Manchester City proved a number of things in the way they played throughout the match against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. Frustration hasn’t taken over. Even against one of the league’s best teams, the Sky Blues executed their game plan.
They were fun to watch from top to bottom. Despite the fact that Spurs were able to capitalize twice, City’s defense did well to contain their dangerous forwards. With strong individual performances motivating the squad, displays like we saw against Tottenham could become regular entertainment at the Etihad and around Europe.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s match against Mauricio Pochettino’s side:
1 - Passion has an incredible influence
Closing down Spurs’ midfield and cutting off passing lanes with quick jumps helped City to dominate this game. Even if the result leaves more to be desired, the way that City players hunted for the ball and worked collectively toward Hugo Lloris’ net has to be appreciated.
Speed has been missing from City’s squad at times but Saturday's lineup was finely tuned to run riot against Tottenham. The tactic worked because of the hustle provided by more than a few of the Citizens.
Midfield and defensive work from forwards, strong runs from defenders, young talent, proven talent — all of the elements that Guardiola is trying to put together in his best team — looked ready to click against Tottenham.
Tottenham looked quite hampered by the energy of Pep's men, as City were able to unsettle Spurs’ initial build-up. The Blues won balls in the air toward the midfield and then opened up Tottenham with quick passes.
Passion on defense kept City secure for the first hour of the match. Arguments could be made that both shots on goal for Tottenham could have been defended tighter but, overall, there was a spirit at the back of City’s formation that deserves commendation.
2 - City’s ability to score will turn the tables soon
The desire to get in front of goal has grown over the course of this season. There have been quite a few matches where a single touch would have changed the outcome and the story of City’s current campaign.
At this point, the players look more relaxed and more determined, more confident in their abilities and more willing to do comprehensive work to set up chances for the team.
Anyone could break the relative drought the team has experienced and set off a deluge of successful challenges from all over the pitch. As I noted in 3 Things to Watch, if one or two players start to net goals consistently, it will be harder for opposing defenses to address the wide spectrum of City threats lurking around the box.
It is nearly inevitable that, with the talent at City and the culture of positivity that Pep models at press conferences, the Etihad will begin to see fireworks sooner or later. Guardiola’s current crop is obviously progressing toward their ultimate capacity to score early and often.
3 - Individual performances will continue to make the difference
Because City needs more, any number of players — alone or in combination — can and will provide the skill and insight to help the squad progress.
Leroy Sané has given great dynamics as a counter-point to Raheem Sterling. Both players provided pace down the line and pressed Tottenham when Spurs had the ball. They put heat on Hugo Lloris to a degree that two mistakes from the keeper, along with resiliency from Sané and Kevin De Bruyne, gave City a solid lead.
De Bruyne appears unfazed by a string of games without a goal as he brightened the Etihad with clairvoyant distribution. His work in the middle of the pitch is priceless. Whether he serves as defender, provider, or goal-scorer, his value in the team is just unquestionable.
Sergio Agüero was close to making a major difference against Tottenham as well. Although El Kun has also seen unfortunate results in front of the goal, his recent performances have proven that he is always a threat. With a number of interceptions far up the pitch and runs inside the box, Agüero looks ready to be the player that turns the table for City.
David Silva operated with equal vitality to De Bruyne, as the two have come to stand at the heart of City’s total approach. Yaya Touré almost always had Silva ready to receive a second ball to be delivered in Tottenham’s half. The Spaniard helps City with direct pressure on the goal, as well.
It’s been a game of inches, most often gone astray, that has kept this stacked squad from finding the net.
Gabriel Jesus officially added his name to the list of City’s potential goal-scorers with an 82nd-minute entrance and nearly scored twice. Enough said.
With no disrespect to City’s defenders, I give them recognition as a unit that was mostly successful in carrying out the game plan. Their stubbornness in keeping Claudio Bravo worry-free only gave Spurs two shots on goal. Bravo had very little chance of stopping either. For the most part, the back line was confident in closing down Tottenham’s lethal weapons and was able to contribute to the forward motion of possession.
As the squad prepares for next Saturday’s FA Cup match against Crystal Palace, with their next Premier League match against West Ham still 10 days away, they will be able to rest and rejuvenate. The manner in which they confronted Tottenham will prove to City, yet again, that they can counter tough teams.
Whether they play a team that presses high or a team that sits back to defend, the team has to find the same solution: more goals. The club has maintained an upbeat atmosphere during the highly dramatized tumult of recent months and Saturday’s game proved that City do not intend to end the season without a fight.