Revenge might not be exactly the right word, given that the European dimension of Manchester City’s attempted quadruple was probably the one that mattered most to them, but Pep Guardiola will have been satisfied with the reaction his players showed after the draining events of Wednesday evening in the Champions League.
The City manager had confessed he had no idea how such a cruel late setback might affect his side, though they gave one of their more solid performances of the season to take three points from a gutsy and resolute Spurs team to move back to the top of the Premier League table.
This was not City at their fluent, most incisive best, they did not cut their opponents to pieces or rack up the goals as they are capable of doing, but Liverpool and Manchester United will still have been impressed. Liverpool are well aware of the difficulty of grinding out results against stubborn opponents at this stage of the season, while United, who play City next, might be encouraged by a relatively low-key home performance but will find it challenging to defend for 90 minutes as well as Spurs did.
Realistically, the third meeting of these sides within a fortnight was never going to live up to the breathless excitement of midweek, but both teams deserve credit for producing professional performances after their exertions in Europe. The only drawback from City’s point of view was that Kevin De Bruyne did not complete the game, twisting a knee in the act of shooting and limping off before half time, though City have prospered without the influential Belgian for much of the season and appear equipped to do so again.
Bernardo Silva is one of the less celebrated names on the shortlist that has just been released for PFA player of the season, though he gave Ben Davies a game he will not forget in a hurry. Time and again the City right winger turned and tormented the wing-back trying to mark him, and Bernardo was unlucky to see a penalty appeal turned down midway through the first half when Jan Vertonghen caught his leg. Before that the Portugal international had been instrumental in creating the first goal, cutting in from the right after just five minute to pick out Sergio Agüero at the far post. The striker was not in a position to score but had the awareness to nod the ball back across goal, where Phil Foden’s reward for following up assiduously was a first league goal.
Such an early breakthrough raised hopes that the game might be an end-to-end goalfest to resemble the match in midweek, though instead the rest of the first half took on the aspect of an end of season encounter without much at stake, which was odd considering the fixture had been sold out for weeks and until a few days ago was considered make or break in City’s attempts to win another title.
The home side were comfortably in control for the most part, without finding the cutting edge that had brought them the lead, and while Spurs were reduced to sending long balls in the direction of Son Heung-min in the absence of Harry Kane, with Christian Eriksen supplying the passes and Son excelling at making the most out of very little, the visitors always looked capable of finding an equaliser.
Son showed blistering pace to get goal side of Aymeric Laporte from Eriksen’s first invitation, only for the defender to recover in time to block his eventual shot. Eriksen had brought the first save of the game from Ederson, but it was Son who created Spurs’ best chance before the interval with a stunning turn in the middle of the pitch followed by a run through City’s defence all the way into the area, where he was foiled by the goalkeeper’s alertness in leaving his line.
Agüero saw a shot blocked by Toby Aldeweireld early in the second half and at the other end Spurs would have had a penalty had VAR been around to catch Kyle Walker’s hand diverting the ball away from Dele Alli in the area, before Guardiola decided to be more proactive and sent on Leroy Sané, switching Raheem Sterling to a central role to try and inject more pace into City’s attacks.
The pair almost produced a goal within a matter of minutes when Sane’s cross found Sterling in the middle, yet what looked a straightforward tap-in was kept out by the trailing leg of Paulo Gazzaniga – deputising for the injured Hugo Lloris. Ederson had to make a sharp save from Lucas Moura shortly after that as the game began to live up to its original billing.
There were no more goals, though the four minutes of stoppage time, with Vertonghen and Sterling both booked after a scuffle and Spurs pumping high balls into the City area, were just as nervy and frenetic as anything on Wednesday night.
With the home fans shrieking for the whistle the contest ended almost comically, with Sané rolling around in agony on the floor, Guardiola almost stepping onto the pitch in his anxiousness to get involved and Fernandinho finally attempting to boot the ball out of the stadium in a bid to relieve the pressure. It was not what City are famous for, but they are back on top of the table and this time it was Spurs who had to leave empty-handed.