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.
Premier League title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City dominate the six-man shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award, with Virgil Van Dijk and Raheem Sterling the front-runners.
Centre-back Van Dijk joins Reds team-mate Sadio Mane on the list, while England forward Sterling is included alongside fellow City players Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard completes the nominees for the 2018-19 campaign, with the winner scheduled to be announced on Sunday, April 28 at the PFA’s annual awards ceremony in London.
City duo Sterling and Silva, both 24, also make the shortlist for the Young Player of the Year award. They are joined in that category by Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, Bournemouth winger David Brooks and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
For the women’s award, Manchester City trio Steph Houghton, Nikita Parris and Keira Walsh have been shortlisted, in addition to Chelsea duo Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-yun and Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.
Dutch forward Miedema, the Women’s Super League top scorer with 27 goals, Walsh and Cuthbert are also nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, along with City forward Georgia Stanway, West Ham striker Alisha Lehmann and Bristol City goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley.
Van Dijk, signed from Southampton for £75million in January 2018, has been an ever-present rock at the heart of the Premier League’s tightest defence this campaign. He has helped Liverpool keep 18 clean sheets and concede only 20 times, while also chipping in with three goals.
Senegal international Mane – included ahead of last year’s winner Mohamed Salah – has also enjoyed a stellar season for Jurgen Klopp’s side, hitting 18 league goals as the Anfield club attempt to end a 29-year wait to be champions.
Sterling is currently the bookmakers’ second favourite for the award behind 27-year-old Van Dijk and has been key for Pep Guardiola’s defending champions, having contributed 17 goals and nine assists going into the weekend.
Aguero and Silva have also been integral parts of the division’s best attack this term.
Argentinian Aguero, City’s record goalscorer, has registered 19 of the club’s 86 goals and provided seven assists, while Portuguese Silva, who has become increasingly influential at the Etihad Stadium, has managed six goals and seven assists.
Creative forward Hazard, the only candidate to have previously won the award (2015), has been directly involved in more top-flight goals than any other player this term, scoring 16 and setting up 12 for Maurizio Sarri’s Blues.
There is guaranteed to be a new name on the Young Player of the Year award.
Alexander-Arnold has contributed to Liverpool’s defensive solidity and also provided seven assists from right-back, while the fine form of Hammers midfielder Rice led to his England debut following his change of allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.
Wales international Brooks has scored seven times and assisted five goals during an impressive debut season in the top flight after swapping Sheffield United for the south coast. Rashford, meanwhile, has managed 10 goals and six assists for Manchester United.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested Manchester United‘s top-four rivals may have an advantage by still being in European competitions.
United’s Champions League adventure was brought to an end by Barcelona in midweek but Tottenham progressed to the semi-finals, while Arsenal and Chelsea are in the last four of the Europa League.
The four English teams are jockeying for third and fourth in the Premier League and a place in next season’s Champions League, with only three points separating third-placed Spurs from United in sixth.
Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea face a more crowded fixture list in the closing weeks of the campaign because of their European exertions, but United boss Solskjaer does not feel that will hinder them.
“It will probably give them a boost playing those games, that’s what you want as a player,” he said.
“We would have loved a semi-final to play in but that’s not the case. We’ve got to focus on the games we’ve got.”
United’s 3-0 humbling at the Nou Camp – bowing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage after a 4-0 aggregate defeat – was a fifth loss in their last seven matches in all competitions.
They have been beaten in three of five since Solskjaer was announced as the permanent manager following a very impressive interim spell, in which he revived their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next term.
Despite their recent slump, Solskjaer insists there has not been a drop-off from his players.
He said: “I don’t think so, that’s football margins. Since I’ve come in we’ve lost two league games – against Wolves and Arsenal, those games we shouldn’t have talked about losing.
“Of course there are games where we won where we maybe didn’t deserve to, it evens itself out.
“Players now know what’s going to happen, they know what I expect, we know as a club what we’re looking to do.
“Look at where we were when we came in on December 19 and where we’re at now – I think anyone would have taken that in the squad and at the club. Now we’ve got five games to see if we can finish it off.”
United’s trip to Goodison Park to tackle Everton on Sunday kicks off a potentially pivotal eight-day period for United, who host the Manchester derby next Wednesday before welcoming Chelsea to Old Trafford.
Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic are in contention following recent spells on the sidelines while Ander Herrera is back in training ahead of the visit to Merseyside.
Midfielder Jesse Lingard knows Everton – battling to finish seventh to claim a potential Europa League spot – will present a difficult challenge.
He said on United’s official website: “I think it will be a tough game. Both teams are fighting for something for the end of the season. It’s just as important for them as it is for us, so we’ll need to be on top form.
“We know what’s on the line and what’s there to be had. Top four is massive, to obviously play in the Champions League next season. It’s a massive competition and United always deserve to be in there.
“Defeats (like the Barcelona one) can tend to linger but we know we have a big week ahead so Ole has tried to take our minds off it and concentrate on Everton, (Manchester) City and Chelsea. They are the three big games that we need to win.
“We’ve got to be at 100 per cent in every game with the mindset to win and get three points, which is the most important thing.”
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