It feels like an injustice to even attempt to put that match into words. The second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal between Manchester City and Tottenham can only be considered an instant classic, regardless of the club you support. It was a match defined by colossal momentum swings that honestly made watching unsafe for anyone with a heart condition.
Yet ultimately, Pep Guardiola and the Blues have dropped out of the Champions League in the quarterfinal once again, losing on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate score. It brings a disappointing end to another campaign in the competition, though this year there is no guarantee of a Premier League title to buoy our emotions as there was last season.
As the result went down to the literal final seconds, the reasons for victory for whoever came out on top became clear as the time ticked off, at what seemed like too slow or too fast depending on your rooting perspective.
For Manchester City, they’re ability to exploit a Tottenham defensive midfield devoid of true defensive midfielders was the foundation that led to four goals. Mauricio Pochettino deployed Moussa Sissoko and and Victor Wanyama in a double pivot, though doing so failed to stop City from slicing through the center of the pitch with ease.
Both players were a combination of too aggressive and too hesitant in defense, and the area in front of the Tottenham backline only became more ripe for the taking after Sissoko was forced off with an injury late in the first half. Replaced by Fernando Llorente, Wanyama remained as the lone defensive midfielder while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen tried to increase their defensive contribution.
Wanyama appeared to have instructions to focus marking on David Silva’s, whose decoy run pulled a midfielder out of the path of an in-cutting Raheem Sterling for City’s first goal. His preoccupation with the Spaniard exacerbated Tottenham’s fatal flaw and the Blues capacity to operate in between these lines directly lead to contributed to all four of their goals.
Unfortunately, those four goals weren’t enough to get the job done as Tottenham had their own path to success, that being an ability to capitalize on individual errors from City players. The genesis of Spurs’ first two goals came off misplaced touches for Aymeric Laporte that left a compromised Blues’ defense vulnerable. But to their credit, Tottenham still had work to do after the turnovers occurred and Son Heung-min made the most of both opportunities with two quality finishes, particularly on the second.
The final, and ultimately game winning, goal was scored on a corner by Llorente, who was lost cutting across the six yard box through a broken down, hybrid marking scheme. The goal was checked by video assisted replay and upheld, despite the fact that the ball appeared to make first contact with Llorente’s arm. Nevertheless, the referee decided the evidence was inconclusive and proceeded with the original call.
That left City chasing once again and with about twenty minutes remaining, seemingly plenty of time to get the goal that would put them through. VAR came to Tottenham’s aid once again however, as a Raheem Sterling goal in stoppage time was correctly waved off after it was determined Sergio Aguero was offside in the progression.
And with that call also came the final swing in momentum, as City’s Champions League hopes slipped away again over the last few minutes of injury time. What would seemed to be an all-time great victory quickly reverted to an objective failure in a matter of seconds. The result is truly unfortunate, as it may be viewed as a smudge (at least until this trophy is won) on the record of one of the best sides European football has ever seen.
Furthermore, it overshadows what was an inspiring performance by the players, who fought throughout and showed a mental fortitude that you would bet on to overcome the first leg defeat. Yet the result is what it is, and City will rue the numerous chances they had to go up two goals in the fourteen minutes Spurs were chasing. Tremendous defensive actions by Danny Rose and Hugo Lloris deserve credit for keeping the Blues out of the net for a fifth time on the day, and it was in those moments that Spurs kept themselves in striking distance.
The two-legged tie between City and Tottenham will be remembered with a collection of what-ifs by Blues until the campaign begins next season, and perhaps even longer. Dwelling on those possibilities is a natural response, and one that allows frustration to fester. Yet the reality remains, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City lost another Champions League quarterfinal, and the quest for that elusive trophy continues. Knockout competitions are a fickle thing, but the team and fans will ruminate on how to get this done for quite some time.