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Man City dominant performance undone by return of two problems – Simon Bajkowski


Who knew that VAR and a rule change would be the biggest threats to Manchester City retaining their title?

Less than two weeks into the season and already there are Hail Marys being said for any of the title challengers to land a blow on a Manchester City side that has collected 198 points from their last two title-winning campaigns.

Spurs had a better chance than most.

Mauricio Pochettino was the last manager to inflict defeat on this team 25 matches ago when his Tottenham side claimed a 1-0 win in their Champions League quarter-final first leg in the beginning of April; a week later, their 4-3 defeat at the Etihad was celebrated for the famous aggregate victory it was.

Having broken their transfer record to sign Tanguy Ndombele and also brought in Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso , optimistic forecasts heading into the season were boosted by a comeback win against Aston Villa that saw Harry Kane break his August duck.

To their credit, Spurs did show that City are still human.

Pep Guardiola‘s side inexplicably switched off in the 23rd minute as Sergio Aguero, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Aymeric Laporte all gave Erik Lamela far too much space to curl a shot beyond the poorly-positioned Ederson. In the 55th minute, the literal shortcomings of the home side were exposed as Lucas Moura outjumped Kyle Walker from a corner to head in a second equaliser.

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The fact City could not respond again means that their winning run is over, they have dropped points in their very first home game of the season and there is another manager and team that can set and execute a plan.

Aleks Zinchenko limping off in the final ten minutes of the game did not look great either given Benjamin Mendy remains injured and Angelino hasn’t even made the first two squads of the season. While the Ukrainian appeared to brush off the problem, it is another sign of a potential frailty.

Unfortunately for Spurs and everyone else, they were outclassed so completely for the other 88 minutes that the result did little to suggest that City will not be an even more formidable force this season.

Be it Sergio Aguero charging down inside the opposition box, Kyle Walker haring forward again and picking out sensible yet threatening passes or Bernardo Silva foxing defence with a short corner routine, the Blues looked at least a few seconds ahead of their rivals.

And in De Bruyne, back in the form that inspired them to the title in the 2017/18 season, they have a player operating in his own timezone.

It was the Belgian that made the breakthrough in the 20th minute at the end of a suffocating period of City domination that should also have seen them awarded a penalty, dropping back to lose his man before arcing the ball over to the far post for Raheem Sterling to head home – credit to the England man too, who is already on five and is now scoring goals he never used to. After the Lamela setback, De Bruyne found room again – behind Danny Rose this time – to roll the ball across goal for Sergio Aguero to tap home.

He could have had two further assists before half-time as first Ilkay Gundogan fired wide and then Aguero intercepted a ball for Sterling.

City, though, cannot rely on De Bruyne every week if they are going to defend as they did here. Guardiola said in his pre-match press conference that there are always 11 reasons why they don’t defend well, and Aguero got more than an earful as he was withdrawn after the hour mark with the manager clearly irked at the play leading up to the corner that gave Tottenham their second.

In the Catalan’s first season at the Etihad, they often dominated games against the likes of Everton, Middlesbrough, and Southampton but their inadequacies in both boxes cost them on the scoresheet.

This was a return to that problem for City – except they were up against one of likely only two teams that can stop them winning a third consecutive title.

But they still would have won if not for a maddening decision when Gabriel Jesus’s injury-time winner was ruled out as it brushed Laporte’s arm on the way through to him. Laporte was about as aware of it as everyone else in the stadium but the new rules mean that it is counted as handball regardless of intent and VAR was there to confirm it despite no fault being picked up in normal time.

The result should give belief to the rivals of the Blues that they can be bested if they have as many defensive lapses as they did here (and opposition sides are good enough to punish them) and if they take so few of their chances.

Those are two big ifs though.



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