Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 at The Etihad Stadium in what proved to be an enthralling contest. The game saw four penalties, a red card and a midfield area as open as Eric Pickles’ mouth at an all-you-can eat buffet.
What to make of it all then? Despite what looks like a resounding victory against a team with perennial top-four ambitions, there were parts of City’s performance here that showed there is still plenty of room for improvement. I hate to be that person that dwells on the negatives after a great win because nobody likes that person. I especially don’t like that person but, well, needs must.
What wasn’t quite brilliant?
The defence, basically. For large parts of the game City looked vulnerable when Spurs broke forward. The visitors looked fast and were neat around the box, aided by a City rearguard that looked uncoordinated and a bit nervous.
So what are the reasons for this? My first thought is that rotation in the back four is unhelpful. With Sagna and Clichy at right back and left back respectively, you could argue that Pellegrini started with his two second choice full-backs. In fairness, I thought both were decent but an unsettled defence always concerns me. There were also a few times when Kompany and Demichelis pressed high and found themselves easily bested by the Spurs attack.
In front of the defence, Fernando didn’t have his best day. Though occasions where he made decisive tackles were plentiful enough, so were the moments that he needlessly ran himself into trouble or played a sloppy pass that put his team in trouble. He was guilty of making the mistake that lead to Christian Eriksen firing in an equaliser just two minutes after the Blues had taken the lead. It’s not a performance to be too concerned about – it’s his first start after a spell out injured and we’ve seen enough to know he’s better than this.
In the final third City were guilty of being hesitant, with Jesus Navas being particularly culpable in that regard. David Silva couldn’t quite get going – his final ball wasn’t up to his usual standards and he inexplicably chose not to shoot when one first half chance came his way. Still, he wasn’t terrible and he more than most is allowed the occasional off day.
For the problems that City were presented with, credit must got to Tottenham. They came to play and caused issues for the home side, for which they deserve plenty of credit.
But City won 4-1; surely something must have gone right?
Well, yes – lots of things. First of all, they overcame the problems to beat a strong opponent by a convincing score. There were some strong individual
performances from City. Sergio Agüero will take the headlines for a four goal haul that see’s him eclipse the likes of Carlos Tevez, Jo and Rolando Bianchi to become City’s all-time leading Premier League goalscorer. Two of his goals were well taken penalties and the other two were classic Agüero finishes. His fourth goal in particular was beautiful, running onto a quick free-kick and then finding a corner of the net Hugo Loris didn’t even know he had. That his head didn’t drop after a missed penalty is testament to his strong mentality too.
Another stand-out performance came from James Milner, who might just be in the richest vein of form of his career. Everybody seems to be agreed that they want the midfielder to commit to City and sign a new contract. With each passing week he puts himself in a stronger bargaining position and it appears that, finally, the rest of the country is waking up to the fact that he is more than just a work-horse. He is indispensible to this City side at the moment and few things give me more pleasure right now than seeing the praise he is earning.
The other real eye-catching performance came from Joe Hart. Gone was the flapping at crosses (one punch drew some sighs from the crowd but he got it to the halfway line – textbook goalkeeping to me) and in it’s place was a confidence and level of assuredness that suggests we might yet see him return to his very best. Not only were his reflexes smart to save some fierce strikes throughout, he also made a superb penalty save from Roberto Soldado that prevented Spurs drawing level – a contribution as vital as any goal Agüero scored at the other end.
Despite my moaning at the start, City were mostly impressive. No team has it easy all the time and it’s encouraging to see the side overcoming problems to take three points thanks to good team play and some star turns from talented individuals.
written by Richard Burns