Manchester City 2-1 Tottenham: Breaking Down Spurs' Loss and What It Means
How quickly the football gods can turn the tables, taking a great team effort and creating a question-raising loss.
On the surface, it is hard to feel too disappointed by the result. After all, City's home form in the league is incredible: Unbeaten at home for just about two full years and only four points dropped since the kickoff of the 2011-12 season. Just holding a lead over the defending champions through a considerable portion of the match seems cause enough to take some pride.
However, delving into the circumstances of the match, it's tough not to be left with a sour taste.
Entering Sunday, both sides had a point to prove. An atrocious display at home to Wigan saw Tottenham's own fans booing the players off the pitch both at halftime and full time. Meanwhile, City were coming off of two draws in a week: One a league match with West Ham that saw them fall further behind in the league table and the other a European encounter with Ajax that all but ended their Champions League bid.
Even though City's league form hadn't really dipped, it was not unreasonable for Spurs to hope that City's European woes would effect their play on the day. Unfortunately, any dreams of this were dashed right at the opening kickoff, as the Sky Blues came out in dominant form through the first 15 minutes.
After struggling mightily to find a foothold in the match, Tottenham suddenly found themselves ahead in the 21st minute, when a beautiful in-swinging free-kick by Tom Huddlestone connected Steven Caulker, whose strong header somehow found its way through Joe Hart. The goal stirred memories of Peter Crouch's winner that sent Spurs to the Champions League two and a half years ago.
Through the rest of the first half and the start of the second, the action got quite chippy. Ex-Citizen Emmanuel Adebayor, who got the start at striker over Jermain Defoe, continually found himself in confrontations with Pablo Zabaleta. Meanwhile, players on both sides berated officials, each feeling they were being hard done.
Throughout the match, the two centre-backs, William Gallas and Caulker, were continually picked apart by cutting runs right between them. With Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto injured (and hence Jan Vertonghen taking BAE's place), the middle of the defense proved shaky, setting the stage for a beautiful display by the ageless Brad Friedel.
The American keeper did well to send Spurs into the final half-hour with their lead intact, but Sergio Aguero pulled the champions level on 65 minutes with an undeniable finish. Looking back at the buildup, the culprit is clear: After taking a ball away, Kyle Walker put the ball on a silver platter for Yaya Toure, who went on to set up the goal. As Walker came off not 15 minutes later with a knock, though, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.
From there, the ending was all too predictable for any Tottenham follower who has been reliving the same nightmare over and over again this season: Villas-Boas decided to go with a more defensive approach to ensure the result, City pressed harder and harder, and the defense eventually cracked in the final few minutes. The only question left was who would do the business for City.
That question was answered in the 73rd minute, as Roberto Mancini brought on Edin Dzeko in place of Carlos Tevez. Dzeko, who already had a history of good performances against Spurs, had established himself as a bona fide "super-sub" at City this season, more than once scoring winners from off the bench. It was really just a matter of time before he got the match-winner, which he finally did in the 88th minute.
So what does the loss mean for Tottenham and their season?
Well, on a superficial level, the loss was par for the course. I mean, I doubt many rational football fans would have chalked this one up as anything other than a loss before the season.
On the other hand, the loss just pushes Spurs further back of fourth place. Further, the heart-breaking manner of the defeat is perturbing, especially because it's not the first time something like it has happened to Spurs this season. What's worse, they carry this result and a two-match losing streak into the first North London derby of the season.
Now, it's not all doom and gloom. Tom Huddlestone has continued to progress since his return from injury, setting up some chances and coming close to doubling his side's lead. Brad Friedel again showed that he is not someone to write off at the keeper position. Aaron Lennon made another solid showing.
As always, it's down to your interpretation as to what to take from the match. Still, it's hard to look at a side that keeps giving up late goals and take the positives out of a last-minute defeat.
Let's just hope these problems are resolved come the Arsenal match next week.
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