Manchester City equalled a club record of six successive clean sheets in the Premier League to underline their progress towards becoming a complete modern team as Riyad Mahrez gave them victory over back-pedalling Tottenham and sent them top.
Champions City, once laughed at for their woeful defending and the comical goalkeeping of Claudio Bravo, showed their defensive improvement with a victory which said a lot about their progress under manager Pep Guardiola, even if they weren’t at their very best.
Mahrez said the death of Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had made last night a “difficult” personal occasion. “It has been very, very difficult for me. It is not easy to have this type of stuff. The Boss was very special to me. I spent four and a half years there and have many memories with him. He was such a good person,” Mahrez told Sky Sports.
“I am very, very sad. That is why when I scored I put my hands in the sky for him. He did a lot for me and Leicester and it is difficult to speak about. It it is very sad.
He was like a dad. He was very special. He was such a good person, a big heart and it was heart-breaking and shocking for me to hear this news and for all of the other people who died with him.
With the exception of a late slip from Mahrez, which saw Erik Lamela waste a wonderful chance to equalise, they controlled a game against a frustrating Spurs team who just can’t seem to find top gear — and in the process matched the six shut-outs in a row last achieved in 2015.
The sight of City at the top of the Premier League — and with stuttering Southampton at home to come on Sunday is a daunting one for chasers Liverpool and Chelsea.
By conttrast Spurs, who go to Wolves on Saturday, can probably count themselves out of that title race pretty soon if they don’t find a way to revive their season.
There had been a negative atmosphere around the north London club in the build-up to this fixture and inside an eerie and half-empty Wembley it felt as though the home team’s self-flagellation made defeat almost a certainty.
It’s a strange phenomenon because in the great scheme of things Spurs really haven’t been that bad this season. Victory here would have put them second, above City, and only two points behind leaders Liverpool. So why all the groaning and wailing?
Yes, Champions League results have been disappointing — but when you play Barcelona and Inter Milan, no team on earth, even City — can guarantee six points from those fixtures.
Yes, the stadium situation is unfortunate and unsettling — especially as the pitch here at Wembley was in a pretty miserable state after NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars had played on it only 28 hours earlier. But Tottenham’s record at Wembley has been a good one — and once they return to the Seven Sisters Road, they will be playing in one of the most advance stadiums in the world.
Yet, Tottenham fans have been left with a sense of disappointment and even manager Mauricio Pocchetino, normally so positive, dragged the mood even lower in his pre-match press conference when he talked about his own personal frustration.
“The season so far, it’s strange because my feeling is the worst I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here,” he said. “But it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?” Strange indeed — but not as strange as Tottenham’s seemingly desperate desire to ruin a good thing, a phenomenon which started when they failed to sign a player in the transfer window.
Pocchetino seems to believe the negativity has been part of a campaign to damage his club, but if so the best answer is to respond on the pitch, not to be dragged into the mire.
The visitors played along with Tottenham’s victim narrative, too, by taking the lead within six minutes. The excellent Mahrez tapped home after Kieran Trippier made a hash of defending a long ball, allowing Raheem Sterling to set up his opposite winger with a low ball across the box.
It was yet another assist for the much-improved former Liverpool man, who became only the fifth player to make 200 Premier League appearances before his 24th birthday.
If they had believed in themselves a little more, however, Spurs could have equalised in an opening first half which saw a flurry of chances at both ends, even if you always felt City were in control and cruelly toying with their opponents.
Harry Kane in particular should have done better when clean through, but his first touch allowed keeper Ederson to snuff out the danger.
It was a big miss because with David Silva dictating play and Mahrez weaving magic whenever he touched the ball (including two shots well saved by Hugo Lloris) City were a constant threat — and the crowd noise inside Wembley dropped to almost zero during periods when the visitors dominated the ball.
Silva — who chose not to shoot from six metres — and Sterling, who saw his subsequent effort saved, spurned chances to make it 2-0 after a flowing move early in the second half while Aguero shot at Lloris when well placed, too.
Pochettino took far too long to make substitutions — and curiously chose to bring on Harry Winks rather than Christian Eriksen, who could have provided extra quality — so when City were able to turn to Kevin De Bruyne from their bench, it rather underlined the superiority of their squad.
Dele Alli’s arrival, for Moussa Dembele, and the eventual arrival of Eriksen, did raise hopes. But when Lamela wastefully fired over a glorious opportunity after Mahrez was dispossed their hopes were over. It looked like two clubs in a very different states of mind — and heading in different directions.
: Lloris 6, Trippier 6, Alderweireld 6, Sanchez 6, Davies 6, Dembele 6 (Alli 75; 6), Dier 5 (Winks 67; 6), Sissoko 5, Moura 6 (Eriksen 82; 6), Lamela 6, Kane 6.
: Ederson 7, Walker 7, Stones 7, Laporte 7, Mendy 6, Fernandinho 6, D.Silva 8 (Kompany 88), B.Silva 7, Mahrez 8 (Jesus 90), Sterling 7, Aguero 6 (De Bruyne 71; 6).
: Kevin Friend.