The Manchester City vs Tottenham trilogy of three games in 12 days came to an end on Saturday with City getting some measure of revenge for their Champions League exit after a gritty 1-0 win that took them back to the top of the Premier League table.
Phil Foden’s first Premier League goal was enough to give City three vital points in a contest which failed to achieve the impossible – living up to, or topping, Wednesday’s second leg of the Champions League quarter-final – but was a significant result in its own right.
Here’s a look at the game’s talking points.
LAPORTE EPITOMISES CITY RESOLVE
If City had to choose between winning the Premier League and the Champions League, there’s no doubt they’d pick the latter. And the fact that they were in contention for a historic quadruple made their European exit on Wednesday doubly painful – and that’s before accounting for the dramatic circumstances in which it happened.
Considering that, the ability of Pep Guardiola’s side to refocus, put their Champions League heartbreak behind them, and beat the exact same opponents to stay in control of the league title race is incredibly commendable.
Aymeric Laporte epitomised City’s resolve. At fault for two Spurs’ goals in midweek, the Frenchman was forced to make his Twitter account private after the social media abuse he received.
But on Saturday, there was one excellent goal-saving tackle early, and several other moments of quality against the dangerous Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura. He wasn’t perfect, but he preserved City’s win.
TOTTENHAM LEFT RELYING ON UNLIKELY EUROPEAN TRIUMPH?
The good news for Tottenham even after this result is that all four of their remaining games are against teams outside the top six, with three at home.
The bad news is that winning all four may no longer be enough to secure a top-four spot. Arsenal and Chelsea, notoriously poor travellers, each have two away games left, while Manchester United are stuttering – and, with Chelsea and City left to play, have the toughest schedule – but Saturday’s loss means Champions League qualification is out of Spurs’ hands.
At least, it is just from the league placing route. Tottenham have given themselves two bites at the cherry by reaching the Champions League semi-finals. Ajax will be a tough out, and if they do achieve that, it’s Barcelona or Liverpool in the final – but perhaps a miracle run is actually their best shot of ensuring a spot in Europe’s premier club competition.
VAR ABSENCE KEENLY FELT
VAR provided the drama on Wednesday, with the goal which won Tottenham the tie allowed to stand after a lengthy review and City’s would-be winner chalked off for offside after a check of the screens.
Its absence was keenly felt on Saturday. Both sides had one penalty shout each denied, and though Jan Vertonghen’s tackle of Bernardo Silva may not have resulted in a spot-kick upon review, Kyle Walker’s handball when Dele Alli was looking to bring the ball down certainly would have.
The naysayers will argue that both were 50-50 decisions while VAR should be used only for clear and obvious errors, but the case for video review has been made repeatedly this season. Perhaps the result here may not have changed, but considering the clear errors that have been made in matches affecting the title, top four, and relegation races, anything that cuts those out needs to be welcomed.
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