Qyadruple-chasing Manchester City will have to do it the hard way if they are to win four trophies this season following a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham in the first-leg of their quarter-final Champions League tie.
City had the perfect chance to open the scoring when referee Bjorn Kuipers consulted VAR and awarded a penalty following a raised Danny Rose arm. But Sergio Aguero’s weak spot kick was saved by Hugo Lloris.
Thereafter it was an open yet cagey affair with City offering little in the way of clear-cut chances. They have it all to do as they host the second leg at the Etihad next week.
Here are our Man City player ratings:
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1)
Ederson – 6: Made solid stop from Kane. Confidently came for crosses, significantly injuring himself but recovered. Didn’t cover himself in glory for Son strike.
Kyle Walker – 5: Contributed sparingly in defence. Hardly put a foot wrong but didn’t see enough of him either going back or forwards.
Nicolas Otamendi – 5: Lived on the edge as usual, committed three fouls. Busy at the back with seven clearances.
Aymeric Laporte – 5: Struggled to keep a lid on roaming Alli, booked for fouling him. Led side with nine clearances.
Fabian Delph – 6: Committed outing, adding steel to City’s left side. Allowed Son to saunter past him too easy for goal though.
Fernandinho – 5: Put himself about, with Kane in-particular feeling his force. Three fouls. Wasteful when he had the ball.
Ilkay Gundogan – 6: Distribution predictably excellent and got over a subdued start. Not helped by ineffective Fernandinho.
Riyad Mahrez – 5: Worked hard going backwards but got little joy in attack. Two key passes but not enough penetration.
David Silva – 6: Carried the creative burden in absence of namesake Bernardo and De Bruyne. Interestingly led side with four tackles.
Raheem Sterling – 8: Slaloming run bamboozled Spurs defence and – with the help of VAR – led to a penalty. Always looked their best threat – five key passes.
Sergio Aguero – 4: Terrible penalty, nice height for Lloris. On the periphery for large parts as Spurs were solid. Taken off after below-par outing.
Gabriel Jesus – 6: Replaced silent Aguero but couldn’t pierce rigid Spurs defence.
Kevin De Bruyne N/A: Looked sharp, firing in a cross that Lloris just got to ahead of Jesus.
Leroy Sane N/A: Offered a few tricks but introduction was too little, too late.
Tottenham overcame the loss of Harry Kane to injury as well as a Sergio Aguero penalty miss to earn a 1-0 first-leg Champions League quarter-final victory over Manchester City – thanks to Son Heung-min’s individual goal.
City had the perfect chance to open the scoring when referee Bjorn Kuipers consulted VAR and awarded a penalty following a raised Danny Rose arm. But Aguero’s weak spot kick was saved by Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham then had to contend with Kane’s injury early in the second half, hobbling off after careering into Fabian Delph.
It was an open game but also cagey with few clear-cut chances and you felt there might only be one goal – it came from the hosts with 20 minutes remaining. Son beat the offside trap and then keept the ball in, before bamboozling Delph and firing under Ederson.
They held on and will take a one-goal advantage to the Etihad next week.
Here’s how we rated the home players:
Hugo Lloris – 7: Penalty was at a nice height for him but he still had to get across to palm it away. Handling was solid throughout.
Kieran Trippier – 6: Had his hands full with Sterling but stuck at his task. Led Spurs with four tackles.
Toby Alderweireld – 7: Stood up stoically in the face of a usually dominant City. Kept Aguero quiet, which is hard to do. Led side with five clearances.
Jan Vertonghen – 7: Typified Spurs’ solidity as the rock in central defence. Attacking prowess was a feature against Borussia Dortmund, here he was back doing day job.
Danny Rose – 7: Overcame that concession of a penalty to put in a solid display. Kept Mahrez quiet.
Harry Winks – 5: Diminutive midfielder won team-high three aerials. Not the greatest of impacts but was busy and industrious.
Moussa Sissoko – 8: Patrolled midfield diligently, as well as contributing in attack. Superb tackle on surging Sterling. Distribution was flawless, completing 96.7 per cent of his passes.
Christian Eriksen – 6: Always the out ball for Spurs and looked capable of fashioning an open. Fairly quiet until clipping Son in for the Spurs goal – one of three key passes.
Dele Alli – 7: Lively start, firing over. Good feet set up chance for Kane. A constant scourge for City. Fouled three times.
Son Heung-min – 8: Grew into the game, flashing a shot inches wide of Ederson’s goal to start the second half. Beat offside trap and kept ball in before firing opening goal.
Harry Kane – 7: Led line confidently. Brought stop from Ederson, though perhaps could have made him work harder. Worryingly hobbled off after meaty clash with Delph.
Lucas Moura – 6: Immediate impact as he surged into City territory, earning a free-kick.
Victor Wanyama N/A: Brought on to solidify the midfield. Little of note.
