Five talking points from Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 defeat to Premier League champions-elect Manchester City
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Ben Pearce reflects on a sobering night for Mauricio Pochettino’s team at Wembley Stadium to the soon-to-be Premier League winners
Tottenham Hotspur succumbed to a 3-1 defeat against Premier League leaders Manchester City at Wembley Stadium tonight.
Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan put the visitors 2-0 up after 25 minutes and, although Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back for Spurs just before half time, Raheem Sterling put Pep Guardiola’s side out of sight in the second half.
Here are five talking points.
1. Kyle Walker gets an unfriendly welcome
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Mauricio Pochettino said ahead of the match that Walker deserved a good reception from Tottenham’s fans, despite his defection last summer.
His words apparently fell on deaf ears as the home faithful made it patently clear how they felt about the right-back.
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Walker was loudly booed when he received the ball for the first time and it seemed to rattle him, as he sent a mis-hit crossfield ball behind his team-mates and out for a throw-in on the far side, drawing cheers from the majority of the Wembley crowd.
2. Spurs are unable to live with City’s rapid start as they encounter a wounded animal
Tottenham had been comprehensively outclassed at the Etihad in December, losing 4-1, and the first 30 minutes of this return fixture looked ominously similar.
City, who had lost their three previous matches against Liverpool and Manchester United prior to their trip to Wembley, looked angry rather than vulnerable.
Leroy Sane and Sterling, who had tortured Spurs in Manchester, started dangerously again, the former hitting the post early on from the latter’s cross.
The Lilywhites survived a few other scares but then conceded a horribly simple opener, just like in December.
At the Etihad the breakthrough came from a corner. This time it came from a routine long ball as Davinson Sanchez allowed Jesus to run in behind him, latch onto Vincent Kompany’s hopeful long ball and fire home.
Sanchez has had a positive debut season and is only 21-years-old, but this was the third goal in a row where he had been partly at fault.
For all of his qualities – he showed impressive pace to catch up with Sane and Sterling before making goal-saving tackles - this is why he has not been short-listed for the PFA Players’ Young Player of the Year award.
Once again, Spurs fans were left to ponder whether Toby Alderweireld, who is available but was again omitted from the squad entirely, might have done a better job.
Tottenham looked vulnerable at the back, but their inability to keep the ball was at least as much of a problem. Looking unusually flustered, especially at Wembley, they kept playing panicky passes straight back to City.
The visitors’ second goal was a direct consequence of that lack of quality and poise on the ball. Trippier gave it away, Sanchez was outnumbered against Sterling and Sane, and Lloris rushed from his goal to intervene but brought down Sterling, conceding a penalty which was converted by Gundogan.
Spurs had problems everywhere as they fell 2-0 down in the 25th minute, leaving them in a worse situation than they had been at the same stage at the Etihad.
3. Lloris faces further scrutiny
After costly mistakes against Chelsea and Stoke, Lloris could have done without conceding a penalty tonight – it exposed him to further questions.
Yet he was in a no-win situation for City’s second goal. Had he stayed on his line, Sterling would have squared it to Sane for a tap-in. He took the braver option but was beaten to the ball by one of the quickest players in the league.
It is easy to criticise a player who is in ropey form, but it has to be said that the goalkeeper was left horribly exposed on numerous occasions during this match.
With that said, Lloris’ part in City’s third goal must also be examined. While the skipper got down well to stop Jesus’ low shot, he failed to palm the ball away from the danger area, and Sterling rammed the loose ball into the net.
Perhaps the Frenchman could have done better, perhaps not – the strike came through a crowd of bodies after all, and he would have seen it late.
But Lloris is certainly not in his best form, and if Michel Vorm is selected for next Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United – which is likely – Spurs fans might not be as irritated or concerned as they might have been if their captain was at the peak of his powers.
4. Harry Kane ensures Christian Eriksen gets a goal after claiming his last one
Spurs’ Danish midfielder thought he had scored two goals at Stoke last weekend, only for Kane to claim the second one, going as far as to appeal (successfully) to the Premier League to ask that the strike be awarded to him instead.
Kane’s desire to take a goal from one of his team-mates resulted in much mirth and criticism on social media, and Pochettino admitted on Thursday that the striker had been surprised and disappointed by the reaction.
Given the furore, it was rather apt and poetic that it was Kane who set up Eriksen’s goal as Spurs halved their deficit and threatened an unlikely comeback shortly before half time, sliding his colleague in with a neat through ball.
That assist will help to scotch any suggestions that individual glory matters more to Kane than the team. Nonetheless, there are sure to be plenty of jokes flying around this evening about Kane trying to claim this Eriksen goal too.
5. Spurs have ground to make up if they want to be title contenders again
Tottenham have proven this season that they are more than a match for virtually every elite team they have faced, domestically and on the continent. They have beaten Borussia Dortmund (twice), Liverpool, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
However, Man City again appeared to be a class above tonight as they completed the double over the Lilywhites. They will probably be the only side to do so this season, unless Spurs lose to Leicester City on the final day.
A third successive top-four finish will represent a perfectly successful league campaign for Spurs, especially as they have been playing at Wembley.
But if they want to take another step and genuinely challenge for the title – as they did in 2015/16 and 2016/17 – they will need to find a way to both match City’s consistency and match them over 90 minutes on the pitch.
At the moment that looks a tough task and, worryingly, the champions-elect are sure to flex their financial muscles and strengthen again in the summer…
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