Toothless Tottenham allowed Manchester City to crawl over the line
IT WAS hardly a classic but, in many ways, Manchester City’s victory over Spurs nicely summed up the season, offering a 90-minute snapshot of the campaign as a whole.
In short, Tottenham just did not do enough. And, for that reason, Roberto Mancini’s side emerged triumphant. That has probably been the story of the season.
Had Spurs beaten the likes of Blackpool, Wigan and West Ham the league table would now look very different but, just like at Eastlands on Tuesday night, they failed to make their dominance count.
Harry Redknapp’s side had 65 per cent of the possession in the first half but failed to trouble Joe Hart – a very familiar problem which has undermined the north Londoners’ season from start to finish – and the fact that Spurs somehow went into the break 1-0 down was just as fitting.
This was Tottenham’s season in a microcosm. Lots of the ball, not many shots, and even fewer of them on target. No end result.
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Meanwhile, Manchester City did what they have done for much of the season, especially when they have faced the top sides – they defended.
Mancini’s side may have won the game, but they hardly swept to victory, proving that they belong in the Champions League, and that they deserve to usurp Spurs at Europe’s top table.
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Despite having a six-point lead before kick-off, and a superior goal difference which virtually amounted to another point on top of that, City appeared to be playing for a draw.
The hosts started brightly and Carlo Cudicini was forced to make a fine save from Edin Dzeko at close range, but City were mainly capitalising on Tottenham mistakes and pouncing on loose passes.
The Blues’ default setting was to string five men across the midfield, make themselves impossibly difficult to play through, and seize the opportunity to counter-attack when it came.
“Even after they went 1-0 up they just defended,” said William Gallas. “They dropped off, I think they were a little bit scared of us.”
Unfortunately, Spurs rather played into their hands with their tactics, which simply involved ushering their full-backs forward, moving the ball wide and aiming a succession of high balls towards Peter Crouch.
It never worked – City had clearly remembered Crouch’s header in the same fixture this time last year – and there was no Plan B. Once again, it was difficult to see how Tottenham were going to score.
Ironically, it was the diminutive substitute Steven Pienaar who came closest to profiting from one of these crosses, bringing the very best from Hart with a header shortly after half-time.
It was a rare moment of accuracy from a Spurs player. Sandro had set the tone earlier on, slicing a long-distance drive so wide that it went out for a throw-in.
Danny Rose attempted to repeat his famous 40-yard screamer against Arsenal but got it horribly wrong, while Rafael van der Vaart fired high and wide when well placed on the edge of the box.
Finally, Aaron Lennon was given a clear sight of goal just outside the area, but lashed the ball wildly into the stands.
Redknapp, who had stated the need to get more goals from midfield the previous day, wheeled away and punched the air in frustration.
It was the same old story, and there was no change in the script when Jermain Defoe replaced Crouch.
Instead, Tottenham’s injury woes continued as Wilson Palacios, who had missed the previous 11 games, limped off again, followed by Gallas, who succumbed to a calf strain late on.
Of course, the post-match analysis centred around Crouch, and his abrupt change of fortunes compared to his historic heroics in this very fixture 12 months ago.
On May 5 2010, the England striker scored the goal that took Spurs into the Champions League, striking the knockout blow against Man City at Eastlands.
On May 10 2011, he scored the decisive own goal that won the war for Mancini’s side. It even came at the same end as his winner last year.
For Crouch, Tuesday night was a depressingly bizarre mirror image of his euphoria last season – and, in some ways, the same could be same for this decisive match as a whole.
In 2010, Spurs booked their place in the Champions League by going away to Eastlands and attacking, as they had done all season.
In 2011, City secured their place in the competition by defending at home and keeping a clean sheet, as they have done so often this campaign.
Mancini may counter that his side have scored four more goals than Tottenham over the course of the campaign, but that is not difficult. So have West Bromwich Albion.
Instead, it is the contrasting defensive record that has separated the teams. City have conceded 33 league goals, Spurs have shipped 45.
On that basis, perhaps the Blues deserve to win the battle this season. But, when they replace uninhibited, swashbuckling Tottenham in next season’s Champions League, they will probably not be as much fun.