Fernando Llorente N/A: No time to make an impact, five touches.
After their heroics in the last 16 as Paris Saint-Germain were conquered, an event more mammoth test awaits the Red Devils as Lionel Messi looks to weave his magic wand over Manchester and conjure a route to the last four.
Ahead of the last eight’s opening stanza, we look forward to a mouthwatering tie.
BARCA NOT UNBEATABLE
Barcelona are brilliant. But they’re also not unbeatable. As good as they’ve been in recent seasons – and there’s always the Messi factor – they have showed a soft underbelly on more than one occasion.
They’re arguably the best team left in the competition – even on the planet. But their dominance domestically this season is tempered significantly by the strength – or lack thereof – of their rivals.
Real Madrid resemble a gelded stallion while city rivals Atletico are a little limited and too rigid in their reliance on being a tough team to break down rather than being a rampant attacking force.
The Blaugrana haven’t been beyond this stage of the Champions League since they last won it in 2014/15. In defence of their trophy a year later they were beaten 3-2 by Atletico who went on to meet Real in the final. Two years ago they were humbled 3-0 by Juventus. Twelve months ago they surrendered a commanding 4-1 first-leg lead to lose 3-0 in Rome.
Considering who they are and the strength of their opponents, it was arguably more embarrassing than their own stunning 6-5 triumph against PSG in the last 16 the previous year.
As good as they are in an attacking sense, there’s also more than a suspicion that you can get at them at the back. Gerard Pique remains a colossus and has formed a solid partnership with Clement Lenglet. But, as a unit, they lack cohesion and are often susceptible to the counter-attack with Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto, who are not the most diligent, getting caught up the field as they play integral roles in Barca’s attacks.
Thirty one goals have been conceded in La Liga this season in 31 games – last year they let in 29 in 38 and there are seven games remaining this term. Atletico, as well as fourth-placed Getafe and Valencia, in sixth, have all conceded fewer goals.
They’ve been involved in some high-scoring games this season; 4-4 v Villareal, they lost 4-3 to Real Betis and have earned 4-2 wins against Tottenham, Sevilla (twice) and a 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano – keeping just 19 clean sheets in 48 games in all competitions.
An improved United, playing with guile, craft and pace, should be encouraged.
TIME FOR POGBA TO STEP UP
After a sublime start under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United talisman Paul Pogba is regretfully slipping into old ways that frustrated fans – and manager – in the Jose Mourinho days.
After nine goals and six assists in the first 12 games under the Norwegian, Pogba has scored zero goals and contributed to just one in the following seven matches.
Rather than driving forward with powerful runs, getting in the box and using his varied passing range to spark United attacks, he has become a pedestrian. That lackadaisical tendency to dwell a fraction of a second too long in possession as well as the frustrating gesticulating of limbs has become far too apparent in games that have passed him by.
He has allowed himself to become bogged down by limited opponents rather than dominating and presiding over games like he once did – threatening to become the world-class leader that his club so desperately crave.
Barcelona, in the quarter-final of the Champions League, could be just the stage he needs to reboot and reassert himself.
“At Paul’s best, he can run a game like this and that’s what you expect from him: that he really puts his stamp on a game like this,” said Solskjaer in his pre-match press conference. “Paul’s job is to be the creator, and when we win the ball that he drives forward, so I expect him to perform.”
The ball’s in your court, Mr Pogba.
A HISTORIC RIVALRY
Barcelona have never been away, but it’s good to have United back in this stage of the competition – their presence has been sorely missed.
From marvellous Messi and the magic in the boots of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford that we hopefully get to see on Wednesday, to Ronald Koeman’s rocket in Rotterdam and a Paul Scholes pulveriser that put the Red Devils in the 2008 final; this is a special European fixture that has produced some classics down the years.
To think it’s been nearly 11 years since a tense and tight two-legged semi-final tie was settled by that Scholes scorcher at Old Trafford – on a night when an emerging Messi had threatened to tear United apart single-handedly.
Of course, the two sides have met since then – twice – but over one game, in the finals of the 2009 and 2011 competition. United were good back then but perfect Barcelona were at their peak. Pep Guardiola’s side purred in an era where they had no equal.
United must evoke memories of 2008 – that Scholes goal paved the way to the final, which they won so memorably in Moscow against Chelsea. They might also look back further into the annals of history and to 1991 and another final – the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup, where a Mark Hughes brace effectively kick-started the gluttonous success under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Seven years earlier, Bryan Robson – who pretty much dragged insipid United through the 1980s – scored two as United overturned a 2-0 first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou to progress to the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals at the expense of Diego Maradona’s Barca.
All those involved say the cavernous atmosphere – United’s home support was revered throughout the decade – has never been repeated at Old Trafford since.
In an era where they once again are not among the elite, perhaps they can summon something extraordinary.