The outcome was all the more startling as for long periods City bossed the game. Playing assertively and dominating possession, this was City if not quite of Wembley and Old Trafford ilk then not too far behind. By the conclusion of the game the body language and general demeanour of the players was more akin to the spineless defeats at St Mary’s and Goodison Park this season. The contrast between the two neatly ‘mirrors’ this strange season, as Mancini reflected afterwards.
The opening goal, arriving with only 5 minutes on the clock, was a great team goal and a false portent of what was to follow. Carlos Tevez - who did not deserve to be on the losing side - made something out of nothing in the right hand corner, withstanding the challenge of Jan Vertonghen, before slipping a great ball through the Spurs backline into the path of Milner. His centre, fired in just behind Samir Nasri and at some speed, was expertly re-directed into the right hand corner of the goal, past the static Hugo Lloris and the flailing Kyle Walker on the line. Thoughts of last seasons rout here crossed the mind…
And yet as has so often been the case, when on top City failed to find the killer 2nd goal. With Samir Nasri floating into dangerous areas and Tevez at his best aided by the hard-running and direct James Milner, City were too strong for a nervous and narrow Spurs side yet were unable to press home their advantage. Opportunities to extend the lead were spurned with Nasri, Tevez and Dzeko all wasting decent openings. Indeed the big Bosnian in particular endured a miserable afternoon after his recall to the side in place of Sergio Aguero. The accusation that Edin is not technically gifted enough to play the high tempo, tightly spaced possession game that Mancini asks of his forwards was supported dogmatically here as he repeatedly ceded possession. He has scored some extremely important goals for City and will go down in folklore, but surely his time is up at the club come the summer.
From a position of dominance and having played like champions, the crazy 2nd half spell saw the Blues fall apart and lose the fixture. Credit needs to go to Villas Boas whose bold substitutions altered the momentum of the match, introducing Defoe for the listless Adebayor and Holtby and Huddlestone to bolster the midfield. Mancini, in contrast seemed unable to respond both in terms of his substitutions and the re-calibration of the players on the field, suddenly overwhelmed in midfield and the wider areas. Indeed a look at the three substitutions Mancini did make highlights the lack of strength within the squad – damning when one considers the money spent on the team. Introducing Alex Kolarov, Scott Sinclair and Joleon Lescott – very capable centre half but utilised as an auxiliary centre forward for the last few minutes - demonstrably weakened the side and are players who do not possess the ability or mental fortitude, Lescott aside arguably, of champions.
Nastasic - surprising excluded from the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist and captain Kompany, a central pairing the equal of any throughout the league were serene for 70 minutes and then terrorised for the final 20. Joe Hart was helpless for each of the fine Spurs goals. And City slumped off the field of play and back to Manchester, where they will be forced to watch their title passed across the city with 5 fixtures remaining. One hopes that this smarts as much as it did for those United players whose celebrations came to an abrupt end last year. The season can still end positively with an eminently winnable FA Cup final to come on the 11th of May and a closing run of fixtures that appear friendly on paper. This is no time for despair, but motivation must be maintained and lessons must be learned.
Man of the Match: Carlos Tevez