Tottenham proved themselves as serious Premier League title contenders with a win which justifies Manchester City’s decision to replace Manuel Pellegrini, writes Mark Holmes.
Perhaps strangely, I wrote it after they had only drawn at Everton, but it was a performance which convinced me Mauricio Pochettino’s team would finish – at least – in the top three this season.
With 12 games remaining, I will avoid making any bolder prediction than that, but Spurs’ win at Manchester City on Sunday provided yet more evidence that this team has what it takes to sustain a serious title challenge.
Yes, they scored via a hugely debatable penalty and then a second on the counter as City piled on the pressure, but the Lilywhites controlled the game for long periods and enjoyed 65% of the ball in the first half.
That is not to say that Spurs dominated in terms of chances. Both sides only managed one shot on target apiece during a first half lacking in goalmouth action, but that was exactly what Spurs wanted. They used possession as a defensive tactic, preventing City from building any sort of momentum.
Spurs, though, like Leicester City, are at their best when they lose the ball. Once again on Sunday they worked incredibly hard to regain possession no sooner had they given it up – and it is at these moments, when their opponents momentarily push men ahead of the ball, that Spurs suddenly come to life, moving the ball quickly into the final third to attack a backline not fully set in their positions.
Toure was at fault for Spurs’ winner, stupidly running into players, but the break that followed it has been perfected, no doubt, by hours of work on the training ground.
Under immense pressure, many teams would have taken the opportunity gifted to them by Toure to play the ball back and take the sting out of the game. But that was never in the minds of Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, who combined to score a goal which perfectly highlighted in a few short seconds the fantastic job Pochettino has done since taking over at White Hart Lane.
Man City right to replace Pellegrini
While Pochettino continues to build his reputation, City’s disappointing performance provided further vindication for the club’s decision to replace Pellegrini with Pep Guardiola.
No matter what City’s injury problems this season – and they have certainly suffered on that front – it simply isn’t good enough for them to be three places and six points off the top of the Premier League at this stage of the season.
Faced with home games against two of their main title rivals in Leicester and Tottenham, the Citizens had the chance to put their struggles behind them with a show of their undoubted superior quality, but two defeats do not paint a very positive picture of Pellegrini’s tactical nous.
Having been picked off by Leicester, City once again allowed their opponents to set the pace of the game. While Spurs were alive to every opportunity, City looked idle. While it was easy to see what Spurs’ gameplan was, there was nothing discernible about City’s.
Moving Raheem Sterling to the right side for the second half showed Pellegrini did take tactics into consideration but for large parts of the game it seemed as though City’s plan was simply to let their attacking players win the game. Against a side as well drilled as Pochettino’s Tottenham, that was never going to work.
The fact that City have won only only of 10 games against the current top eight this season certainly suggests it is Pellegrini that is lacking; frankly, City could take to the field without any managerial instructions whatsoever and beat most of the other teams in the league.
That is why they have appointed Guardiola. City can look fantastic on occasion, but is that because of good coaching or simply because they have good players? When tactics have been needed, City have been found wanting.