Blame the pitch, perhaps, but what what should have been a Monday night cracker between two of the Premier League’s most exciting sides turned out to be something of a damp squib, writes
City returned to the top of the table, with Riyad Mahrez’s early goal enough to ensure victory over Tottenham in a game that could politely be described as perfunctory, but was actually pretty dull.
If the mark of a title-winning team is the ability to win ugly, Pep Guardiola’s men showed their credentials in spades. The playing surface did not help, of course.
Wembley has had plenty of wear and tear over the past month or so, with Anthony Joshua’s title fight followed by two NFL games and Tottenham’s regular fixtures as they wait to move into their new stadium.
Threadbare in places, rutted in others, and still bearing the markings of Sunday’s NFL game, it was far from conducive to the sort of free-flowing passing football both sides are famed for, and certainly was a big factor in such a disjointed, bitty game.
Spurs were never going to open themselves up to the thrashing some of their supporters feared, with City in freescoring form lately, and Mauricio Pochettino’s intent was clear when the team-sheets arrived, showing Moussa Sissoko playing in place of Christian Eriksen, a suggestion Spurs would be trying to contain City rather than cut them open.
The line-up flew in the face of those infamous words from Danny Blanchflower that rang round Wembley before kickoff: “The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."
There is little to no chance of boredom when Citg are in town, however. Guardiola’s men arrived with 26 league goals to their credit, and another nine in other competitions, so the last thing they needed was a helping hand.
So what Kieran Trippier did after five minutes was not only inexplicable but also inexcusable for such an experienced defender.
The right-back was presented with a straightforward chance to head a forward pass clear, but instead tried to direct the ball back to Hugo Lloris, leaving Raheem Sterling the opportunity to sprint after it.
The England winger got to the byline and cut the ball back for Mahrez to score, and we were in familiar territory — or so we thought. Spurs giving opponents a goal start when the game had hardly started, and City into their stride so quickly that you feared for Totttenham.
But it was not that sort of night, certainly not like the memorable occasion last month when Barcelona came to town and Lionel Messi and Co. gave Tottenham a footballing lesson.
On that evening, the Catalan side took advantage of an early goal to dominate effectively from start to finish.
But City never really got going, and certainly didn’t hit the heights we have come to expect from them.
The remainder of the first half was disjointed, and Tottenham were not dismantled. Indeed Spurs could and should have equalised on a number of occasions but the choice of final ball was poor, and on one occasion when Harry Kane had a chance to run in on goal, his touch was uncharacteristically heavy and allowed Ederson to make a sprawling save.
City had one or two chances on the break, but Hugo Lloris was hardly stretched.
Things improved for a period after half-time when David Silva threatened to take hold of the game and control it to his liking but even the little Spanish genius started making mistakes.
Both sides had chances to score as the game opened up, but they were the result not so much of superb creativity as poor defending. There were plenty of comedy moments you rarely see in games of this standing — an air shot from Kyle Walker as he lined up for a volley against his former club, a near own-goal from the same player with a misplaced header in stoppage time.
And it could – and should have been level by then, when Spurs substitute Dele Alli put a chance on a plate for Erik Lamela, only for the Argentinian to spoon the ball over the bar from 12 yards.
In the end, City were clever in winding down the clock, doing just enough to make it to the final whistle and those three points that take them back above Liverpool on goal difference.
Entertaining it was not, efficient it was. Like the once lush Wembley pitch, this game had a ragged, careworn look, but in the end it was City that came out on top.