest possible peg if no round one is available.


12. His positioning was often lax, though. Kyle Walker – whose personal battle with Van de Ven is surely the one for which the word ‘footrace’ was invented – was often surprisingly one-sided due to the headstarts the former Spurs man was afforded.

It was like Walker of old, from his early City days or even at Spurs, when he was a marauding forward presence. So often these days for both City and England he is more a third centre-back, his pace used primarily to recover situations in defence than create them in attack and he was guilty a couple of times of finding himself in unfamiliar territory and unable to find the speed of thought to match the speed of foot.


13. But perhaps more interesting still was how Spurs lined up in front of the defence, with a box midfield comprising Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at its base and James Maddison and Pape Sarr as pretty much false 9s in front. Brennan Johnson and Son Heung-min provided the width in a shape Spurs simply haven’t utilised at all this season and one that gave a stilted and understandably edgy City side all sorts to think about.


14. ‘What a mess, and what a save.’ Not the first time that’s been an apt description of events at the back for Spurs this season. Gary Neville’s snap judgement of events that led to City very nearly taking a lead midway through the first half that would at that point have been very much against the run of play was pretty much unimprovable. It was a double victory for silliness as first Cristian Romero and then Hojbjerg shanked clearances to create a clear chance for Phil Foden only for Guglielmo Vicario to stand tall and make a fine save.

He’s had his problems with set-pieces in the second half of his first season in English football, but Vicario remains a fabulously agile shot-stopper and one of the best signings of the season, even if he has dropped down this list.


15. But he was not the most important goalkeeper of the night. Nor was City’s starter Ederson. In one of the more curious components of such a curious game of football, that honour would land with City sub keeper Stefen Ortega.

The save from Son was obviously his standout moment even though it was as much Son miss as Ortega save, but he also twice denied Dejan Kulusevski to preserve City’s at the time fragile lead and advantage heading into the final day of the season.

Jamie Carragher may have gone slightly overboard in naming him man of the match, but he certainly made a major contribution to this most precious of victories. He’s a quietly efficient understudy, and certainly Pep Guardiola and City need not be overly troubled should they need to call on him again on Sunday. We assume they will.

The substitution of Ederson did not feel particularly well handled, but he surely cannot be picked in five days time. Football still has its priorities askew with head injuries, and the five minutes in which Ederson attempted to play on after being hit so hard on the head by Romero were uncomfortable viewing. He should have been removed straight away, the decision taken entirely out of his hands. His frustration was understandable but only serves to emphasise precisely why the player should not get to decide for themselves in these moments. They are the definition of ‘own worst enemy’.


16. A phrase which brings us inevitably back to Spurs, a club now so thoroughly embantered that even when presented with a game where defeat would still be a win managed to do an awful lot right and still end up the butt of all the jokes having pushed another manager beyond his elastic limit.

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