Manchester City suffered their first defeat of the Pep Guardiola era when they were beaten 2-0 away at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
The hosts took the lead after just 9 minutes when left-back Danny Rose’s cross took Aleksandar Kolarov by surprise and the Serbian put through his own net.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side then doubled their advantage when Son Heung-min found Dele Alli with a smart pass and the 20-year-old finished past Claudio Bravo from close range.
Spurs then had the chance to make it 3-0 when Alli was tripped in the box by Fernandinho and referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot. However, Bravo made a good save to deny Érik Lamela from 12 yards.
City remain top of the Premier League going into the international break and it’s to be hoped that Guardiola and his players learn from their first big set-back of the season. One man who learned at least four things from the experience is James Cunliffe…
Tottenham’s immense pressing was relentless and City were overwhelmed.
I wrote during the week of how individual mistakes were more cause for concern than the opposition press but I hold my hands up to the efforts of Pochettino’s men this time. Spurs were quick and tight in marking every single City outfielder and for a lot of the first-half the hosts had us penned in. So much so that our top two pass combinations in the opening forty-five were Stones to Bravo (8) and Bravo to Stones (7) – the Chilean keeper was also the fifth highest passer during that half too.
Not only were they overwhelmed by the pressing but City were overwhelmed by the physicality of Spurs and maybe this was down to personnel but I’ll be getting on to that later. The home side were first to each and every single second ball, they were faster and stronger than City and deserved the win. Maybe now people will take Spurs seriously as title contenders.
Whilst City have stunned teams with reams of attacking quality, only one clean-sheet has been registered in the league so far (Bournemouth). Usually Guardiola’s men have simply outscored teams to leave an underlying defensive worry very much in the shadow of all the goals. However, now it’s a problem.
Individually and collectively City have leaked goals this season in truth and it’s through no fault of their own. Take today’s for example, both could have easily been avoided had players done the basics right; i.e. Zabaleta closing down and Kolarov putting his foot through it…twice.
It’s all well and good having a top-heavy side blow lesser teams out of the water but solidity is key in the big testers like Tottenham away, who hold the best defence in the league. I’m sure in the coming transfer windows players will come and go to improve our defence but in the short-term the man from Catalan needs to figure it out.
Guardiola has his flaws but have some faith
Even the world’s greatest get things wrong and today Guardiola made mistakes, well at least I think so. Getting his line-up out of the way, the two fullbacks should have been rotated for the quicker Clichy and Sagna against such an athletic side. Fernando and Navas were carried in midfield, while Gündoğan and Sané sat on the bench.
Speaking of his philosophy to build up play from the back though, I will say that fans need to show more faith. Frustratingly, City supporters turned on the possession play that won 10 games in a row. We’ve enjoyed our best start in history through playing a certain way so when the result doesn’t go our way we shouldn’t be fickle enough to instantly change our minds on the system. And though I do admit Spurs’ pressing countered our play, I do think there’s ways round it and we have to remember that City are very much in transition to this tactic and will one day be fluently cutting teams apart.
City need to bounce back
This is not so much a thing we learned but more of a thing we will come to learn. Last season we became aware of how City failed to really bounce back from their first few defeats and this bounce-back-ability will be key this year. In the league, the Blues are coming into a decent run of fixtures that could see momentum be built back up.
Next six league games; Everton (H), Southampton (H), West Brom (A), Middlesborough (H), Crystal Palace (A), Burnley (A).
Another run of maximum points in the next half-dozen games is doable but shouldn’t be expected with the important EFL Cup and Champions League games interrupting things mid-week. An international break this weekend gives talisman Kevin De Bruyne more time to nurse his muscular injury and will suit City at a time of rebuilding the momentum they had this time last week.
Written by James Cunliffe
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